"Success" may need reframing to avoid failure
Updated: Jul 25
Sometimes we need to see things from a different perspective.
I lost weight last year. It was intentional in that I joined WW (formerly Weight Watchers), but unplanned because there was no precipitating factor - no nasty comment, no particularly worrisome photo (no more than the last 30 years anyway!), no resolution. I'd turned up, followed the plan, and in 6 months I'd dropped two dress sizes and 23lbs.
Well done me...
Or was it?
Well, it was certainly hard, I had to learn to make eating choices all over again. I tracked my food on both the WW app and "My Fitness Pal", I did the "Couch to 5k" (having given it up 3 times before, this time I repeated the "tough" weeks) - and I took the risk of dropping gym membership in favour of buying a treadmill which meant I could easily workout any time. I now also am comfortably doing the local 5k ParkRun, 6k fun events - and even some ParkRun "tourism", and the phrase "go for a run" doesn't seem so alien to me. I also supplement my workouts with Jessica Smith TV YouTube videos. I maintain a fitness regieme, I continue to track, I have off (and "cheat") days and never quite gave up peanut butter.
But I noticed something strange.
From June (when I started) until Christmas I was very proud of myself. I could see the changes, I could feel the changes, and I was so delighted with my slow-but-steady progress I kept a facebook diary - which I'm touched to say inspired a few of my friends to take the driving seat in their weight loss struggles too. I was 0.5lb away from my goal weight just before I went on my "Winter Sun" book tour-cum-holiday, I'd run my first 6k in less time than it took me to run my first 5k, and while away I wore a purple tassled bikini which I'd decided - despite being "body confident" regardless - I probably ought not to wear in public at the time (and weight) I'd bought it. GREAT.
On my return, the scales showed a 6lb gain - which soon came off, and there was no difference in the way my clothing fitted.
My mindset had however seemed to reset.
Although I was back on track, exercising and eating well, the photos I had proudly taken of myself prior to Christmas, and the happiness I felt when I looked in the mirror had gone. I'd started thinking "Ooh, got to get a bit off here"; "Wow, your thighs are still so big"; "You really need to drop a good couple of inches round that backside."; "That dress clings badly."; and I'd returned to asking myself the question "Do I look fat in this". Gone was the feeling of "OMG - your shape is looking good - you can wear anything, you can do anything, you're awesome for getting this far."
Luckily on recognising this, a swift call and session with my coach Lesley, and a fortuitous WW meeting on defining our 'why', stopped me reaching for the first family bag of crisps I saw on the shelves. Lesley asked me to think about why I might be self-sabotaging. I knew that was exactly what I was about to do, but even with my own training and experience - while you know it theoretically - as I've said to her - you don't always "know it" fundamentally. As part of my WW process I'd been keeping a reflective journal anyway, and I started to ponder this question.
I realised that somewhere I'd begun to focus on the "superficial" again. Strangely enough it was not caring about the superficial that stopped me from actively trying to lose weight long term in the past - I have a brain and my job doesn't need me to be slim; and most importantly my husband and my friends love me regardless...and they still did. They'd complimented me, reminded me that they'd always thought I looked fab and were just happy I was (and am) doing this for myself. I'd reframed my "success" into just what I'd see in the mirror in comparison to an ideal in my head that is unattainable (ie. it's an image in my head and not the full picture!)
It was time to reframe again.
The scales are still great, the clothing is still fitting, but so much more has happened:
- I was on a business trip to Paris and "just because I could" I went on a 5k run along the Seine with my husband.
- I got stuck up a tree doing a "Just Ape" style course in Malaysia - but while I did the "walk of shame" back down rather than zip wiring to another tree (I'm going to try a smaller zip wire to the ground next time!!) - the fact was - I got up that tree and got that far!
- My husband and I found a waterfall in Penang that had eluded us for 10 years of visiting, because this time we decided to run to look for it rather than take a car.
- I've learned to cook - my husband has also benefitted from the removal of processed foods and feels good himself; and for the occasional treat, we've saved money from the take-aways we used to have, so can really enjoy a night out.
- Rather than finding my meals restrictive, I enjoy much more - different fish, vegetables, meats, fruits, nuts, pulses...
- I am actually looking forward to my next skiing trip (which although I enjoy it, used to make me think first of the exhausted feeling of lifting the boots, skis and all the gear).
- I got back on my roller skates for a proper artistic dance session for the first time in 25 years!
- I can (and do) say "yes" to so much more without thinking about it - my husband and I are "why not?" people anyway, but I previously always flitted through the semi-conscious thought process of "will it fit?" "will my top ride up?" "will I cope?" before nodding with trepidation...hence why I was up a tree (clearly got to tackle a whole lot of other issues surrounding control still, but hey!!)
These are some of my achievements. They are meaningful only to me but my personal holistic lifestyle change and the pleasure that comes with it (which I can talk about, know about and write about in principle, but sometimes need an active reminder myself) is my true measure of success. To keep saying "why not?" with those I love is my current goal.
Sometimes we need to reframe what we mean by success before we somehow reduce it to failure.
My why...because I can - I think that's a success.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt