Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What's Your Strategy?

Let's talk strategies.  More specifically let's talk about the difference between "Away From" strategies and "Toward" strategies.  Why are they different, which strategy do you regularly use, why it's important to know, and how to tell the difference.

Before we can talk strategies, we first need grasp on how we express them; quite literally, our choice of words.  The words we choose reveal far more about our thought processes than most of us realize. We like to believe we are "thinking and speaking" in positive terms, yet, more often than not, we are unconsciously choosing to focus on the negative.  Having a hard time believing that?  Let me give you a quick example.

If I were to ask you, "How are you?"  what would your immediate answer be?

Most people would respond "Not bad".  There it is, the negative focus.  Why?  Because what word in that phrase is positive?  Neither of them. The positive response to the question is "Good"...or "Fine" or even "OK". Any of these are better than "not bad."

Let me give you another example to wrap your mind around.  Take a look at the two phrases below; you may even want to read them aloud so you can see which sounds and feels positive.

"Don't fall"
"Be careful"

"Don't fall" puts emphasis on what you don't want someone to do. Again, because neither word in the phrase is a positive one, its a negative statement. "Be careful" puts emphasis exactly where it should be, encouraging someone to take care.

Get it?  Good.  Now let's apply that to the concept of  Away From Strategies vs. Towards Strategies.

Away From strategies are driven by the need to get away from something (a negative). Therefore, your motivation to change whatever the issue is begins to fade as soon as you are far enough away from whatever is causing you discomfort/pain/anxiety.

Toward strategies are driven by the desire to move toward (achieve) something (positive). Therefore, motivation to change is maintained until you achieve your goal and new habits/behaviours are created through the process of achieving the goal.

At first glance, you may feel they are the same, however, let me explain why they are different and why it's important to know which strategy you tend to favour.

Let's use weight as an example,

You step on the scales one morning and you see your weight is up to "Y" which is a number you really don't like. In that moment you decide you need to do something about it. You decide to lose weight.

OK.  You made the decision.  You decide you have to lose weight to get away from the number "Y". This is the basis of an Away From strategy.  It's about being uncomfortable where you are and needing to get away from there.  The problem with Away From strategies is it creates a yo-yo affect. So the initial drive to lose weight is solely driven by the need to not weigh"Y". So as soon as you are far enough away from "Y", your motivation fades. Note too the choice of words "lose weight" the focus is negative because it's about "losing" and "weight".

Let me outline it for you.
1. You see "Y" on the scale and decide it's an unacceptable weight for you
2. You decide to do something about it - lose weight  (this is your motivation)
3. You start dieting and exercising and you begin losing weight.
4. As the numbers on the scale decrease and move away from "Y" your motivation to diet and exercise starts to lag a bit because now you have lost enough weight to be a comfortable/safe number of pounds away from "Y" though not necessarily at a weight you would like to be.
5. As your motivation dwindles you decide a little "cheat" here and there won't hurt
6. Weight loss slows but it's OK because you are still losing though you still aren't at a weight you would like to be.
7. Then your weight loss stalls then stops - you're no longer losing weight but you don't weigh "Y" so it's still OK.
8. Then, over time your weight begins to slowly climb again to "Y"
9. Suddenly you're at Y again, and that's unacceptable, and so you begin the pattern again by deciding it's time to lose weight.

It could be weight loss (or gain), smoking, school grades, finances, working on goals; anything in which you are seeking a certain outcome.  Whatever it is, an Away From strategy is only going to get you so far because the motivation for change decreases as you move away from whatever is causing the concern/problem.  As soon as you are far enough away from "it", it feel comfortable, your motivation to continue stalls and you don't reach your goal. Away From strategies create frustration and a sense of failure because you are unable to reach your goal or maintain it if you should achieve it.

So what is a Towards Stratgey?

Towards strategies are based on moving towards something.  Let's use the weight loss scenario again so you can fully grasp the concept.

1. You see "Y" on the scale and decide it's an unacceptable weight for you
2. You decide to do something about it  - You focus on becoming healthier and weighing X - this is your motivation (note the positive phrasing)
3. You create a plan (milestones/steps) to eat better, be more active, create healthy habits which in turn start lowering the number on the scale. .
4. As the scale moves down towards "X" you feel physically better and more energized which encourages to continue on and make any necessary adjustments needed to continue your progress to becoming healthy.
5. Because the motivation is health based instead of based on getting away from weighing "Y", it is easier to stick to it because you can feel yourself getting healthier and see you are getting closer to weighing X.
6. When the goal is reached, new healthier routines/habits have been created through the process and has created a desire to stay healthy which, in turn, will help you maintain a healthy weight.

Which strategy do you usually use?  If you are regularly using an Away From strategy it is likely you spend a lot of time and energy trying to 'fix' the same thing over and over again (yo-yo dieting it a great example of this).  It's time, now, to consciously choose a Towards Strategy so you can achieve what you want, when you want it.

As always, the choice is yours to make.

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