Old Habits Die Hard
Ever find yourself on a roll? Walking around head high, feeling pretty confident that you’ve got this whole work, parenting, relationship, healthy living (insert life area of your choice) thing mastered? Like, “Huh, look at me over here. Doing pretty damn good. Got my ducks in a row. Got my shit figured out. Yep, really liking the direction things are going” and then BAM! You wake up one day and feel like your ass has been kicked right back to square one.
After 6 months of eating healthy, you’re suddenly sneaking your kids’ Halloween candy every night after they go to sleep.
You’ve been killing it at the new job all year but today, a project lands on your desk that leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed and wondering why these people were stupid enough to hire you. Don’t they know you’re incompetent, dammit?
You have skillfully avoided the family melodrama machine for ages, and then cousin Fred sends you an email about how he got left out of Grandma’s will and now he can’t get those hair plugs, so you spend the next week embroiled in a real life episode of Coronation Street.
You’ve been feeling like parent of the year lately. You haven’t lost it on your kids for a whole two weeks, and then someone leaves their toothpaste spit in the sink again and without warning, you’re pulling a Linda Blair on everyone in the house.
Or maybe, you’ve committed to stop engaging in gossip. You decided awhile back that it just makes you feel icky, and you really do have better things to do with your time and more intelligent things to say. But then, you go to grab a coffee in the break room and find yourself sucked into a juicy conversation about how Sharon clearly got a nose job when she was ‘on vacation’.
Whatever it is, you were doing great, and now you’re not.
Which inevitably starts the shame spiral. It sounds something like this, ‘WTF is wrong with me? Why can’t I just stop eating candy/gossiping/yelling… already? Why did I think I could do this job/task? How could I let this happen? Now I blew it, so what’s the point of even trying? I’m such a loser. This is too hard. I might as well just forget it. Sound familiar?
I had my own personal experience with this recently.
After spending years getting to a place where I mostly like myself and mostly don’t give a crap about what other people think, I was working on some new stuff last week and suddenly, I had a moment of panic. It dawned on me that despite the fact that tens of thousands of people have visited my website since I launched it nearly three years ago, and that I work like a dog at what I do because I love it, I am still struggling to make gains. Suddenly, I felt like a big fat failure. Enter, the shame spiral…
“Why don’t they like me? What am I doing wrong? How can Joe Blow be a massive success after a year in business and I still suck? I must be delusional if I thought this could work! I should just shut up. Nobody cares what I have to say anyhow. Why did I even think they would?”
In that instant, all the ‘self work’ I had done over the last decade had vanished. I was right back to being a neurotic, anxious, mess, who compared myself to everyone, worried about not getting it ‘right’, and who gave all the fucks about what other people thought. And then of course, I was pissed off at myself because I had let it get to me like that. I thought I was done with all that! Ugh!
Why does this healthy eating/career/parenting/being a good person/learning to love yourself thing have to be so damn hard anyway?
Why? Because old habits die hard folks. That’s why.
It’s easier to stay in your comfort zone, even if it’s not really all that comfortable there anymore. It’s the proverbial, devil you know. Your brain and your cells like those familiar thought patterns, behaviours and feelings. Even if they aren’t really healthy. So at the first sign of stress, slipping back into old habits feels good on some strange level.
It’s like the old ratty t-shirt you’ve had since high school. It’s full of holes, outdated and doesn’t really suit you anymore but damn, it’s still comfy, and it reminds you of easier, more oblivious times. Whenever you slip it on, you feel better for awhile, so you’re just not ready to let that t-shirt go.
And you know what? It’s o.k. to hang onto that t-shirt and even to wear it every once in awhile. It’s o.k. to remind yourself of where you came from and to reminisce about the good old days. It’s good to take that trip down familiarity lane on occasion… as long as you don’t romanticize it.
Don’t get stuck there, fantasizing about how great things were and how much simpler, easier and more fun life was back then. Because if you’re being honest with yourself, it wasn’t always all sunshine and unicorns. In fact, a lot of the times, it really sucked.
Those old habits/behaviours/thought patterns, just like that old familiar t-shirt, are giving you a false sense of comfort. They're tricking you into thinking you should just say, “To hell with it all” and go back to high school. They have you temporarily fooled into thinking that the ‘good old days’ were really all good, or at least a lot less complicated. So you start eating the candy, yelling at the kids, firing off the nasty emails, turning down the projects, meeting up with the gang for Thursday night gossip club, or obsessively checking your website stats to see how many people read your last blog post.
Sure, it can feel good in the moment. Like a release of pressure. Like you’re actually doing yourself a favour. I imagine, like an addict must feel when they take a drink or a hit, after being sober for awhile.
But the high is only temporary. Soon, and hopefully, the ‘hangover’ sets in. You have a moment of clarity and realize that actually, eating all that candy/yelling at the kids/engaging in the gossip/giving into the self criticism, makes you feel like total crap. And truthfully, you really hate feeling like total crap.
At this point, you have a choice. You can succumb to another shame spiral and beat yourself up for slipping and going down that road again or, you can use this opportunity to shore up your resolve. You can tell yourself that the next time you get the urge to fall back into familiar, unhealthy patterns, you will remember this very moment. You will remember how it felt after the high. You will remember the crash.
You will acknowledge that you’re human and therefore, imperfect. But you won’t use that as an excuse to surrender to the dark side. You will pat yourself on the back for recognizing that this old pattern no longer suits you. That the old you, is no longer who you want to be.
Then, you’ll put down the candy, get to work on that project, stop engaging cousin Fred, apologize to the kids, tell the gossip club you are busy on Thursday nights, hit publish on the latest post you wrote, put that old t-shirt back in the drawer (or maybe even throw it out for good this time), and get on with the business of feeling proud of how far you’ve come, and confident about where you're headed.