There is a curious thing I have noticed about people with weight issues who are not yet ready to let go of it. They have often developed a detailed mythology to explain their weight and provide evidence why for them letting go of that weight is more difficult than it is for anyone else. Now this may sound quite harsh and unkind, however I know I have done the same myself in the past.
I have heard Dr Phil McGraw call this mythology a person’s “victim story” and this applies to any psychological tale we tell ourselves and others that keeps us stuck. You may have spotted this is not just a weight issue, in this series weight is merely the metaphor we are using to explore how people keep themselves trapped within their familiar patterns.
Okay, so what?
When we recognise, name and own our mythology we can step into our power. We can realise that we are in control of our own lives, we have developed powerful strategies that keep us maintaining the evidence of our personal story. If we don’t like that story it is time to write a new one. By writing a new story we can have a new outcome, a new reality and a new life!
How do we create a new story?
Step number one is to fully identify and own our current mythology. What stories are we telling ourselves and others to explain why we have been unable to change? The stories will take a number of forms:
- We have the blame story usually dating back to childhood experiences that have made us the way we are. Now while these stories may well be the original reason for us developing a particular story we do not need to keep running that strategy now.
- The genetics excuse is always interesting, where a person has convinced themselves that they are pre-disposed to weight gain. While it may well be possible that you come from a family with a tradition for obesity our weight will still be the product of physics! By physics I mean the more we over eat the more overweight we become.
- Linked to the genetics excuse is the low metabolism story. Most people who use this one are basing it on opinion and have not had a physiological test to confirm such a diagnosis. Here’s the kicker, the metabolism can be increased or decreased based on our level of activity. In other words our metabolic rate is something we can influence by a change in lifestyle. There are also several other popular health stories, some may have evidence attached while others are self-diagnosed. Even health conditions that do have a medical diagnosis there is no need to assume change is impossible. There are plenty of people who successfully manage their condition and their weight. If you do have a medical diagnosis there is a question you need to answer. How do they do it? If someone else can manage their health condition, so can you!
- Other people use mythology around lack of time and/or lack of money. Both of these resources are cited as barriers to making changes. Although having lots of money and time might make changes easy (not a guarantee) neither is necessary. It is possible to eat healthier on low budgets and finding time is often about re-evaluating priorities. For example how many hours do you spend watching TV each week?
- There are also mythologies around stress, enablers, food addictions, enjoying food and lack of will power/motivation to name just a few.
So here is your task this week. Answer the following questions if you are someone who would like to lose weight (you can apply these questions to other issues too):
- What do you tell yourself about your current situation?
- Why are you overweight?
- What prevents you from reaching your goals?
- What is your theory about why you are overweight and why you are not slim and healthy?
- What does being overweight give you permission to do or not do?
- When you achieve your goals what will you lose as a result? (In other words what are the disadvantages of achieving your desired outcome?).
- What are you prepared to do take ownership of your life?
Now look at your answers. Go back and add in all the answers you edited out. If you are hiding answers consider this, you are only hiding them from yourself! Denial is unhelpful to you and will keep you stuck. If necessary take a few days to reflect and add to your answers. Keep going until you have identified your whole mythological tale.
How are you giving your power away to others? Look at anything you have written down that attributes your success or failure to someone else. Challenge yourself to redefine the story. If you are looking at a childhood issue that may have been responsible for the strategy you now have acknowledge how powerful that was back then. You did it for a reason, probably to keep yourself safe or to provide comfort. We will explore such issues later in this series, for now own it and give yourself permission to accept that at the time it was the best you could do under the circumstances.
For other strategies and excuses, name them as excuses. Acknowledge to yourself that these are just stories that you have been using to explain your lack of progress.
Look at your answers to questions five and six. The answers will provide you with some of the unconscious reasons you have been unable to reach your goals up until now. Moving on will involve addressing these answers. You will need to look at how you can keep the benefits of being overweight in a more healthy way. This may be something you need help with as the answers are not always obvious.
From an NLP perspective we are looking at the positive intention behind unhelpful behaviours and patterns. One of the underlying principles of NLP is to accept that on an unconscious level there is a positive intention behind all behaviours. This can be a challenging principle as often we develop behaviours that we are still unhappy about. We do the best we can with the resources we have available to us at the time and sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. For example eating a sweet treat when upset can be a distraction from the distress and the sugar rush may give a temporary positive buzz.
We are also checking for secondary gains. A secondary gain is an unexpected positive benefit that we receive from what on the surface is an unhealthy situation. As an example, I was watching an episode of “Losing it with Jillian” this morning. The man in the episode received a lot of attention and love from his friends when he rebelled against exercise and healthy behaviours. He got to feel loved by resisting healthy advice because his friends put energy into coaxing and cajoling him to take better care of himself. He needed to understand that his friends would still love him if he got healthy!
Now this is important!!!
Be gentle with yourself! This step in the process is about owning your story and reclaiming your personal power. By owning your amazing creativity in keeping yourself stuck you are recognising that you can make changes. Right now you might not know how. Owning your story and letting go of shame is the first step in changing.
Be proud that you are ready to own your story and as Dr Phil would say let go of your victim story!
Let me know how you get on with these questions. If you have trouble getting perspective leave a comment and I will do my best to help you.
Next week we will start unravelling some of those childhood patterns.