A few weeks ago I wrote about your critical voice. I talked about how it is probably the most harmful little voice you have in your head. Yup, it’s true. Despite what you have been told, being critical and hard on yourself does not motivate you; it harms you. It keeps you down. It keeps you feeling bad. It destroys you.

So if being hard on yourself doesn’t motivate you to change, which I know you very much want to do, then what does?

Change happens when the pain of staying in the same place outweighs the perceived pain of changing.

Huh?

Change is scary. It can feel like taking a step off a cliff. You have no idea what might happen. Will things be harder? Will you feel worse? There is no real way of knowing. It is a risk and risks are scary.

Therefore, your desire to take the step off the cliff must feel safer and easier (even if only by a fraction) than staying on the edge of the cliff. In other words, the pain of staying on the edge is greater than the pain of stepping off the edge into the unknown.

Imagine someone is poking you. Poke. Poke. Poke. They are poking you in the same spot, over and over again. It may not hurt at first. In fact, you might even like the fact that at least they are paying attention to you and touching you. However, after each poke, the pain grows. A bruise forms. It starts to really hurt where they are poking you and you start to get annoyed. You want this to change!

Yet if you move away or tell them to stop, they might go away. You no longer will have the attention you crave or the touch you need. “So what if it hurts a little,” you reason. You are still gaining from this interaction. The poking continues and your bruise grows.

Stay in the poker’s reach long enough and you are going to get pretty tired of being poked. Now it really hurts and any satisfaction you gained from it is gone. But moving away is still scary! What if no one ever touches you again? What if you are alone forever, not even someone there to poke you when you need it? Yet, this hurts and you want it to stop.

Are you ready to change? Is the pain of being poked greater than the fear of being alone? If so, you will probably take a step away from the poker. If you aren’t sure, you will probably stay. But continue getting poked and you will eventually bypass the change/stay-the-same line. You will choose change no matter how scary it is.

Now notice that the poker is your eating disorder. You know it hurts. Like the pokes, the amount of pain you are experiencing may increase the longer you have had it. However, it does provide something for you. If it didn’t, you would change. Like the poker, it gives you safety, comfort, something to turn to when you feel alone (or feel anything for that matter.)

The way to change is not to hate yourself for engaging in the eating disorder but to feel how much it hurts. Feel it poking you over and over again. Feel the pain of it. Feel the way it hurts your relationships. Feel how much you hate yourself. Feel the pain of how much time and energy you spend on it. Try not to be critical. There is a big difference between criticizing yourself for it and just feeling the pain of it. Criticism takes you away from the pain into a focus on how bad you are. If you stay focused on the pain, you will probably cry, just like you would if you really felt the pain of someone poking you over and over again.

Allowing yourself to really feel the pain of your eating disorder will help you increase the pain of having it so that this pain bypasses the perceived pain of changing.

What do you mean by perceived pain?
I’m glad you asked.

That cliff you step off probably isn’t a cliff at all. You have been told it is and you can’t see what is there so you believe it is a cliff and one step will make you fall to your death or at the very least acquire major injury. After all, that is what you have been told all your life.

This is one reason change feels so scary. I hear a lot about fear from clients and I have certainly experienced that fear myself. However, usually the fear is just fear. It isn’t the reality you will experience. Trusting this isn’t easy, however, so be easy on yourself with it. Just know that your greatest fear is very important to recognize and acknowledge but that it probably will not actually come true. It is your overgrown, overloud fear voice that is trying to protect you. When you take your risk, I am confident that you will find out that what you feared would happen won’t.

Also, it is not important to take a huge step (i.e. a huge risk). Take small, baby steps. This helps your fear voice calm a bit and helps you to realize that change can be easier than you think.

And get support! Support is the best thing you can have when you take the steps to change. You don’t have to be alone. Change is easier and more fun with someone else.

Exercise: Think about a time when you made a significant change in your life. Perhaps you moved or ended a relationship. Recall the fear you had around it. Did your worst fear come true? Recall the pain you were in just before you made the decision to change. Was it greater than the perceived fear of the change?

Do this as a writing exercise if you wish or just take several minutes to reflect. Giving yourself evidence that you can change, have changed, and did survive big changes will help you make more. And remember, change takes time. No big changes ever happen overnight; nor should they.