Think about a time when you faltered while working toward a goal.
We’ve all experienced it before. You’re feeling pretty good about the progress you are making, and then poof! Instant relapse. You are flooded by disappointment, frustration, and other feelings that drag you down and interfere with your ability to get back on track.
Think about what you say to yourself (your “self-talk”) at these times. Do you beat yourself up in your head, thinking “I’m a failure; I’m a loser; I’m no good?” Now think about the consequences of those thoughts. In the grand scheme of things, do the negative thoughts make you more persistent and task-focused or less?
Chances are good that the negative self-talk makes you less persistent and less enthusiastic about resuming your goal-focused efforts.
We have a popular expression in our culture that if we make a mistake on a project, we are “back at square one.” Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, the researchers who developed the “stages of change” theory, offer a competing model for interpreting setbacks. They suggest that we think about change as an upward spiral.
Each time you circle through the stages of change, you end up one level higher on the spiral. Although it may feel like you are back at square one, you are actually in a more elevated spot from which you can see things more clearly. Now you are equipped with wisdom, experience, and life lessons that you didn’t have when you were standing on the level below.
It may feel very natural and effortless to think to yourself, “Great. Now I’m back at square one.” But you can work to make it just as automatic and effortless to remind yourself at these moments: “Great–I can see a lot better from this level of the upward spiral!”
What is your favorite change metaphor? Upward spiral? A caterpillar turning into a butterfly? A flower opening up? Send your thoughts!