Back On Track

A change is to give up what we are…to become what we could be - Anonymous

As we begin this New Year, think about the goals you may have for yourself. If you have gotten off track, do not give up. Getting back on track after becoming “derailed” is an important skill to learn. It is crucial in making positive changes that will last. It does take some time and effort as well as patience with yourself to make sustainable changes.

Try to view what happened as an opportunity and do not beat yourself up or think of yourself as a failure – you are not! When you get off track, learn from the experience. Focus on what happened. Think through and examine what are the external and internal events that occurred before, during, and after the derailment. For example, “I had a lot of company over the holidays and was not always able to get to the gym. Some of the family dynamics that occurred were very stressful. I felt anxious and guilty and then ate for relief and comfort.” By honestly examining the situation, you can become more in touch with the experience – your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Greater knowledge then gives you the opportunity to learn how to do things differently. Remember, developing new habits takes practice.

The Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, written by Portia Nelson, outlines the process of change as we progress from being unaware to very aware of ourselves and our environment. She uses the analogy of falling into a hole. Chapter one talks about walking down a street and falling into a hole we did not see. We feel lost and hopeless since it takes forever to find our way out – but – it wasn’t our fault. In chapter two, we walk down the same street, pretend we do not see the hole and fall in and cannot get out for a long time – again – it was not our fault. By chapter three, we walk down the same street, see the hole, and fall in. We start to realize that this is a habit and get out much sooner – and begin to take responsibility for what happened. Chapter four explains walking down the same street and walking around the hole. In the final chapter, we choose to walk down another street. We have started to develop a different pattern or habit.

Basically, with each experience you are developing slightly different levels of awareness and behaviors. By figuring out what got you off track, you can then decide to locate yourself further along the continuum of change. You do have a choice not to maintain old habits.

At the end of the day, instead of “beating yourself up” for what you didn’t do, EACH and EVERY day, list three to five positive things that you accomplished that day. For example:

1. I ate breakfast today.
2. I did not have seconds at dinner.
3. I took the stairs instead of the elevator.
4. I did not have any pop.
5. I was able to receive a compliment graciously.

Learning to be kind and gentle with self is a skill that is awkward and uncomfortable for many. Our first reaction is to berate and criticize ourselves but doing so makes it harder to change. Those powerful negative emotions can make us wallow in the same old ways. Let the “mean” voice go and bring in one of hope and encouragement.

Often, people are ambivalent about change – even those we desperately want. Explore the positives and negatives of making the desired change. Also, explore the positives and negatives of NOT changing – and believe me there are some! These thoughts and feelings are rarely conscious and often interfere with change. Becoming more aware of the underlying issues can give you knowledge and power to change, thus reaching your goals. Don’t censor your thoughts and feelings as the goal is to get at what is really inside and not what you think you should be thinking or feeling. Self-awareness is the key.

When you are off track, you can often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of refocusing on your eating and exercise routine. After determining what happened and how you responded, set your goals and then proceed. Break things down into small segments. For example, instead of saying to yourself “I have to start exercising again” ask yourself what is one thing I can do differently this week (e.g. I can walk for ten minutes each evening..). This is the only thing you need to focus on. By breaking your overall goal into small steps, you can get back on track. Change is hard and takes time. There will be ups and downs. Learn to navigate them and you will have the greatest opportunity for making sustainable changes to improve your health and well being.

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.