A case of mistaken (or under-fed) identity
Perhaps you know the parable of the Cherokee chief who was teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he told the young boy, “a fight between two wolves. One is evil and angry. The other is good and peaceful."
The boy looked on, wide-eyed.
“This same fight is going on inside of you, grandson, and inside every other person on this earth.”
The boy pondered this, then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The old man smiled. “The one you feed.”
I don't know about harboring wolves within, but I do know we each carry many identities. "I'm a caring friend." "I'm basically disorganized." "I'm a good cook." "I'm hopeless at math." "I am a dieting failure."
The identities we feed grow stronger, because if we identify as a caring friend, we do what caring friends do (caring for others), which reinforces that identity. If we decide we're hopeless at math, we won't even attempt anything that smells like math, which guarantees we'll still be bad at it. I've been thinking a lot about identity lately, because my forth-coming book, The Cherry Pie Paradox is about how to stop feeding the "diet failure wolf" and instead nurture the one that is "slim."
Even though I left my weight struggles in the dust forty years ago, in the process of writing the book it became clear I've still been feeding some other unhelpful identities. Specifically, the identity: "I am not disciplined." What I realized was:
My definition of "discipline" was way too narrow. To me, a disciplined person (like my sister) does some kind of self-improvement practice every day--yoga, 10,000 steps, morning pages--and I do not, despite my best intentions. I was also a hopeless diet cheat.
Due to my narrow definition, I had ignored all that I do do on a regular basis--whether or not I'm in the mood. Examples, writing a weekly newsletter, preparing healthy meals, taking photos every day, keeping my home a place of beauty, like with fresh flowers.
Instead of castigating myself for lack of discipline, I've started telling myself "I am disciplined," and I'm acknowledging myself for every instance of disciplined behavior. My self-encouragement has resulted in a new bed-making habit (I've resisted it since childhood), sticking to the WakingUp app (37 days so far--it's so good), rolling my undies and T-shirts à la Marie Kondo, and making a ToDo list short enough I can actually finish it.
Do have some identities that you'd rather not feed any more?