Is it time to untangle yourself from a past that no longer serves you?

I wrote a tweet earlier this morning suggesting that it is possible to learn to untangle ourselves from from the failings of our past, to allow us to act to create a compelling future.

Yes it is possible, if you are as tangled up as I am though it is going to take a while. That is what most of us don’t realise about self-improvement, it takes time and a huge amount of effort. Most of us (and yes I include myself in this) fail at the first hurdle. We give up early because we set ourselves up to fail by trying to untangle everything all at once, and like trying to unravel a piece of thread you just get more tangled than you were before. The only way to disentangle yourself is to start small and work on one knot at a time methodically and carefully.

If you read through my previous blogs you will see this is something I have been doing for quite sometime. It is working I have given up smoking, I am doing a job I love, I have two satisfying projects on the go and I coach privately, rather than being a smoker and stuck in a job I have fallen out of love with. I am learning to be more emotionally agile, and not being hooked on the need to be experiencing happy emotions all the time. I have still got plenty to do and the one thing the alludes me is managing my weight.

I would always tackle it as if it was one straightforward problem. Lose weight, by exercising and eating less and healthier food, oh and drink less beer. I should know better though. Nothing we do that is longstanding is straightforward, it is always tangled up with our view of our world, which is shaped by our past experiences and our relationship with those experiences. The reason I am fat is simple, I eat too much unhealthy food and don’t exercise enough. The reasons why I do those things even though I know they are bad for me is complicated, really complicated. When I think about it in many ways it is similar to my smoking habit, it took a while to disentangle that. The only difference is that I have been eating shit food for a lot longer than I was smoking, so there are a lot more knots.

You may have guessed as ever that I am writing this blog to sort my own shit out. Which is exactly true. I know what to do, but on this subject I have not previously delved deep enough. Writing this, is like zooming in on a big picture and concentrating on the small details one at a time.

So how am I going to tackle this issue, which knot am I going to concentrate on? I am going to concentrate on my emotional response to food and not exercising. What I value about these habits? How well are these habits serving me now? What could I possibly do that would serve those values now? Which one of those actions could I start to do now?

It sounds really simple but really examining the emotions and values that lay beneath a longstanding habit is challenging and requires a shift in mindset. You may remember a blog I wrote about Acceptance Commitment, or more recently when I wrote about Dr Susan David’s Emotional Agility. These approaches are very useful when untangling yourself from your past. You can do it yourself but employing a coach is a much more effective way of completing it. Below is a simplified version of the process:

  • Accept that things happen in your life that are emotionally painful, at the same time accept that emotionally uplifting things will happen too. Make room and accept both into your life with compassion and kindness.
  • Recognise the difference between your thinking, planning mind and your observing mind. The most effective way to do this is to practice mindfulness techniques to start to notice and let go thoughts and feelings.
  • Explore what you value, identify your core values. Recognise the values that drive your thoughts and emotions, identifying those that serve you well, and letting go those that do not serve you well.
  • Identify small changes to habits that meet the needs of your helpful thoughts and emotions and are congruent with your values.

The key for this is to spend the time practicing letting thoughts and feelings come and go. You can use this technique for change you want to make. If you want to explore this further, please get in touch.


Published by Matt Smith Personal and Professional Coach

Performance and Life Coach

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