Making Change by Thinking Realistically

It’s no secret that many physical issues, like obesity, heart disease and diabetes are strongly influenced by lifestyle and behaviour. Behavioural choices also contribute to emotional issues, like anxiety, stress and depression. Often, we know exactly how to reduce the severity of problems or even avoid them outright simply by changing our habits. But it’s so easy to continue doing the same things over and over, even when that leads to the very issues we’re looking to overcome. The good news is that every person can change. Some approaches just work better than others.

Change is hard. It’s even harder when we set ourselves up to fail by downplaying that fact and viewing our options too simplistically or in moralistic terms. When we categorize some activities, like exercising or facing our fears as “good” and others, like smoking or procrastinating as “bad.” Labels interfere with successful change when we mistakenly extend them to ourselves as well, describing our very character as similarly “good” or “bad” depending on the activity we choose. Concluding that “I’m weak because I didn’t stick to my exercise plan” focuses only on the outcome and ignores important context, like whether you were struggling through other issues or hit your goals according to schedule more often than not.

Making change is a process that happens over time, and part of that process involves learning to look at ourselves realistically, acknowledging both our successes and our failures. Doing so provides a sense of context, enabling us to see our struggles as single parts of the bigger picture. Few people judge an actor’s or a writer’s entire career based on the success (or lack thereof) of a single piece of their work, yet we so often make things harder on ourselves by concluding that we are entirely lacking or hopeless simply because we’ve hit a snag along the way.