How To Get Tough When You Feel Anything But
Can I be honest with you? Right now, I am very unimpressed with how I’ve been treating my body. See, the summer months where I live are dreadfully hot. We’re talking heat indexes approaching 120 (upper 40’s/low 50’s C).
And so cabin fever is a real thing.
Who wants to step outside in an oven? You sweat through your clothes within five minutes. Couple that with having a rambunctious toddler who wants nothing more than to run everywhere, and you’ve got a recipe for stress.
So. Much. Stress.
In full transparency, I haven’t been practicing what I preach.
I dropped the ball. Rather than address the deeper issues – fears about whether I can make a career from my writing, worrying about money, and missing my family – I ate my feelings. A lot.
Got the jiggly gut to prove it.
Health problems, weight gain, stress, anxiety, and parenting a toddler while my husband works long, inconsistent hours. All of that weight became too much to carry. I’d argue that it all migrated to my stomach, like I gave birth two months ago instead of two years.
But I digress.
The point is not to invite you to my pity party (bring snacks!). But rather to examine how to get back out of a rut, should you find yourself in one.
Mindset Matters…A Lot
The thing about quitting any bad habit or stress avoidance coping mechanism is that you have to get into the right mindset. This was true for me of smoking and drinking. It’s true today of emotional eating.
Here’s the bummer.
You can master the mindset for one thing and have to start completely over with another. It’s not a perfectly transferrable skill.
But there are things you can do to strengthen your overall mental fortuity, and that’s what I’ve been privately focusing on the last few weeks. The combined effort of having done a big life change in the past and practicing resilience daily does, I believe, help us get back on track faster.
Whether your current demon is alcohol, cigarettes, food, or something else (maybe even a few of these at once), these strategies can help.
Developing Mental Toughness Through Sustained Practice
You know what makes me fail every single time?
Trying to do too much at once.
I am impatient. Part of my battle with depression and anxiety means I have a tendency to view things in black and white. With food, I’m either 100% eating well and cutting out overly sugary things and soda 24-7 OR I’m stuffing my face with pizza and downing a 2 liter of Coke.
There’s no gray area in my head.
And that, my friends, is plain stupid.
Try though we may, the vast majority of us are not going to fix everything all at once. This is why when you first get sober, they tell you to focus on not drinking and only that. First things first.
On one of my previous sobriety attempts, I stopped drinking and smoking one day, and the next started a VERY intense 4-week boot camp which included 48 hrs of fasting, surviving on nothing but broccoli and some other green thing (I can’t remember).
Want to guess how that went?
Related Post: Why Willpower & Self-Discipline Are Not Always Enough
Taking Time To Build Your Mental Muscles
Rest assured, I’ve attempted to revolutionize my eating habits overnight on several occasions with similar results.
And then I stopped and had a heart to heart with myself.
Once you do something big like quit drinking alcohol or smoking, you learn yourself. It becomes easier to recognize when you’re falling into old traps.
I recognized something incredibly desperate and out of control about the way I was eating. It meant dusting off the old proverbial toolbox and getting serious about solutions.
Grit is like any other muscle – it requires exercise and use to stay fit. I hadn’t tended to it much and now here I am.
Related Post: The Power of Grit in Sobriety
If you’re not practicing success, you’re practicing failure. Or something.
You can’t white knuckle your way to grittiness.
Believe me. I’ve tried. It actually takes practice. You have to consciously decide every day that you are going to show up and be consistent.
But in the same way you aren’t going to go out and do five miles on your first run, you have to build up to the big, gritty stuff.
This is especially true if you’ve let something go for too long (guilty!).
If, like me, you tend to be a very black and white, all or nothing thinker, you have to start by getting it out of your head that you’re going to transform quickly. You’re not.
That’s where breaking your goal down into smaller pieces comes in. (Welcome to the gray area!)
1. What is ONE thing you can consistently do this week to work towards your goal?
Because if you try to do too much at once, you’re going to crash and burn. You’re going to cave and that cave is going to look like a binge.
Oh hey, who ate this entire bag of Oreos?
It’s why people who go on really restrictive diets and lose a ton of weight in a short period of time tend to gain it all back and then some.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, my friends. The same is true of your greatness.
Choose one thing you can do this week that will challenge you but not drive you absolutely bonkers in the process.
I’ll give an example.
Say, like me, you want to stop drinking soda every day. I tried on several occasions to just toss everything out and proclaim my body a soda-free zone henceforth. That’s that black and white thinking.
So I decided to opt for a bit of gray and it is working SIGNIFICANTLY better.
I used to have a can of Diet Pepsi around nine in the morning along with some toast. (I know.) For one week, I replaced it with a delightful green tea with Moroccan mint that doesn’t taste like dirt.
It’s been great. Dare I say, refreshing?
Though it goes against all my instincts (which tend to be shit, if I’m honest), I force myself to not worry about what happens the rest of the day. My job is to every single day drink the damn tea at breakfast.
And you know what?
I drink significantly less soda since starting this. Some days, none at all.
2. Build on your habits, slowly. So…so…slowly.
This article could’ve been titled, “Why doing the opposite of what I normally do is the key to a happy life.” Are you one of those grandiose proclamation people?
You know. The ones who say, “Guys! I’m going vegan!” But two weeks later you’ve got a burger in your hands wondering where you went wrong. And then the following week it’ll be something else. Rinse. Repeat.
No judgment or shame here, but we gotta cut that shit out. Seriously!
The bad habit came on slowly and so will the mental fortitude to eliminate it. Last week, I made sure I had tea with my breakfast. This week, when I hit that 4 pm energy slump, guess what I’ve got brewing?
That’s right! Green tea with Moroccan mint and a splash of cardamon.
Retrain your brain.
I’m teaching my body to expect something else. Green tea has caffeine so it eliminates the massive caffeine migraines I’d given myself a few weeks ago by trying to quit soda AND caffeine at once.
It tastes good (pleasantly) and the warmth is proving to be a delightful signal to my brain and body to take it down a notch. Often times, I’d grab a soda because I felt stressed, tired, mentally exhausted, you name it.
Why a soda?
Well, my brain said, “Hey! We don’t feel so good. We NEED to feel good!” And you know what satisfies the craving cycle and delivers a mighty good dopamine boost to my sugar-addled brain? Soda.
The goal is to associate decompressing with a warm cup of tea instead of soda and that’s why, every single day, I actively make the choice to drink the green tea during my wind down time. I’m building new associations and connections.
Related Post: The Science Behind Replacing Bad Habits With Good Ones
3. Find Opportunities To Practice Grit Every Single Day
If you want to be someone who toughs it out and pushes through, you have to train your brain to believe that you are this kind of person.
It’s not enough to say, “I want to be tougher.” You have to practice it. But how?
One of my favorite ways to practice grit is during my daily exercise routine. I workout now every single day. It’s usually not a long workout. Most days it ranges between 10-15 minutes. Weight lifting days are closer to 45 minutes.
What matters is that I show up and get it done.
There comes a point in every workout where a muscle starts to burn. It is very easy to pull back when this happens. Maybe you ease out of the exercise and take a two second break. Or you shave a rep or two off of your current round.
I make it a point to push through a little more each time. If I’m lifting weights and my arms are burning and feel like they might fall off, I tell myself, “Do two more.”
It’s just two. Sure, those two SUCK. And hurt. But I do them and live to tell about it.
Every time you hang on just a tiny bit longer than you want, you are teaching your brain that you can push and keep going.
If you’ve been doing the opposite of that (like I have), then these small victories are actually incredibly important. Our brains like consistency which is why habits are so hard to break and adopt. Every time you push the through the burn and finish a set, you teach your brain that THIS is what we do.
We don’t quit. We push.
Build Yourself Up Every Day
The same is true in sobriety.
I used to cave so easily. It was almost like I wanted something or someone to tempt me so I’d have an excuse to say screw it, and toss away however many handful of sober days I’d accumulated.
Find ways to give yourself a win every single day.
If you know your bestie is going to call you Thursday night to organize Friday happy hour, commit to turning it down just this once.
Don’t think about the following week or the week after that.
Commit to this week and then stick to it. Even if you’re a craving, moody mess when Friday rolls around, chances are you will wake up Saturday morning thinking to yourself, “Oh hey! I DID that!”
Even if it’s something small like catching yourself ready to dig into some ice cream and reversing course to have a banana instead. It doesn’t matter if your dinner isn’t perfect. You had a win when you chose that banana over ice cream.
It’s another grit rep for your brain.
These things will make you feel good about yourself. I find that proving to myself that I am capable through action is far more impactful than just relying on personal pep talks.
Yes, the way you talk to yourself is important. But you have to take the fight outside of your brain and into the real world as well.
Suck It Up Buttercup
While this process makes the whole change process easier, it doesn’t eliminate struggle completely. There will be days when you have to dig deep to do that one simple thing.
But do it.
Those days are like bonus points for your brain.
Oh, you did your exercise routine after you got less sleep than normal and woke up in a funky mood? You MUST really be serious! – your brain (probably)
4. Don’t Forget About The Underlying Issues
The goal is and should always be to create changes that stick.
I’m not trying to yo-yo diet or head back into the land of sobriety, relapse, binge. The best way to safeguard yourself against relapse (of any kind) is to address the underlying causes of your bad habits and/or addictions.
What’s driving all this? How did you get here?
If you aren’t taking time to unpack the emotional drivers of your drinking, smoking, or emotional eating, you will continue to struggle.
These things change over time.
I dealt with the things that drove me to drink, but that certainly doesn’t mean my issues have all been vanquished. There are still things in my life that I don’t always know how to handle. Problems, like people, evolve.
The same will be true for you.
Even if you wrestle one demon to the ground, there’s probably another one waiting to take its place. It’s just part of the human experience. Even the Dalai Llama gets annoyed.
The problems start when we ignore or bury our “stuff” while its still small and manageable. The longer we do this, the bigger and more unmanageable it will become.
You have to stay vigilant against any intrusions into your inner world. Protect it at all costs. This is why I preach about the importance of staying consistent with your routines so much. (Despite not always being a great example.)
When I am consistent with my routines, there is nothing I cannot do. When I’m not, I look down at my sad, sagging belly feeling sorry for myself.
Creating and sticking to your routines is another way to give yourself a daily win.
Routines also serve as a great security system for my inner world. If my routines become challenging to keep up with all of the sudden, that’s a red flag.
Why are you struggling so much to get to the gym? What’s really going on?
Investing some mental energy up front when you notice that you’re off your game is a great way to intervene before whatever problem grows and gets out of hand.
Don’t let your new routine slide.
When you cave to whatever bad vibe or problem is preventing you from doing even a five minute workout, you make it stronger. You’re feeding the beast.
As an isolated incident, skipping one workout, or subbing one green tea for a Coke is not going to make or break you. But every time we make a choice like that, we damage the new neural connection we’re trying to form to get this new habit going and and reinforce the old habit we’re trying to break.
Little slips, much like little wins, accumulate too. Just not in the direction you want them to.
5. Learn Patience.
I don’t have a ton of great advice for this one because it is where I currently find myself.
That being said, I think presence has a lot to do with it. The more I live inside my head, fretting about an unknowable future, the more impatient I become.
I want to lose weight NOW. To be able to financially contribute to my family NOW. And craving that kind of impossible immediacy only adds to my stress, tipping the scale in favor of another pizza and pop binge.
For me, patience means being gentle with myself.
When you look in the mirror and see an unsightly gut protruding through your clothes, it’s easy to forget that you’ve worked out every single day this week and been killing it with the green tea.
We’re so drawn to our faults and equally neglectful of our wins.
I have to remind myself that these things take time. And honestly, I don’t have to be down a couple pant sizes to feel good about the direction my life is headed.
The process is good. Celebrate that. Even if the end result is way in the future. It’s a weird kind of faith, almost. To believe that little wins, done consistently over an extended period of time have the power to transform your life.
When I was getting sober, I could not have imagined what my life is like now.
Sure, I wished for a good life, but believing it was really available to me? Was never too sure about that. But sobriety is always about more than putting down the drink. The little wins you pick up along the way DO add up.
I think back to the person I was four years ago and can hardly believe we’re the same.
But it took time to get here. I make sure to remind myself of that every day that I deal with this new battle. And honestly, that’s the best way to do it.
One little win at a time.
We’re Gonna Get There
Whatever your struggle right now, I have the utmost confidence in your ability to get through it. You don’t have to be some Herculean unicorn to transform yourself.
Just committed and in it for the long haul.
In the mean time, let us help lift you up and support you. If you’re not already part of the Soberish private Facebook group, go ahead and send a request.
We’d love to have you.
Be kind to yourself!
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