Self Care Secret #3: Change your Habits, Change your Identity

My third and final secret for really great self care is to understandthat changing your habits means changing your identity.

Each of us is a person who does certain things, acts certain ways, and reacts in other ways.  Like it or not, we know ourselves as this person, and the people around us know us as this person, too. We are expected to be that person. If we start to change ourselves, our lives will also change. This can be liberating and exciting, and it can also be hard for us and our loved ones. This can result in self-sabotage, a common problem. Because this is a really important factor in why we don’t change, you need to pay attention.

The dieting cycle I developed as a child continued until I found yoga when I was studying abroad in college. I had done a little yoga, but I had never signed up for a course. It was a funny little class in the student rec center, and I didn’t even have a yoga mat. I didn’t quite feel like I was doing it right, but no matter what happened during class, I always emerged feeling better than when I started. I began to understand what it was like to really feel good and connected to my body.

In addition to yoga, I started to live from a more relaxed, playful part of myself. I spent Saturday mornings wandering through flea markets and weekday afternoons journaling in cafes. I felt creative for the first time in my life and also really happy for no apparent reason. Then a funny thing happened. I realized that I only really wanted to eat three meals a day, when I was hungry for them. I bought fresh produce and other good groceries so I could cook for myself. I didn’t eat breakfast until I was hungry in the morning and didn’t eat after dinner at night. I enjoyed my food and didn’t feel at all deprived.  It felt like the opposite of a diet!

After three months of this, I lost 15 lbs and came back home looking and feeling great.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a handle on my diet and my body.

But I came back to my last semester of college where I was surrounded by people who loved to eat late night pizza and go to all the happy hours around town. I was so happy to see them, and they loved having me back!  Instead of going to yoga or journaling at cafes, I met friends for chips and salsa washed down with margaritas. The old me--the person I was before I studied abroad--was a person who filled her schedule to the brim and said “yes” when my heart wanted to say “no.” While I was abroad, I was able to have healthier habits and practice real self care. Once I came home, though, my friends and family--my support system--didn’t understand this new self and expected me to be the way that I had always been. At the time I didn’t have the skills to understand that I had created a new identity and needed support to keep it up. So I just went with the flow, gained all the weight back, and began my next diet a few months later. Which, of course, didn’t work.

The thing to remember about living healthier through changing our habits is that we never get it done. We are always a work in progress. This became clear to me a few weekends ago when I was at a children’s birthday party. Before the party I had gone to yoga, and after that I had eaten a healthy, satisfying meal. I showed up at the party thinking I might just have a little dessert. I was happy to see they had a big chocolate Costco sheet cake. I love Costco sheet cakes because they have that delicious cream layer in the middle.

With my old habits, I would have eaten a big piece, enjoyed the taste but then felt guilty. With my new habits, I thought about it for a few extra minutes and decided that I would try a small piece first. I took a bite. It tasted really artificial and sugary to me. My taste buds had become much more sensitive. I decided to just eat the cream layer and then discreetly toss the rest into the trash. Even with that little bit of sugar, my body immediately felt off balance. But instead of feeling guilty about it, I looked at it as extra knowledge that will help me in forming my new habits. I’m hoping that the future me will politely decline the cake and later eat a few pieces of high quality dark chocolate to satisfy my sugar craving. Maybe the future me won’t crave sugar at all.  If so, I’m curious to meet her!

Take a moment and think about your current identity. What habits do you have?  How do the people in your life expect you to show up?

Now think about your desired future identity and her habits. Does she go to bed earlier even when the laundry isn’t folded? Does she stop eating when she’s full even though there is food left on the plate? Now think about your support system. Are you surrounded daily by people who have the habits you want? Or are you just going with the flow of what people expect from you?

These are really important questions to ask yourself because if you don’t have the support system to support the person you want to become, change is going to be really hard. We are social creatures who crave a sense of belonging. Thinking that our new self is going to be rejected by our support system creates a lot of unconscious fear. We often self-sabotage our good efforts because we are afraid that the people in our lives won’t be able to handle our healthier self with all of her new boundaries. This is why I do a lot of group coaching.  To make change, we need other people who understand exactly where we are at and also where we want to go. I create communities of women taking on habit change and evolving together.  It’s powerful!

One really easy way to begin creating support for your new identity is to invite the people in your world to make changes with you.

I have clients who are afraid that their husbands will freak out if they change dinner time to 6pm, but often their husbands are excited about the idea. One of my client’s husband, who is retired and home all day but has never cooked before, has even start making dinner so they can eat right when she gets home from work.

We may fear all the unknown variables that accompany change, but if we never try to communicate our needs, we will stay stuck in fear and never become our best, most dynamic selves. This is the self we know we are but don’t quite know how to become.

I tell people all the time about creating a life that is in sync with the daily cycles--getting up earlier, sleeping deeper, being truly nourished by food--and they ask me how to get there. I tell them about these three secrets to really great self care and that it can feel a bit unsexy at times. I’m not promising big dramatic changes that happen in 10 days. It’s all about being honest with yourself, starting small, being held accountable, and finding support. My clients actually make the changes they desire, and suddenly, the unsexy gets a little sexier because it works!

There you have it . Unsexy as they may be at times, these are my hard won lessons. They've changed everything in my life and they can for you too.  If you are deeply intrigued, then it's time for us to talk.  Take this survey to sign up for a free 30 minute phone session with me, and we'll be off and running.

Next week I'm going to give you the BONUS SECRET that ties everything together.  Make sure you read it because without it none of the other secrets will work.