Note from Sarah: Thank you Jason Seib for another amazing post!
I have had some epiphanies in my research lately and I’m anxious to share them with you. One of the most eye opening ones for me is the subject of today’s post. Once again, we need to begin with a question, albeit one that sounds a little confusing on its surface:
Are you trying to feel better emotionally, or are you actually pursuing a goal?
Don’t answer until I explain. I recently stumbled upon a fantastic paper titled The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled Expectations of Self-Change, and I hope you will read the entire thing, but one particular concept jumped out at me. It begins with this:
Merely committing to a diet may make people feel more in control, more responsible for their weight, and, potentially, more likely to achieve their goals than they felt before making the commitment.
This all sounds great until we fully understand the following:
Unfortunately, however, the optimism and positive affect that accompany the beginning of a change attempt tend to dissipate with the vicissitudes of actually working to effect the change.
Okay, let me share with you an analogy that will be very familiar to some of you. When are you most likely to set a new goal to change your body? That’s an easy one. You most want change when you are at a low point and most dissatisfied with yourself. So, while looking in the mirror and listening intently to every little insult your inner voice is spewing at you, you put your foot down and vow to change yourself once and for all (again?). What happens then is amazing! From that moment forward, you feel happy, strong, empowered, valuable, and all without doing anything except deciding to make this change that is very important to you. For at least a short while, you have escaped that horrible inner voice by identifying with what you will become. We have all been there. The day you set a new goal is always a good day.
Then it happens: the bitter realization that the goal setting part was the part that feels the best and everything else is hard work. Emphatically proclaiming your intention to change put you on cloud nine, but actually doing the changing is serious business and requires a heap of dedication. To make matters worse, you set a huge goal, because the bigger the goal the better it feels when you set it, and you have all but doomed yourself to failure, which means your inner voice is warming up to rain hell down upon you.
Thus, we return to our original question: Are you trying to feel better emotionally, or are you actually pursuing a goal? I have talked about this general idea before (here and here, for example), but this question brings things into a new light. If you are setting goals and failing on a regular basis, maybe you are subconsciously trying to escape your own self abuse more than you are actually trying to achieve your goals. If so, then the cycle you find yourself in makes perfect sense. Every time you stick your chest out, hold your head high, and exclaim, “Today is the day I will change!” you are actually accomplishing your true goal of feeling better emotionally for a while. Your inner voice is temporarily beaten into submission and you feel like a million bucks. Sure, things go back to the way they were, but all future goals have the potential to return you to happiness again. But it’s a nasty little emotional roller coaster ride that may actually be addictive on some level. Unfortunately, while real life roller coasters drop you off where they picked you up, this one will take you someplace a lot worse as you lose more and more of your confidence, motivation, and self worth with each ride.
What’s the answer? The answer lies in your motivations. If you are not truly motivated to change, but merely motivated to find some relief from your torment, expecting change is a bit silly. However, understanding that change is the path to permanent relief from your torment will set you free, but please acknowledge that this will require that you love yourself enough to change for the right reasons. Change because you know you are worth it, not because you are desperately trying to escape yourself. From there, set realistic goals and be patient. Get off the roller coaster. You deserve better.
Go forth and be awesome.