I have a confession to make. I am a recovering Coca-Cola addict.
For years, I’ve been talking about quitting. When I was in high school, I drank at least a can a day, every day. Yikes! As a health-conscious person, I feel unhealthy (and slightly ashamed) just thinking about it.
It’s been a number of years since I graduated high school, and I got myself down to 3-4 Cokes a week, which I think is still too much. Each New Year’s that’s gone by, “quitting Coke” has been at the top of my resolutions list. I would talk, and talk and talk about it, but actually doing it? Not so much.
I’ve been attending regular boot camp classes for the last five years (yes, I know, I must be slightly insane) and drinking the stuff just contradicts a whole lot of good, hard work. Add to that, feeling gross, like I’m inviting diabetes with each sip, and most of all, hypocritical and a whole lot disappointed for going back on my word.
At the time of this post, I am proud to say that I am 17 days Coke-free. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who has tried and failed in this pursuit way more than I care to count (I lost track), each day that goes by is a small victory. One day, the sum of those small victories will amount to a big victory.
We all have habits, patterns and behaviours that we would like to change. Things that we’ve said time and time again that we’re going to change, that we commit to changing, that we begin changing only to find ourselves back at square one and feeling like a failure and like we’ve let ourselves down.
The Coca-Cola example is a relatively small one. I would argue that aligning words (what we say we want to do) and actions (what we actually do) begins with the small things. It’s only when we learn to practice alignment with the little things in our day-to-day lives that we can tackle the bigger things and then really big things with more confidence and fortitude.
Aligning words and actions has been the most challenging practice I have taken on to date. It’s messy. It takes time. And sometimes (OK, maybe more than sometimes), I’ve been left wondering why the hell I’m doing what I’m doing when the words were all there and clear.
So why take on this practice if it’s such a challenge? Simple. It’s the practice that has given me a greater sense of accomplishment than any other. I feel good and strong and proud when I succeed, and I want to see others experience the same.
From my own experience, here are some pointers on how you can better achieve alignment of words and actions:
1. Remind yourself of what’s important to you.
This is a good time to take a step back and ground yourself in your values, so you know what it is you’re intending to achieve.
2. Ask yourself what causes you to slip back into old ways.
This is a tricky one, because many times, the reasons are purely unconscious. It’s an opportunity to deepen your self-awareness on your beliefs about yourself and the world around you. There are many great authors, bloggers and websites that provide advice on how to uncover the things that lie beneath (check out “Martha Beck’s 3-Step Plan to Defeat Self Sabotage” from the February 2014 issue of O Magazine and “Beating Self-Sabotage” by MindTools). Oftentimes, answering the “why” can be like discovering a new land with opportunity beyond what we previously imagined.
3. Recognize that it takes time to change.
I said this earlier, and I can’t say it enough: Change. Takes. Time. Bold and italics were used for overemphasis. We humans are complex. We are creatures of habit. There will likely be many false starts and sudden stops. Be compassionate with yourself as if you were supporting a friend going through the same process. Chastising yourself is a no-no.
4. Set yourself up for success.
Anyone else out there like to do too much, too soon? *both hands shoot straight up* How does that work out for you? Other than the very few occasions where the stars aligned (that pun was so not intended), I know I can say for myself with all honesty, not so well. Recognize and accept that effective, sustainable change is a step-by-step process. Treat it like you would climb a ladder, one rung at a time, being aware of your surroundings and how you feel, and moving up to the next rung only when you’re ready. One day you will reach the top.
As a side note: I have unfriended New Year’s resolutions. They are a recipe for failure. Other than a change of calendar year and freezing cold weather, January 1 doesn’t mean a thing. It will take as long as it takes. Just trust the process and yourself.
5. Celebrate your success.
Recognize and appreciate how far you’ve come with each step you take. You are that much closer to alignment and that is reason to celebrate. We are all too often our own worst critic that we forget we can more appropriately be our own best cheerleader. That was corny, I know. You get the point.
With each habit we kick or pattern we redirect, we learn that we have it within ourselves to do what we say. It becomes a muscle that gets stronger each time we exercise it. We respect and trust ourselves more. We become bolder. And sooner or later, other people notice and want to get in on the action.