By: Sarah Schmermund, M.A.

So, you’re two weeks into this shred. You’ve been inundated with info on what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, how to exercise, how not to exercise… You know everything you could possibly need to know to successfully reach your weight loss goals.

But so what? At the heart of it, it’s not really anything you didn’t already know. Yes, I’m supposed to eat right. And yes, I’m supposed to exercise 3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes. And yes, if I take in less than I’m putting out, the deficit will result in weight loss. But again…so what? If knowing these things was all it took to successfully lose weight and keep it off, would you be doing the shred at all?

So, I’ll ask you again: So what? While winning prizes and competing can provide a little inspiration, research has shown time and time again that you can’t improve an athlete’s performance with external motivators (ie: money). You’ve granted yourself 30 days to make a real change, to make a step towards a healthier lifestyle. This likely isn’t your first attempt. How do you make it your last? How do you make it stick?

What makes this time different?

If you can’t easily answer this question, then this time isn’t any different. At least not yet. You’ve decided to make an admirable effort, to really do some good for yourself to ensure your life is healthier and happier (and longer). Within this effort, the most integral part, the part that can’t be taught or handed to you by a trainer, requires a good look inward. What hasn’t been working? Why is this my third (or tenth) attempt to reign in my eating habits or make my exercise routine more regular?

As you answer these surface questions, take note. These are the clues to uncovering some of the more deep-seeded issues getting in between you and the healthy lifestyle you have unsuccessfully attempted time and time again. Maybe you notice a time of day in which you usually indulge in a craving you would otherwise ignore. Or maybe when you’re particularly stressed the couch looks much more comforting than any gym could. Or maybe the laundry needs to get done and homework needs to be checked and dishes need to be washed… Whatever your obstacles are, write them down. Over the course of a few days, take note of those moments when your convictions fail you and you’re finding yourself betraying the plan you were so committed to a mere few hours ago.

Now fair warning: this is the hard part, the really uncomfortable part, because it requires digging through a lot of buried feelings that were buried for a reason. So don’t expect it be fun, and expect to defend yourself against yourself. (Thankfully, in an argument against yourself, you’ve got enough insider information to win.) As you look over your recordings of the past few days, note any patterns: times of day, interactions with certain people, tasks and chores.

What is the connection between these instances? Often, it’s our emotional reaction. Maybe every time you notice an unchecked task on your to-do list, you feel inadequate that you couldn’t get everything done. Or you had a fight with a friend, or your significant other, or your mom, leaving you feeling hurt and rejected. These initial emotions, our gut reactions to situations, are called primary emotions. They’re our most vulnerable layer, our most honest reaction to a situation. Hurt, sadness, rejection, loneliness, inadequacy…these are primary emotions. And as I’m sure we all can attest, they are not exactly fun feelings.

So as quickly as they come, they go. ?Often before we can even notice their presence, we compensate for these uncomfortable, vulnerable feelings with secondary emotions.?They let us lash back at someone who has made us mad and feel annoyed with all the things we still have to do on our to-do list.And it’s within these protective emotions that we often enact compensatory behaviors to get rid of the feeling all together. If we’re lucky, we tie on our running shoes and hit the pavement, sweating out the discomfort. For most of us, though, we prefer something much less mindful – really anything that will adequately distract from how we feel. Turn on the TV, browse the internet, grab a yummy treat, and hunker down until we forget the feeling was ever there – we eat (to cover up) our feelings.

Have you made the connection yet? It’s this discomfort – these primary emotions – that is at the core of why you’re attempting your third (or tenth) shred. By ignoring your primary emotions, you’re left to manage the secondary emotions, often involving some sort of baked good or Ben & Jerry’s pint. And you’ll do it, over and over and over again, until you’re willing to sit down with the self that feels rejected or inadequate or sad and really process through it all.

“But Sarah, you said that primary emotions are fleeting? How can I learn to be one with them if they don’t stick around?” This is where the uncomfortable hard work comes in. Next time you feel angry, or resentful, or annoyed, sit with it. Walk yourself through the moment and connect your secondary emotion with the hiding primary emotion. You’ll slowly unearth some of the underlying feelings – inadequacy, hurt, rejection, sadness – that need to be processed. And your self-awareness grows, you’ll be able to better identify these primary emotions in the moment they happen and respond through them instead of the defensive secondaries.

So, let’s practice: If you’re annoyed by everything you need to get done in the day, take a moment. What is annoying about your to-do list? After all, you’re the one who made it. Maybe it’s not annoying; maybe it’s overwhelming. And perhaps it’s overwhelming because so much of today’s list is from yesterday’s list, and the days’ before that (are you getting anxious yet? I sure am!). So now you notice some feelings of inadequacy or shame at your inability to tackle this list (this is icky…). How do you manage that (wait, I can’t just be annoyed again?)? You could make the list shorter. To catch up, maybe you need to wake up an hour earlier tomorrow, or you could start to delegate some of your tasks to someone else. Or you could prioritize the list and make sure some of the items are things you’d enjoy getting done (like going to the gym), accepting that some things just won’t get done today, and they might not get done tomorrow. But if they’re not a priority, what’s one more day? You’re not annoyed, you’ve increased your self-awareness, and you got in an epic workout. Sounds pretty good to me.