In college, I stepped out of my comfort zone and enrolled in a 10 day winter survival course. One day we hiked to the top of a mountain in snow-shoes. It was amazing! That is, until I lost the feeling in my toes. I started to complain, so one of the more experienced classmates decided to help me out. We sat on the side of the mountain and he said “experience it!”. What? I thought. This is your way of helping me? I don’t want to experience it, I want it to be better!
In her research on wholehearted living, Brene Brown, PhD discovered “you can’t selectively numb”. You can’t numb fear, worry, anger, and pain, without also numbing joy, happiness, and peace.
When creating healthy habits, we all know there are ups and downs. We can go from super-motivated one day to not-so-motivated the next. It can feel like a tug-o-war inside – the yearning for change vs. the pull to stay the same.
On the inside we are continually subject to cravings, fatigue, slip ups and self-criticism. On the outside social pressures, temptations, and unrealistic media images are just part of our environment. These are powerful forces. They are uncomfortable to say the least.
We have so many handy ways to numb the discomfort of these forces. Important things like housecleaning, working, catching up on emails or even simple activities like watching TV, playing video games, checking Facebook, etc.
There is nothing wrong with these activities – except when we use them to hide from the discomfort of opposing pulls. In this way they keep us stuck in the all or nothing cycle.
This is often the big barrier in exercise motivation.
Exercise can be a strong reminder of how out of shape we are, how much weight we have gained, how much is wrong with our body, how far we are from our goal.
The idea of exercise can bring up strong feelings like embarrassment about how we look or reminders of loss of physical abilities we once possessed.
It can bring up concerns of safety – fear of injury, heart attack, personal safety.
We might numb this discomfort by putting off exercise. We might numb by over exercising. Perhaps both strategies within the same week!
Yet, these opposing tugs are actually powerful seeds of change. They contain amazing potential for getting us unstuck and creating lasting habits.
We can find instant comfort without losing our way by viewing these tugs as reminders of what we truly want.
Learning to pause when we feel opposing tugs without panicking, is a foundation of lasting behavior change. We make it easier for ourselves with:
- Clear Direction: Having a very clear vision of what we truly want
- Support: Infiltrating our environment with reminders of our vision and people who are supportive
- Practice: Having a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Here we “practice” noticing the tug when it happens and breathe through it.
- Awareness: Pausing and breathing when we feel the tugs in daily life, providing the opportunity to practice choosing not to numb when the tugs come up
By “experiencing it” we gradually learn that the tugs are just part of being human. Lets use them to strengthen our motivation to stay on track.
The bonus is we also get to experience more deeply moments of happiness, joy and true success.
In the end, we did what we could do to help my almost frostbitten toes. If I ignored my numb toes, pain would certainly ensue at some point. If I wallowed in my numb toes, I would have made me and everyone around me miserable – and missed the best part of the trip. When we made it to the top we took off our snowshoes and slid down on our bottoms, laughing all the way! Pure joy!
May You Be Well,
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC
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