Thinking about the 4 levels of thinking

Level 1. What do I need? That is, how can I get the things I want? What’s in it for me? How does it affect me? Will I get caught or punished if I do not follow the rules?

Level 2. What do others think? That is, will they still like and approve of me? Will they still think that I am a good person? How do I fit in and avoid criticism? How will they feel if I tell them what I really think?

Level 3. What do I think? That is, am I maintaining and staying true to my own personal integrity, standards, and internal values? Am I achieving my goals and being guided by my ideals and values? How can I get them to subscribe to my belief system? Am I living, working and loving to the best of my ability and potential?

Level 4. What do we both need? That is, how can other people’s thinking and actions help me to develop and grow? How can I seek out information and opinions from others to help me modify my own ways of understanding? How can conflict and adversity be an opportunity to inform and shape my thinking? Where is the interconnectedness between us, and how can we best support each other as growing, learning human beings?

It turns out that our greatest adversities and most complex problems in life are best overcome when we look at them with the next level of thinking.

[Note: In my previous post, Why there is nothing wrong with being fat, I claimed, “There is zero scientific evidence that diet and exercise results in significant weight loss in the long-term.” In hindsight, this was an exaggeration of the evidence and it has been changed to, “There is minimal scientific evidence that diet results in substantial weight loss in the long-term (greater than 2 years).”]

2 ways to overcome a problem

One is to learn. The other is to grow.

We learn when we look at our problem with our existing perspective, but develop our knowledge and skills to overcome it.

“I want to lose weight for my wedding day, so I’m reading the newest detox diet book to find out how.”

We grow, on the other hand, when we reach an entirely new perspective in order for a better solution to be found.

“How much I weigh at my wedding will not actually influence my experience, as I see that, 1) I am so much more than my body, and 2) the possible judgements of others do not define who I am.”

Sometimes, of course, learning is exactly what is required.

But much of the time, the universe is full of wondrous things that are patiently waiting for our minds to grow, in order for us to see them.

Why healthy living can’t wait for tomorrow

The biggest problem with the, “I’ll just eat cake today and start eating well tomorrow” mindset, is that it assumes it will be just as easy to change tomorrow as it is today.

It’s not.

Decades of research finds that today’s decision is connected to tomorrow’s behaviour. When you choose to behave in a certain way today, you increase the likelihood that you will behave that way habitually (without conscious thought) the next time you find yourself in the same situation.

Our choices define our habits. And our habits define who we are.

To start choosing what’s important over what’s easy, it helps to:

  1. Find your motivation: Ask, how does each behaviour contribute to the person that I want to become, and why does that truly matter to me? If you’re not feeling motivated to change, you need to keep digging, or explore a new behaviour.
  2. Be mindful: When you find yourself about to engage in an old habit, breathe calmly and recognise the unhelpful thoughts or emotions that are driving the behaviour. Once you understand what’s driving the behaviour, it’s easier to separate yourself from it.
  3. Understand habits: Remind yourself that this decision not only affects who you are today. It also affects who you are tomorrow.

How you choose to do anything, is actually how you choose to do everything.

5 steps to creating a life you love (and a freebie)

  1. Be true to what your heart desires.
  2. Drop your stories and believe you can create any and all possibilities.
  3. Be all of you and share your vulnerabilities with others.
  4. Do not let the judgements or opinions of others influence you.
  5. Remember that you are capable and trust that you are supported in all ways.

[Hattip to Jules O’Neil, whose teachings are the source of this post.]

Plus, you can download and print my body acceptance manifesto for free, here. Since body image is something many of us struggle with, and improving it predicts healthier behaviours, confidence and motivation, I hope you take the time to read, print or share.

How to find the meaning in life

The meaning of life question (“Why are we all here?”) is philosophical, and hasn’t been answered with consensus scientifically.

But the meaning in life question (“How can I find meaning and significance within my life?”) is one that has.

Here’s how:

  1. Align your everyday behaviours and choices with the person that you want to become. Our everyday actions bring meaning when they move us towards our longer-term goals and values.
  2. Use your unique strengths to contribute to something greater than yourself. This may be through charity work, pursuing a greater sense of spirituality, undertaking a new and fulfilling career, or often just engaging with your current work in a new and more purposeful way.
  3. Know that you are worthy and capable. Believe and trust that you are enough, and that you can indeed make a difference.
  4. Accept and embrace the setbacks, pain and adversity in life. After all, it is these events that can provide a greater sense of meaning than a constant state of peace and happiness ever can.
  5. Finally, prioritise connection with others. Our life is most meaningful when it is shared.

Having greater meaning in our lives predicts not just our mental health, but also our physical health.

And whilst science hasn’t answered the meaning of life question, I like to think the answer is partly about living a life that is full of meaning.

The 12 steps to setting (and achieving) your New Year’s resolutions

Step 1. Brainstorm your dream list. Write a list of everything you may possibly want to achieve this year. Think big, without limits.

Step 2: Link each goal to your core life values. For each goal, ask yourself: Why is this important to me? What is it (exactly) that will make the sacrifice, discomfort and effort that’s required to achieve this goal truly worthwhile? If you don’t have a good answer, cross it off your list.

Step 3. Re-frame your remaining goals to capture your motivation. For example, the goals “Go to the gym” or “Lose weight” might become “A strategy to improve my fitness in an enjoyable and sustainable manner, which will be evidenced by having more energy and being able to enjoy playing with the kids when I get home from work.

Step 4: Decide on what’s most important to you. You can’t be an Olympic marathon runner and our Prime Minister at the same time. Of the goals you have left, decide which are most important. I suggest choosing your top 4, that you truly believe can be achieved together over the course of 1 year.

Step 5: Ensure there is a balance. If all 4 goals are about climbing the corporate ladder, is that really how you want to spend your year? Research shows our well-being is highest when we find a balance between relationships, religion/spirituality, work and generosity/focusing beyond ourselves.

Step 6: Re-check before you commit. Ask yourself: are these goals really, truly how I want to invest much of my time this year? (Hint: If you’re not screaming out yes, the answer is probably no.)

Step 7: For each goal, write a (very) specific action plan to get you there. Decide on the small and simple behaviours you will commit to regularly that will get you to your goal. They should be things to do (go to the cycle class on Saturday mornings) as opposed to things not to do (stop eating chocolate). Consider also any extra skills, knowledge and support you’ll need, as well as the potential barriers that may come up.

Step 8: Create a clear timeline for your action plan. Divide your behaviours into steps you can do on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.

[Important: if you’re not extremely confident that you can do the action plan, read this post, or change it so that you are.]

Step 9: Plan exactly when and where you will do the actions. Choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day (or week).

Step 10: Each day (or week) you encounter that time and place, do the action. I highly recommend creating a chart that you can mark off every night before bed so that you can see your progress.

Step 11: Put a monthly reminder in your calendar to review your progress. Don’t wait until the end of the year to realise that what you have been doing hasn’t worked. If you find that at the end of the month you are not making consistent progress towards your yearly goal, revise your action plan (and double check that it’s truly an achievable goal).

If the problem is that you are not doing your action plan, either i) make the action plan easier, ii) understand and question your thoughts that are holding you back, or iii) make changes to your environment to better support your desired behaviour. (Note: Don’t beat yourself up here. It’s normal to fail – the trick is to learn from it and change accordingly.)

Step 12. Celebrate! Decades of research shows that when you do this process, it works.

That is, if you have the courage to face the possibility of failure, you also have the ability to make your dreams come true.

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