- More often 'lecturing' than 'helpful,' they either leave you feeling guilty about what you should be doing, or they're so rah-rah cheerful and chirpy that you want to throw the book at the author's head. Really hard.
- Since all of us are different, there's no one-size-fits-all scheme for overcoming bad habits and making lasting changes that lead to self-improvement.
- Anyone who claims to have reduced life's complexities to a multi-step sequence that offers a foolproof outcome should -- like authority -- be questioned.
We Know But We're Not Aware
The title provides a clue. Gallagher grasps that because we already know what we need to be doing but still aren't doing it, our problem lies not in lack of knowledge but lack of awareness. Becoming aware of our own behaviors, thoughts, feelings and actions is an essential part of understanding who we are and accepting who we are right now...especially before we attempt to change.
She opens her book with a section entitled "WHY? Why don't I do what I know is good for me?" and in seven short chapters acknowledges the influences that keep us stuck in the not-so-good behaviors. In the next section "HOW? How do we change our habits of self-care?" she sets the stage with a few simple ideas. Here's one:
It is a truism that people who feel good about themselves take care of themselves. And the reverse is also true. People who take good care of themselves feel good about themselves. Which comes first? The self-care or the self-love? It doesn't matter. You can get there from both sides.
Take as Long as You Need
Some chapters offer advice we've all heard before:
- Let go of perfectionism.
- Clear away negative emotions.
- Practice using affirmations to retrain your thinking.
- Resting is not "doing nothing."
- Never pass up an opportunity to pee.
- Give up the need to be liked by everyone.
How many of us are so proficient at ignoring our own needs and best interests that we keep going even though we are dead tired? in desperate need of a ladies' room? killing ourselves to please others who dismiss or reject us?
By acknowledging that rest can replenish us, that going to the bathroom is the most basic form of self-care, and that 'people pleasing' behavior can deplete us, she shows us that even the smallest actions are 'good for me' steps that will lead to greater large-scale improvements.
"Sure," you may be thinking. "Nice words. Nice thoughts. But does it work?"
Yes it can. It worked for me.
How I Did Something Good for Me
- First, just notice what you do and don't do. Don't change anything -- just notice.
- Give up the struggle. Make peace with who you are today.
- Don't let what you can't do stop you from what you can do.
So I did something I haven't done in 20 years - I started running every morning. "Run" was a relative term as there was initially more walking than running. After four weeks I could comfortably run for half an hour. After five weeks it was closer to 40 minutes. It's been seven weeks now, and my morning run is now a daily routine.
Gallagher helped me to re-envision what was 'good for me.' Instead of focusing on weight loss and relying on a scale to measure my success, I celebrated that I could run farther, longer, faster. My scale hasn't shifted significantly, but I've gone down a dress size. Instead of obsessing about weight, I'm aiming to improve my cardiovascular health and physical endurance.
Changing Your Thinking About Change
Why Don't I Do the Things I Know are Good for Me? Taking Small Steps Toward Improving the Big Picture
by BJ Gallagher
Paperback, 254pp. ISBN 978-0-425-21965-2
Berkley Books / June 2009