Give Yourself Permission To Grow

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

“I’m not the sort of person who…”

Fill in the blank. 

“…is good at maths.”

“…is comfortable with public speaking.”

“…is into exercise.”

As adults, who we are can sometimes feel set in stone and too established to change. We have made a decision about who we are – and who we are not – and we live our lives within that decision, avoiding the things we’ve decided we’re no good at, or don’t enjoy, and keeping a closed mind to new possibilities. 

I want to talk about identity, and how – if you so choose – you can change your identity and pivot into new areas which interest you.

You aren’t hostage to the person you were at school, hating cross country and being sullen.

You no longer have to be the unhappy shell you were while you were while with your ex. 

You don’t have to be the person other people think you are. You don’t have to do any of these things if you don’t want to. 

Before I was self employed, I was a psychology lecturer for 12 years. For loads of that time, I was really overweight. I was outspoken and dismissive about how “running and jumping” were for people who couldn’t amuse themselves with a good book, and I felt really connected to the identity of being someone who values intellectual pursuits over physical ones.

When I started going to the gym, I didn’t tell anyone about it because it didn’t fit with the way I had presented my values. This created stress and internal conflict because I had this wonderful thing I was part of and I couldn’t tell people about – it was changing my idea of who I was. The more I came to value training and the benefits I was getting, the more it threatened my identity of the cerebral psychologist – someone living so much in their own head, that they even taught you about yours! 

It wasn’t until I left teaching and chased after this full time that I realised that identity that you create for yourself is something that you can change whenever you want to.

You are not your job title, or the role in your family, or other label, and that’s absolutely fine.

Good. Awesome, in fact.

It frees you to attach to far deeper values: I am kind, I put family first, I am non-judgemental – these signature strengths you already possess which make you wonderfully and uniquely you.

It also absolves you of having to endure an identity which may no longer fit you properly, or that restricts you. Maybe there are qualities you want to develop – like a wish list – qualities that you want to work on. 

The first step in developing your wish list qualities?

Invest in those qualities. If you want to develop your creative side, write or draw or crochet. If you want to improve your knowledge on a subject, enrol on a course. If you want to work on your business, hire a mentor.

Invest in the behaviours that you value. Invest in your happiness, your health, and invest in your life. Back yourself the way a true friend would, and give yourself permission to grow.

Your Diet Isn’t Your Identity

”Yeah, I’m doing keto and I’ve lost 8lbs.”

1. If you’re only “doing keto” during the week, and you’re increasing carbs on weekends, you’re almost certainly not in ketosis. You’re just in a perpetual state of feeling shitty, never working through that rough patch and making it out the other side.

2. Even if you are in ketosis, you definitely aren’t after the weekend because about 30g of carbs will knock you out of being a fat burning keto ninja back to being a regular mortal like the rest of us.

I’m not going to hate on keto: Keto works. All diets will work.

Let me expand.

You don’t need to be in ketosis to lose weight. And being keto only helps you lose weight because you’ve cut out an entire macronutrient group making it way easier to be in a calorie deficit.

It’s the calorie deficit that matters, not the carbs. But if keto works for you, great. If you find it easier to skip carbs than count calories, that’s cool with me. Just don’t think that because you don’t count calories that calories don’t count. They still matter.

Your diet isn’t religion, don’t allow yourself to be drawn into arguments about what’s best or which diet is the one true way.

Which brings me to a bigger issue: your diet isn’t your identity. Don’t get too attached to any one method (keto, paleo, weight watchers, slimming world, Atkins etc) – stay focused on the principles. These are what matter most rather than the methods you might use to get the result you want. 

There are lots of methods you can use to achieve your weight loss goal. Methods are the route through to your goal. Some methods will work better for you than others. Others will work for you for a time, and then other methods need to be found. Stay flexible – these choices are unimportant.

All diets work and they all work the same way: they create a calorie deficit. An energy imbalance. The question is which one is right for you and your lifestyle and preferences at this point in your journey. 

Cast a vote for the sort of person you want to be.

Today I want to talk about where you spend your money and time. Whether that’s on the things that support your vision of who you want to become, or take you further from it.

Do you invest in a gym membership that you never use, because that casts a vote for the you that you want to become – but you’ve not yet found a way to make it fit in with your current lifestyle? Do you begrudge paying for great quality fresh ingredients, because you don’t yet see that as an investment in your health? Maybe all that you need is a perspective shift.

Next time you consider sacking off the gym, or not hitting checkout on those new headphones… new trainers… or new bike – think about whether this supports your goal of who you want to be. Every decision you make every day is a vote for your identity. Make them deliberate choices for the person that you’re trying to grow into.

1. Keep this decision at the front of your mind.

If you’re trying to start a couch to 5k programme, keep your running shoes by your front door where you’ll see them every morning. If you’re trying to drink more water, keep a big bottle on your desk and keep topping it up. Don’t hide things away out of your sight where you might forget about them. Keep the fruit bowl full and on the counter where you’ll pass it every time you walk into the kitchen. Join the gym which is on your way home from work. Maybe think about getting an accountability partner to meet you at the gym, or just text you to ask if you’ve been.

2. Make sure it’s desirable.

Making something an attractive prospect in terms of fitness can be tough in the beginning when you don’t yet know what you enjoy. Some ways you can achieve this is to join a gym which offers classes as part of your membership. This way you can hand over your training for that hour to the fitness instructor, and you don’t have to think of something yourself to do. Over time you’ll learn which movements have a low barrier to entry for you, and a higher barrier to entry for you. For example, I never have to talk myself into a rowing workout, or deadlifts, or a bike ride – but I often have to talk myself into a run. That way when motivation is low – just go do your low barrier movements.

3. Make it super easy.

Ideally, you want to make the habit so simple that you can start it – and finish it in less than 2 minutes. This likely means doing something on a smaller scale than you might want until it has become second nature. It might be something like just putting on your running shoes – don’t worry about running the couch to 5k, just lace up and then see how you feel. Lacing up is the whole goal. If you want to eat more veggies in your diet, get the ones which are already prepped and take almost no work. It’s more expensive to do it this way, of course, but if it’s the difference between you getting your broccoli for the day, provided it’s within your budget – go for it. We can think about making it cheap once it’s easy.

4. Make it gratifying.

A satisfying behaviour is one you’re more likely to repeat, so find ways to reward yourself. For example, if I attend the gym 3 times this week, I’ll get a new workout shirt. Or if I complete the couch to 5k programme, I’ll get myself some new trainers. Eventually, the behaviour itself will become the reward but in the beginning, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Spend time reflecting on how completing the behaviour made you feel, possibly even write it down somewhere and formally consider that as part of your practice.

Another tip for developing habits that contribute to the sort of person you want to be is to track the behaviour in a habit tracker. There are all sorts of apps and stuff for this, but the easiest way to start is to put a tick on a calendar on the days when you perform your habit. Now after only the second day, you’ve got a streak going and the only thing you’re trying to do is not break this streak.

When I was a teacher my students would use this app called Forest to help them study. They turned the app on when they started to study and it started to grow a virtual tree. The longer they studied, the more elaborate and beautiful the tree grew. The more episodes of studying they performed, they’d grow more trees. They’d come to class, and be comparing the size of their little virtual forests, and they’d get quite competitive. Each of them knew how many hours their classmates had studied the day before, and many of them studied so long that the app even planted some real world trees – and they loved that!

It’s not a perfect system, but it is a system to get started – and often that’s all we need. 

Many of the ideas discussed in this article come from James Clear’s excellent book “Atomic Habits”. For a more in depth look at how to start a good habit, and how to break a bad one, it’s definitely worth checking out.

The obstacles in your path aren’t obstacles. They are the path.

Not finding the time to workout, or cook nutritious food because you’re too busy?

It’s common to find that when the kids are off school, your carefully planned routines go out of the window. Or when work starts to get a little bit crazy, those self care rituals are the first to get chopped. 

I often hear that I’ll come back to the gym when [some external event happens]. But we both know deep down that the set of circumstances you’re facing right now is unlikely to be unique to you, or even exceptionally unusual in your own life. Your children are on holiday from school several (predictable) times a year. You have to go to work and be productive for the majority of the week. That’s not weird, or unexpected, or an ‘obstacle’. 

The obstacles in your path aren’t obstacles. They are your path.

So next time when you catch yourself saying that you don’t have time to make that 45 minute class, or you can’t keep your hour long appointment with your trainer, or you have to get a takeaway because you didn’t get to a supermarket – resolve to go anyway. Even if you don’t stay for the full time. Even if all you can manage is a 10 minute blast.

Not because that one workout is so important in the grand scheme of things. But because you become the sort of person who doesn’t skip workouts. You become the sort of person who makes it a priority to nourish & respect their body with food. You are the sort of person who you want to be – and self identity is the game changer. Not food or exercise. Not really. It’s who you become when you do those things that counts.