We have all had successes in life. Some were things we strived for, some were things that came easily and others were things we never thought were possible. How did we get ourselves to achieve those seemingly impossible things? Sometimes we take the leap into something because we see others succeed in it, and then we think “Why not me?” If that was all there was to it, then we would all be our best selves at all times. All we would have to do would be to look around us and find inspiration. Needless to say, we would have all met our goals by now since inspiring people are everywhere. Alas, that is not how the story usually goes.
Let’s say you want to lose weight. You survey your surroundings and notice that a friend has recently lost all the weight you have been trying to lose. You think, “Inspiration!” and go straight to making all the necessary changes in your life that would make such weight loss not only possible but guaranteed. But, as we unfortunately know, that is not what usually happens. Instead of feeling empowered, you start to feel guilty about the fact that you had not followed the same path or showed the same commitment. To assuage your guilt you could forgive yourself for not taking action earlier and resolve to take action now. You can push away the French Fries and return to the counter and order the salad. But more often than not, that is again not what happens.
It is not uncommon for people to see someone’s success as their failure. In such cases, to escape the uncomfortable feelings that arise, people deny the successes of others. In our case, since you likely cannot deny the actual weight loss, you may deny the method. You say to yourself, “She must have done something extreme, like surgery, and I am not willing to do that” or “She must have to starve herself, and I could never do that.” So, instead of allowing this moment to influence your life in a positive direction, you discredit it.
By disregarding the success of others, you protect yourself from feeling guilty for your own inaction. But what happens when you later feel bad again because you still have not lost the weight? The annoying question creeps up: “Why not me?” Chances are that you don’t say to yourself: “because I was too scared to invest in myself” or “because I am unwilling to do the hard work.” Instead you say: “because I am protecting myself from doing extreme things.” This allows you to continue to feel good about yourself while not feeling like you have to take any action. The problem is that you still have not accomplished your goal of losing the weight! At this point you have to ask yourself: “Is it so important to me to avoid negative feelings that I am passing up opportunities to be influenced into becoming the best Me that I can be?”
Let’s say you recognize the flaw in your original response, and you want to try again. You meet up with your friend, and this time, you don’t discredit her success, but you focus only on what she has accomplished without asking her how she accomplished it. This is unlikely to lead you to follow in her footsteps. But why not? Her positive influence on you is right there for the taking. When you focus exclusively on the end result, it may seem like the person accomplished what they did by luck or magic, and you sit around waiting for it to happen for you lamenting the fact that it hasn’t. This approach does not empower or motivate you to take the actions that would bring about the change you desire. For example, “She lost all that weight because she has a fast metabolism, and I don’t,” which again gets you no closer to your goal.
So how can we get to where we want to go with the help of the great people around us? What we need is to focus on the process of success. We need to think and ask “How did she accomplish this goal?” Crucially, in addition to finding out what she did, you may also want to find out what she had to overcome and what strategies she used to do that. For example, if she started going to the gym at 5am, you may want to ask about how she motivated herself to get out of bed that early and how she managed childcare. This will allow you to learn from the skills, strategies and supports she put towards achieving her goal. You can then figure out which of those you already possess and focus on building the ones you lack. Now you are armed and ready to set your goal and work towards accomplishing it. The more information you have about the actual process, and not the idealized process you envisioned, the more likely you are to be able to replicate it. Now with the awareness of the pitfalls in mind, pay attention and follow your influencers!
By: Dr. Julie Davelman
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