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Pause Button

I have a confession to make.  Sometimes my goals and behaviors don’t align.

There are times when, despite my best intentions, I do things that go against my daily, monthly or annual goals.  Last night, for example, I spontaneously woke up at 3:30am.  I then spent two hours scrolling through my phone instead of trying to fall back asleep.  I knew this would wake me up even more, and I know that sleep is essential to my physical, mental and emotional well-being.  But I did it anyway.

I bet you experience this, too – times when you want to do something -- when you have specific goals and aims in mind -- but you find yourself doing the exact opposite.

As a mindfulness coach with Sound Medical Weight Loss, I hear this challenge over and over again from patients, too:

My goal is to meal prep every Sunday so I have healthy home-cooked options during the week, but I find myself getting takeout every night instead.

I want to get up early and work out on weekday mornings, but I find myself ignoring my alarm clock and sleeping in instead.

I want to stick to Phase I of the Sound Medical Weight Loss plan, but I find myself eating the entire box of Skinny Cow chocolates at night instead.

Do any (or all) of these resonate with you?  If so, you’re not alone.  This misalignment is all-too-human.

Goals that seem simple enough – e.g. to eat more healthfully, or work out most mornings, or stick to a certain nutrition plan – are often in conflict with myriad other internal goals.  You also, I’m sure, want to get more sleep; spend more time with your family; take a break; feel comforted (perhaps by food?), etc.

Our goals also compete with many external factors, like hard-to-resist marketing campaigns (e.g. you NEED pizza right now!) and social and societal pressures.  It’s no wonder there’s not an easy, straightforward path from setting goals to taking consistent action on them!

Shame and Self-Judgment

After this misalignment happens a few times, many of us tend to self-blame, shame, and judge ourselves.  We ask ourselves:

What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I get it together and DO what I said I was going to do?

I’m lazy, fat, [insert any other judgmental word here], etc.

The challenge with this?  It only makes things worse.  Rather than treating ourselves with compassion, or finding help, we just use criticism to wish the misalignment away.  Shame and self-blame can turn into a vicious cycle that’s harmful to any journey, especially one involving healing, mindfulness, or health. 

The Great Pause

One way to get your goals and behaviors more united is to use something I call “the great pause.”  Use it every time you find yourself caught in “just doing,” caught in a trance of thought or behaviors that are misaligned with your goals.

Here are the three steps in “the great pause”:

Going back to my 3:30am example, when I noticed myself scrolling through my phone in a trance, these are the steps I could have taken:

  1. Stop scrolling immediately!  Put the phone down.
  2. Here’s some of what I was feeling:
    1. What if I don’t fall back asleep?
    2. Is something wrong with me? Why do I always wake up in the middle of the night?
    3. Tightening in my throat, clenching of my jaw. Stomach butterflies.  Neck pain.
    4. There’s my neck pain again. Will it always be there?
    6. Longing: for a hug from my husband (even though he’s asleep).
  3. Just sit with the emotions.  Let them come to me and don’t push them away (or act on them).  Feeling the urge to grab my phone, and just sitting with it, not acting on it.  Sitting in amazement as some of the feelings around needing to sleep, worry about my neck, and worry about insomnia lessen in intensity and dissipate.  Not waking husband up for a hug but sitting with that feeling.  Noticing that feeling deepening into more feelings of longing, loneliness, anxiety around that fear, sadness about loneliness, etc.  Neither pushing these feelings away nor acting on them, but realizing the intensification may be telling me what I’m really feeling and what I’m really needing.

In this example, scrolling through my phone never could have satisfied the actual need I had – which was connection with loved ones.  It’s been sorely missing in large part because of the pandemic!  This exercise could have helped me realize that and make some decisions about what to do the next day to reconnect.

Similarly, you may find yourself unconsciously eating to satisfy a different need you have – perhaps it’s comfort, or exhaustion, or a feeling of safety, or to celebrate some accomplishment.  Use the Great Pause to sit with your feelings and identify what it is, exactly, you really need.

If these steps feel hard to do on your own, do the pause with someone else (perhaps not at 3:30am, but any other time!)  Share your emotions with someone.  It can sometimes be easier to untangle what, exactly, you’re feeling when you say it out loud.

Give this a try and let us know what you think in comments below or in your next mindfulness coaching session!

Sarah Eno Sarah Eno is passionate about supporting healthy lifestyle and mindset change. She graduated in Functional Nutrition in 2016. She has supported hundreds of individuals to a health-promoting lifestyle and believes that everyone has the opportunity to experience health. Sarah is a wife and mom of 3 boys. She loves cross-country skiing, yoga, her Peloton, and does fashion runway part-time.

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