Achievement and change can be daunting undertakings, and yet we hear and see success stories all around us. What makes individuals who succeed at achievement and/or change different? Here is something to consider; is achievement true change or is it the access point to making it a sustained change? Is it where the change has taken place within us that makes the difference between integrating it into our whole selves and having it be a brief (if spectacular) period of time in our lives?
A few years ago colleague of mine became one of those people who mastered change. He underwent a transformation to move to a healthy weight - no small feat. The time was right in his life, he had the tools at his disposal and he lost a significant amount of weight. The change was transformative; he went from couch potato to distance cross-country skier in two years. Today that change has “normalized” for him, which means he has settled into a more realistic weight, one that is still healthy, but not quite the dramatic change he first achieved. When he speaks of this change now he is able to see he did it through a tremendous amount of effort and will power, but he will also tell you he did it from the wrong place within himself. He pursued it as an achievement, a box to check, and along the way made some assumptions that frustrated his ability to sustain that change for the rest of his life.
What he is looking at doing now is finding a way that is a more integrated part of everything he does, and not by setting a goal and heading straight for it. “Anyone can sustain change for a period of time when they have motive and opportunity…it is much harder to sustain that change when one or the other are no longer present”. After he achieved his weight loss goal (and gained some awesome recreational distance skiing medals) the “fun” went out of the whole process. “I had made it, I had metaphorically climbed that mountain and was at the top…but the reality of being at the top is it gets pretty lonely up there and the air is really thin”. He achieved it, but through making unmaintainable changes, not ones that were an integrated part of a whole. “I got tired of counting calories, I really couldn’t see myself in the old age home using my food calculator” which lead him to consider what he REALLY wanted through this change. “When I sat down and made a list of what was important to me, living a healthy active lifestyle was on the list, having to eat and exercise in a pattern that discouraged family time was not”. He needed to make another change that honored what he had achieved through his goal, but then integrated it into the bigger picture of what he wanted for himself and his family. “To make it last the change had to come from my heart, not just be in my head – my head lost the weight, making decisions in a whole-hearted way will keep it off for good”.
Another example comes from the myriad number of clients and colleagues who realized their dream jobs; who received the all encompassing “I MADE IT” role of their careers. Sometimes, it turned out, the new job wasn’t nearly as satisfying as they thought it would be once they were in it, and it came with some negative side effects, like working longer hours and carrying a lot more stress. Many times I have heard the lament “the money wasn’t worth it”…but often there is no way to go back. Planning to achieve something, or change something, in isolation from everything else in your life does not lead to happiness (or success). So what does this mean? It means that whatever changes you undertake need to be realistic and meaningful to all parts of your life as they are unsustainable when they are only goal oriented. Goals are fantastic things to set for ourselves, they allow us to continually reach forward (growing and learning), but goals set in isolation of what really matters and what is really important set us up for failure.
An import aspect of setting goals is to examine why the goal is important, and what it gives you in achieving it. Then ask yourself how all that fits into the whole of your life. If it requires other things in your life to move or change to enable the impacts of your goal achievement to remain, be realistic about how maintainable that is, and how reasonable is it to ask your support network to back that level of change on an on-going basis. Take some time to think about what really matters to you, look at the big “life” picture, and plan with that in mind. For my colleague who lost all the weight he is much happier now, even though he is off his original “goal” weight. “I ski and cycle with the kids now, we don’t do the distances I did when I was at my ‘peak’, but I am having a lot more fun and creating a love of activity with my boys. This is ‘win-win’ and, when I think about it, this is what I actually needed to achieve when I set my original weight loss plan in motion”. He looks incredibly happy…and fit.
What really matters to you? When you take the time to figure that out you can make any achievement or change a success for life.