Thursday, September 15, 2011


Bottom Line's Daily Health News
September 15, 2011
Get Greedy and Get What You Want from Life

Isn’t it annoying listening to someone tell you how "guilty" he or she feels about some undesirable behavior or bad habit when you know it’s something that happens again and again? It’s boring and a waste of time. So why is it that so many of us tell ourselves the same thing -- that we feel guilty about some repeated personal failing, whether it be overeating... overspending... being chronically late... skipping exercise... or whatever... and do nothing to change it?

Well, says life coach and regular Daily Health News contributor Lauren Zander, if that sounds like you, then... a) you are human... and b) you have got some work to do! Zander and I had a really interesting conversation about why so many people find it gratifying to guilt-trip themselves. She told me that, of all things, greed -- that is, thinking about what you would like to have more of -- can be a far better tool than guilt as you work to get yourself back on track in your self-improvement efforts! You need to know that everyone falls off the wagon. Getting back on effectively is the lesson worth learning.

Your So-Called Guilt

The first step, Zander said, is to understand what you actually are doing when you tell yourself that you feel guilty. To be blunt -- you are not so much feeling guilty as you are using "guilt" as a slick trick to excuse your behavior. Truly feeling guilt would mean that you are upset about the fact that you’ve let yourself or someone else down, which would demonstrate to all concerned (including yourself) that you feel very bad about this because you are a good person who really does care.

But if you really did care, you would not have done the thing that you were not supposed to do... or you would not have failed to do the thing that you were supposed to do... right?

The truth is, covering your failed behavior with a mantle of guilty goodness makes it easy to fail again... it provides protection from seeing yourself as anything but a good, committed person. You get to say things like, "I really do care about my health, but I guess I am just too weak to give up sugar even though, goodness knows, I have tried!" Those are not words that will prompt you to get back on the wagon to try again -- indeed they indicate shrugging off the hoped-for goal.

What to do instead: Zander emphasizes that instead of thinking that you should feel bad about a misstep, you need to recognize that imperfection is a regular occurrence for everyone, and it has nothing to do with being a bad person. Playing the game of excusing your behavior in the name of theoretical guilt is what’s undermining your efforts. (It should be noted here that if falling off your particular wagon involves substance abuse or another serious addiction or physical harm to others, you have an urgent need for professional help.)

If You Say You Can’t... You Can’t

There really is only one way to stop falling down like this, and that is to push yourself to achieve true excellence. But as Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery. Just consider for a moment how many opportunities there are to trip, stumble and fall (off the wagon) during the 10,000 hours of struggle it takes to get where you are going when excellence is your destination!

It might seem that mastery comes easily to some people, but Zander begs to differ. Scratch the surface of any "natural achiever" and you will find a person who is methodical and, if needed, relentless. As she put it, "Those are the characteristics that create excellence."

Unfortunately, many, if not most people respond to a failed attempt with hurt and discouragement. They don’t see that mastery is difficult for everyone, not just them. But not only does feeling bad -- and rewarding yourself by talking endlessly about it -- not teach life’s most worthwhile lessons, it also complicates matters by creating insecurity. You end up so focused on what you are telling yourself is the truth (i.e., that you tried hard) that you cannot achieve what you really want.

Zander has a solution that gets people past that "feeling bad" trap and into a more productive and positive place. It’s called "consequences." When she is working with clients who need to get past self-defeating behaviors to achieve their goals, she has them put a price tag (of sorts) on their missteps. It’s kind of like a speeding ticket -- you know the law, you choose to speed, you get caught and you pay up. Emotions don’t get involved and no one is very interested in your excuses.

The penalty doesn’t have to be steep... it just has to be there and has to be enforced, Zander said. "It’s not intended to make a person feel bad but to shift the dynamic away from their guilty feelings towards recognizing that choices are always involved." Examples of these "consequences" that have worked well for Zander’s clients include donating $100 to a cause that the person doesn’t believe in... confessing the transgression to someone else and making a $50 payment to that person each time... having to clean up a part of the house that his significant other gets to choose. Over time, you take on the proper behavior in an effort to avoid the consequence.

Go Ahead -- Want It All!

According to Zander, the truth is that what you really need to do is replace your guilt with greed! But in a good way -- she says to focus intently on what you would like to have more of in your life.

When you take on new challenges, you can bet that you will fall off the wagon lots of times -- but, as Zander explains, you can learn to consider that a sign not of failure but of being a person "in training." Greed -- going for what you want -- is what will get you there, not guilt.

Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairman, The Handel Group, New York City.

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