If we have learned one thing this year, it is adaptability to changes outside of our control.
We’ve realized that so many of the things we thought we knew to be certain, true, or unchanging are not that at all. Things can change in a blink.
This is easy to observe in the world, but so much harder to see in ourselves.
We can see how much we have changed in the past, but then we have what Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert calls “an end of history illusion.” This is where we imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time.
I love this quote by Mr. Gilbert:
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished.”
We have all these labels about ourselves and our identity that we have developed over time that are determining how we show up in our lives and in weight loss.
These can be things we picked up in childhood, from society and culture, from personality tests, or from other people’s opinions. We say things like: “It’s who I am, that’s so like me, or this is what I do.”
Then we back these beliefs up with evidence from our past.
When it comes to the future, we have no evidence for what is possible for us. So we just resign ourselves to the idea that this is who I am and will be forever.
This is a fantastic thought if we believe ourselves to be capable, strong, resilient, and wise.
However, it can be quite destructive if we believe ourselves to be inadequate, unreliable, weak, and broken, as many of us who struggle with our self-image and weight do.
The reality is we are always changing and evolving. We don’t stay the same. The me of today is temporary.
So much of our personality that we think “just is” is optional.
Past and present exercise
If you are feeling skeptical about this, I have a little exercise for you:
Think about who you were three years ago, five years ago, or 10 years ago. Just think about where you were, what you were doing, what your life was like.
What was your favorite thing to do?
What was your biggest worry?
What was a typical day in your life?
Think about those things and then compare them to now. Think about something that challenged you then and how you reacted then. Now think about if that same thing were to happen, how you would react right now.
What the old me used to believe
I used to really value the appearance of my children. I felt it was a reflection of myself as a mother. I had very strong opinions about how my children should look when walking out of my house.
I thought if they were clean, neat, matching, had impressive hairstyles, and were wearing the latest line from whatever store I was into at the time, that would signal to the world that they were well cared for by an obviously amazing mother. I took it very seriously.
You can imagine that when my middle daughter went through a phase in kindergarten where she wanted to dress like Punky Brewster, I could hardly handle it. What did it say about me? It was always about me.
Prior to her first day of kindergarten, we went shopping for some cute, new, mom-approved outfits for her to wear. But when it came time to get dressed for that first day, she wanted to dress her way. She didn’t want to wear the new clothes.
Well, my super controlling, appearance-obsessed self of the time could not bear it. Heaven forbid the other children and mothers think something of me based on what she was wearing.
She wanted to express herself and who she was to her new classmates. I wanted her to dress how I wanted and express who I was to the world – an amazing mother with perfect children, of course.
We had a knockdown, drag out fight about it. I yelled and she cried. You would have thought it was the end of the world the way I was clinging to my position. She ended up doing as she was told and going to school in her shiny new clothes with perfect hair and big puffy, red eyes to top it off from her crying all morning.
I met her back at school at the end of the day with matching puffy, red eyes because I spent the morning feeling mounds of regret at how I had behaved. It feels like a lifetime ago when I think about that scenario and who I was then and what I thought then and how I felt then.
What the me of today believes
Today, I live with so much less fear about what other people think and with so much more love and acceptance of myself and my children.
I know that only I decide what kind of mother I am, and I fulfill that role based on my values. I don’t worry about what other people think or do. It’s a totally different place.
I think sometimes when we’re looking back over the years we think we haven’t changed that much.
That’s why I love looking at things I’m excited or concerned about now, how I react to things now, or what I value now compared to the past to gauge my progress and evolution.
Look a little deeper than the surface to see what has changed for you and in you.
The idea of this exercise is for you to really notice how much room there is for imagination and growth in your future.
Have you heard the phrase, strong opinions, loosely held?
The man who developed this concept is a Stanford University professor and Silicon Valley based technology forecaster named Paul Saffo. This framework is applied in his field to allow decisions or forecasts to be made without having to have all the info.
“Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect. This is the strong opinion part.
Then, and this is the loosely held part, prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit or indicators that are pointing in an entirely different direction.
Eventually, your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again.
You’ll be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you a useful result.”
We as humans, especially in the weight loss arena, have the strong opinion part down. When it comes to us and what we’re capable of we think we know.
What we want to apply is the loosely held part.
I’m not asking you to give up everything you currently believe about who you are and what you can do and believe something better and more useful immediately. You can keep those strong opinions.
What I’m asking you to entertain is the idea that who you are right now is temporary.
When your brain offers you the thought, “This is who I am,” I want you to add temporarily to the end of it. When you hear your brain offer any opinions of who you are and what you are capable of as if they are facts, just add the word temporarily.
Notice how just that simple shift can loosen the hold.
For example, “losing weight is hard for me, temporarily.”
“I’m a big girl, temporarily.”
“I’m struggling with sticking to my plan, temporarily.”
Prove yourself wrong
Then let’s get to work proving ourselves wrong. Let’s start actively showing ourselves that there might be other things that are true and other options of who we could be or become.
We tend to jump to conclusions based on limited evidence. Our brain concocts these stories to explain what happened based on what we already believe to be true.
When we are willing to hold loosely to these beliefs and opinions, we give ourselves an opportunity to move forward.
As professor Richard Feynman said, “We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible because only in that way can we find progress.”
This kind of thought work is invaluable on your journey to losing weight for life. If you’re ready to get started, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.