Fresh Ideas: Change calls for believing in ourselves
December 17, 2013
"It's not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life; it's what you whisper to yourself that has the most power." — Robert Kiyosaki
As the year draws to a close, many of us reflect on our health, our finances and our personal achievements. Perhaps we dust off last year's resolutions. Have we lost those extra pounds? Quit smoking? Paid off the credit cards? Not quite? Well, change is hard.
Part of what makes change so challenging is what behavioral and educational psychologists call self-efficacy. That's the belief — or lack thereof — in our own ability to reach goals. It actually determines our capacity to learn new things and change our behavior. This isn't really news. It was Henry Ford who said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't — you're right."
Change is possible. While the concepts here work for almost any goal, from running a marathon to writing a novel, my examples deal with that perennial bugaboo, losing weight.
First, our habits — both good and bad — are rooted in our identities, in the kind of person we believe we are. If we believe we are smart, valuable, energetic or strong, we act accordingly. If, however, we believe ourselves to be dumb, unworthy, lazy, or weak, that's how we act.
Where did these notions come from? For better or worse, a parent, teacher, spouse or friend helped define who we are. Their words became the tape that plays inside our heads. Children are especially vulnerable to these messages. However, we can change the recording if we start acting like the person we want to be. We can even reframe a negative into a positive. Stubbornness is just another word for perseverance, right?
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Second, we know success builds our self-efficacy. We also know that failure — or the perception of failure — lowers it. Therefore, it's important to set ourselves up for success with a series of small wins. Be sure those first steps are no-brainers. Wear a pedometer today. Or eat a healthy breakfast this morning.
As those little-bitty behaviors become habits, add new ones. Walk 5,000 steps a day. Or include a fruit or vegetable with every meal. Build on and celebrate each small triumph. Our self-efficacy and confidence will grow along with our determination.
Each positive choice, each helpful habit leads us in the direction of our goals. It doesn't matter how slow we go. We're still lapping everyone on the couch.
Whatever our personal goals are, I hope that each of us becomes the person we want to be, our own best self in the new year. Practicing kindness toward ourselves and our loved ones seems like a good first step. And you don't have to wait until January to start.
Lorie Schaefer is retired, mostly.