Hold That Line

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

With proper maintenance the car will last for many years. It seems a no brainer to understand this statement. Change the oil every 3-5,000 miles, change the filters too, change the tires when needed and maintain the proper air pressure, etc. The funny thing is we do it. We spend a ton of hard earned money on this vehicle that gets us to where we need to be at any given time of day and so we have to take good care of it if we are to get our monies worth and have it last as long as possible. No one wants to start a car payment over again if they can help it.

So this concept begs the question why don’t we think this way when it comes to ourselves?

“The biggest enemies of willpower are temptation, self-criticism and stress. These 3 skills: self-awareness, self-care and remembering what matters most are the foundation for self-control.”  

Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

In this 5th installment of change we look closely at maintenance. According to Drs. Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente and their book, Changing For Good, “No less important than action, maintenance is often far more difficult to achieve. Successful change means change that is sustained over time, not months, but years, decades, a lifetime. Maintenance is another busy, active period of change, one that requires you to learn new coping methods. Getting there is half the battle.” (Pg. 204 CFG)

Why all the fuss about maintenance? Why should we hold the line so stringently? I believe it is because it is easy to slip up. How many times have you lost weight from dieting over 6 months and you are so proud of the way you look that you think you’ve got this dieting thing down pat and started to relax the way you eat for a week only to find that now you feel and look as undone as when you started? This is called action without maintenance. The flaw in the human character is really that no one wants to work too hard to hold the line and keep up with the changes they have made. Hard work is too hard to sustain forever. Some people give up on the hard work and think, “See, I knew I couldn’t really change; it’s too hard.”

“There are 2 factors that are fundamental to successful maintenance: sustained, long-term effort, and a revised lifestyle.” (Pg. 204 CFG)

In the last post where I discussed the action step we learned about the concept of countering. Countering is basically all about how to replace a bad, negative, problematic behavior with a better, positive, more productive behavior and/or way of thinking. If you were even close to successful in learning to replace and get busy with the new behavior and new thinking patterns then this is where maintenance picks up steam. Temptation takes a starring role here.

“No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from.” – George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

“The most common threats to maintenance are:

*Social pressures: Those around you that engage in the problem you are trying to change or they don’t recognize the negative impact on you.

*Internal Challenges: Results from overconfidence and forms of defective thinking and self-blame.

 *Special Circumstances:  When you are confronted by an unusual, intense temptation.” (Pg. 206 CFG)

Here is an example of a challenge I faced while in the maintenance step.

I came home from having had the surgery and went through the motions of recovery. My overall goal however was to change the way I wanted to live my entire life. I wanted to live with more presence, to feel proud of what I saw in the mirror, to have a more enlightened and positive perspective,  to improve my attitude about myself inside and out.

I had started a diet, I had the surgery, and I started looking into a career change. I was heavily into a lot of action steps and feeling really good about each moment that produced positive, productive results. When the recovery time had ended from the surgery I felt proud of myself for having done it. I did start to see physical changes that encouraged me, however; the diet thing was harder than I thought.

I had to pull out all the stops and maintain a positive perspective with visual reminders all around me. That is how my “wallpaper” started. I am a visual person as most artists are and I found that by surrounding myself with words of inspiration I could visually and mentally use these amazing quotes and sayings to empower me to keep pushing forward despite the hardship I was going through. It was my way of always recommitting to the changes I wanted so desperately to make.

I kept these visual reminders close to me and the more I would read them the more I would come to believe them and let them sink into my soul. This also led to the “Whispers from my Wallpaper” blog post project. I found that in order for me to know for sure that these words were getting through and taking hold I needed to write about them.

Everyone will have their own way of using maintenance to help guide them through the difficult moments after action steps have fallen a bit behind. However maintenance is just another form of an action step. How long did it take for you to realize that a change was needed in your life?

  Forgive yourself for your impatience and allow for the rest of your life to unfold in this new lifestyle you are desperate and determined to create. Remember what you didn’t like that led you to want to make a change and keep reminding yourself of that so you can start from where you are now and keep moving forward.

“It is difficult to prepare for the extreme, the accidental, and the unexpected. This is what makes maintenance such a great challenge.” (Pg. 208 CFG)

Maybe you are not strong in thinking of ways to meet the challenges of maintenance. Here are a couple of ways that could help:

**Keep a journal: Write down ways that you found your day or week to be difficult. Review the list you made when you were thinking about what you wanted to change. On a third list write down ways that you chose to recommit to the changes you wanted to make and if it worked or not. Refer to the 3 lists at the first sign of difficulty. These lists will act very much like the visual I created for myself with my wallpaper. “A successful reinvention doesn’t happen when you hate the person you are. It happens when you love yourself enough to believe that you can do better and deserve better.” – Dr. Phil

  **Take all the credit. Maintenance is not the time to criticize yourself for having a problem toward change. It is a time to take all the credit for recognizing the need and doing something about it. Sure, there will be times when you come up against difficulties that you didn’t think you would have to deal with but by recommitting to your goal you are allowing yourself to forgive the temptations and the weakness you might feel and stand up tall again. Take all the credit you can for the hard work you are putting in.

“Live the life that you choose, not the life you think was assigned to you.” – Dr. Phil

So, we’ve looked at the idea of creating alternatives to help put power and control in your hands when a sense of relapse is creeping its way inside. Here are some ways to counter that feeling of relapse:

  Create a new lifestyle: Make time for doing things that you’ve always wanted to do but have denied yourself until now. By allowing the time to attend to the fun things you build resistance to relapse and boost your happiness and empowerment. “Learn to enjoy the way as much as you would enjoy when you reach the destination.” Sakshi Chetana, Laughing Buddha: The Alchemy of Euphoric Living.


 “Stop with the negative waves Moriarty”: So says Donald Sutherland in the wacky, funny movie Kelly’s Heroes. Negative self-talk is a serious problem and a very hard habit to break. Review over and over as often as you need to and make sure that you are always being honest with yourself. “Try giving up all the thoughts that make you feel bad, or even just some of them, and see how doing that changes your life. You don’t need negative thoughts. All they have ever given you was a false self that suffers. They are all lies.” –Gina Lake, What About Now?: Reminders for Being in the Moment


  No slip zone: Slip-ups are most likely the result of stress or not so strong coping skills. What would life be without up and down, good and bad, black and white, yes or no? How would we truly appreciate the good things without a reminder of what the bad feels like or looks like? Slip-ups happen because we are human. But remember forgiveness is important here. Recognize the slip-up, don’t deny it or hide from it. You might miss your old habits or behaviors and so you should allow for some mourning. This process lets you know that your new self is close at hand and recognizes that it doesn’t need old problems to get in the way. “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” –Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


  Patience and Persistence: There is no easy way through change. You can’t cook it in 30 minutes, you can’t sit through it like a movie, and you can’t wait it out like a long line at the amusement park. It takes a long time and hard work and a fighting spirit inside and out to prevent relapse. Make friends with time. You can take as long as you want for the changes to take hold and you should think about allowing for that time to happen. With each time space allowed for change you are getting closer to your goal and you are adding to your life overall in quality and contentedness. “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction, the purposeful direction, than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” –Louis Sachar


The next question is: Are you afraid of success? I think the greatest way through the fear of success is to share your story with others who are struggling with all that you are going through. Seeing your story unfold in the eyes of another person gives meaning and hope and power to all that you have endured up to this point. Humans thrive on giving but more importantly they thrive on giving back. Volunteer for a cause that has meaning for you especially if it is related to the changes you are making in your own life. “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson