The Key to Lasting Change? Lower Your Standards

The type A critic within me is dying a little every time I read that sentence:

“Lower Your Standards.”

If you are reading that and you are thinking, “But…but…but,” I encourage you to open your mind, take a deep breath, and bear with me.  I am a recovering perfection-a-holic.  I think almost every Monday for several years of my adult life, I would clean out my fridge, write a meal plan for myself, a workout schedule, and prepare for the white knuckling that was about to commence.  Mama was going on another diet….er…lifestyle change, right?  Most of the time I would hold on for a while before succumbing to a binge eating rebellion and the following shame and guilt spiral, but as time went on my lifestyle changes turned into lengthy vacations from sanity.  And what do you know, next Monday I was back “on the program” only to repeat the cycle.

Then, I thought the problem was me and a lack of discipline.  I had an inner-dialogue about how I couldn’t commit, I didn’t try hard enough, and I was weak.  All of these other people can do it, why can’t I?  Now, I know that it wasn’t me at all, it was my damn standards.  I needed to go from complete inactivity and elbow deep in Cheetos to competing in triathalons while being a raw vegan…STAT.  Okay, that’s a gross exaggeration, but the principles were the same.  I needed to get there….not now, yesterday.  I injured myself a lot.  I starved and binged.  I hated myself.  I had created an unattainable standard for myself that almost definitely guaranteed failure.  If I had more psychology degrees, I might even say that my Monday long list of impossible goals was a form of self-sabotage:  just another way to control my own failure.

I’ve wrote several times about how I swore off diets almost 2 years ago.  While, I occasionally see one of those infomercials (21 Days to Zumba Your Brazilian Butt to Insanity 360X) and find myself knee deep in goal lists, I’ve learned that there is a better way.

  1. One goal at a time.  You get one goal.  Focusing on exercising 5 times a week, eating under a certain calorie limit, tracking your food, getting 8 hours a sleep, journaling, AND meditating everyday WILL NOT happen over night.  These are all great habits, but you can’t try to learn them all at once without failing and hating yourself in the process.  Pick one.  Become the master of that one thing until you can eat and breathe it.
  2. Make your goals attainable.  In this “no pain no gain” world we live in, it’s easy to convince yourself that if it isn’t hard, it’s not worth doing.  Let me assure you.  You need to make your goal easy and attainable.  If you are 100% sure you can go to yoga twice a week, but only 75% you can make it four times.  Shoot for three times.  The success you feel from reaching just one simple goal will snowball into big success later.
  3. Consistency = success.  Don’t change your goal or move on to a different goal until this one becomes second nature.  One of the biggest mistakes I would make was getting distracted.  I would be doing “not so well” at achieving my goal of not eating in front of the tv, and my mind would think, “Hey, you need to start training for a 10K.”  I didn’t want to actually train for a 10K.  I just wanted to change the subject to avoid facing why eating undistracted was difficult.
  4. You will make mistakes.  Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew, and we have to go back to the drawing board.  Maybe you were 100% sure you could eat a salad everyday, but now the sight of lettuce causes you to lose your lunch.  You can change your goal at anytime if it is unattainable, or not right for you.  Which brings me to my last point:
  5. Be nice to yourself.  Practice self-compassion.  If you are only able to go to yoga once a week and you thought you should be able to go three times, you didn’t fail.  Change your goal to something attainable, and focus on consistency until you are able to make a change.  Lose the “pass/fail” mentality.  The fact that you are even attempting to foster healthy habits means you are succeeding.

Redefine what success is.  For me, success was meeting an unattainable standard, but now I think it’s more about being your own friend.  Would you stop being friends with someone because they missed a run or didn’t eat their vegetables?  No.  You would; however, admire the hell out of them for trying to better themselves.  Oscar Wilde said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”  Mine has definitely been a whirlwind romance of sorts, and it’s been one of the only loves in my life worth lowering my standards for.

3 thoughts on “The Key to Lasting Change? Lower Your Standards

  1. Love it 🙂 I spend half my life trying to teach people to be their own best friends rather than ‘the bully that lives in their head’.

  2. It’s definitely a hard skill to learn, but it’s a game changer.

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