Lately, I’ve been contemplating what it takes to overcome inertia. Maybe it’s because the lazy days of summer are over, or my mind being more attuned to the transformational themes of the Jewish new year.
Regardless, I’ve noticed that many clients, loved ones, and even yours truly, are doing the ambivalence dance with the one hard thing we all recognize as ultimately necessary to improve our lives, from initiating a risky but necessary conversation with a loved one to taking steps to change a career, or kicking a bad habit.
Ironically, many of us don’t think twice about pushing ourselves to the point of pain and exhaustion at the gym. Yet when life pushes us to exercise our emotional, spiritual and mental muscles, we often would prefer lighter, gentler, no-impact routines.
But until we are willing to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we will remain stunted, unable to reach the full strength of what we are capable of experiencing, whether in our career, relationships or communities.
That’s why I suggest applying the effective strategies for physical exercise to our internal challenges to create a “personal growth workout.” This targets the underdeveloped resilience muscles needed to achieve important outer goals. Here’s how it works.
1.Choose one hard thing.While there may be many things you need to work on, focus on one obstacle at a time. Ask yourself, “What is the one hard thing I need to do that could improve my life?”
2.Reframe it as a challenge and set a goal.Studies show that people who perceive difficult situations as challenges are happier and more successful than those who feel victimized and dwell on their misfortune. Identify the challenge presented by your one hard thing and set a concrete, achievable goal.
3.Identify what’s at stake.Sometimes recognizing the cost of not working out, like a heart attack or diabetes, can be motivating to overcome resistance to the physical hardship of exercise.
4.Target the “muscles” you need to strengthen.Perhaps you need to develop your courage muscle to conquer your fear, your discipline muscle to maintain focus or your compassion muscle to soften your judgement. Create an affirmation that you can say to yourself to remember your commitment to this goal: “be brave,” “disciple yields results,” “there but for the grace of God go I.”
5.Ask or hire a “personal trainer.”Asupportive presence can help you staymotivated to overcomeobstacles and inertia.
6.Warm up.You wouldn’t begin a tough physical workout without first warming up your muscles. The same is true of mental and emotional challenges. What do you need to do to prepare yourself for this one hard thing? Try clarifying your thoughts by writing in a journal, rehearsing a hard conversation, buying nicotine patches or designating a spot in your home as a meditation zone.
7.Create and execute a workout regimen.What “reps” do you need to do on a daily basis? For a behavioral issue like anger, it might look something like, “When I notice I’m getting angry, I will pause and take five deep breaths before acting.” If your one hard thing is a conversation or a one-time thing, pick a deadline for follow-through and don’t deviate.
8.Don’t be afraid of possible pain.As a dance teacher once told me, when you begin to stretch, your muscles may scream “no, no, no — they don’t think they can handle the tension because it’s never been asked of them before,” she explained. “But as you gradually ease into the pose, they relax and discover an untapped capacity for elasticity.”
Kim Schneiderman,MSW, LCSWisapsychotherapist and the author of“Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life.”Email Kim your questions firstname.lastname@example.org.