I love those posts about famous people who didn’t reach their stride until mid-life. Or ‘til after receiving hundreds of rejection letters. Or following some huge life-altering experience. Like George Lucas who got turned down by three major movie studios. Michael Jordan who got cut from his high school basketball team, twice. The dude who started FedEx who allegedly got a C on his college term paper promoting the original biz idea.
The same thing goes for those of you struggling with sticking to a primal or keto diet, or trying to stretch out your fasting window by a few more hours, or ramping up your workout routine. I see it fairly frequently with my health coaching clients. They’re diligently following their real-food-eating-plan, tuning into their hunger levels, and moving their bodies regularly, then suddenly, there’s some obstacle that totally derails their hopes and dreams of success.
The path to anything, be it fat loss, healing, PRs, or personal growth, is never a straight line. It’s curvy, messy, and often times chaotic. It’s just part of being human. And although it feels like you’re not making progress, you actually are.
It’s like in the old days before electric drills and powerful jackhammers were a thing, they used to break boulders with handheld sledgehammers. Workers would hit those darn things over and over again without seeing any progress, but they’d keep at it because that was their job. Then, on the 50th or so hit, the boulder would magically split in half. Except it wasn’t magic, it’s science. They’re breaking down the integrity of the structure, each hit microscopically chipping away at it.
Just like my boulder analogy, the same thing is happening to you and your goals. Even though it looks like nothing is happening on the outside, each time you choose bacon and eggs over a jumbo Costco-sized muffin or go for a walk even when you don’t feel like it, you’re shifting something key to your success on the inside.
Resiliency isn’t just something you’re born with either, you can learn to develop it. According to research by Susan Kobasa, a psychologist who studies hardiness and grit, there are three elements essential to resilience:
Challenge. As in, challenge your thoughts. When you reframe a stressor as an opportunity to grow versus something to be dreaded or threatened by, you’re more equipped to move through it. That’s true for setbacks too. You can choose to view them as feedback, not failure or a reflection of your self-worth.
Control. Knowing what you can control and what you can’t is crucial here. Those who lack resilience often spend time stewing over uncontrollable events, which can create a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness. In contrast, putting your efforts toward situations where you can make an impact leads to feelings of empowerment and confidence.
Commitment. Are you committed to following through even when the going gets tough? Or are you only willing to go ‘til it gets uncomfortable? Resilient people are dedicated to taking action until their goal is met, regardless of the obstacles that arise.
Basically, resilience helps you handle stress in a more positive way.A study by developmental psychologist Emmy Werner backs up that thinking. She followed a group of 698 kids from birth through their third decade of life, monitoring their exposure to stress along the way. Two-thirds of the subjects came from stable, successful backgrounds while the other one-third were qualified as “at risk.” Of the at-risk kids, she discovered that some developed significant behaviour and mental health problems, while a small subsection of the group achieved academic, domestic, and social success.
Sifting through the data, Werner learned that there were several elements that predicted resilience, most of which had to do with how the children responded to their environment, adding that the resilient kids had what psychologists call an internal locus of control — they believed that they (not their circumstances) had the biggest impact on their accomplishments.
Are You on the Verge of a Breakthrough?
The reason resiliency is so important here is that breakthroughs typically happen right as (or after) you hit your breaking point. And you want to have the skills to actually get there and persevere. While some of these signs may seem negative on the surface, they mean that you’re on the right path, and that a breakthrough is right around the corner.
You notice an increase in resistance. Does it seem like it’s harder to do the things you’re trying to do? Maybe you’re up against a physical challenge like an injury, or your spouse continually brings home donuts. Resistance to opening a new door in life is always strongest right before you get to that door. So don’t let these obstacles derail you. Also don’t take them as a sign that whatever it is you’re working toward isn’t worth it. In contrast, it’s a sign you’re on the brink of something great.
You feel like giving up. Self-doubt typically stems from previous negative experiences and limiting beliefs. And it’s completely normal, especially when you’re up against a goal that’s important to you. Know that never wanting to quit isn’t a sign of strength, it means your goals are too small. Big goals will always elicit some level of self-doubt, so take this opportunity to lean into that feeling even more.
You want to change your goals.Ditching sugar or grains might have felt like a great idea a few weeks ago, but suddenly, in the midst of pumpkin-spice-everything, you’re not so sure. Think of working on your goal like hiking up a mountain. There’s always going to be places where you feel like stopping or turning around and heading back to your car. But instead of settling (or hiking up a different mountain), stay the course. The view from the top is 100% worth it.
You’re uncomfortable more than you’re not. Most people life their lives on autopilot, staying within the cozy confines of their comfort zones. If you’re at a point where most of the time you’re feeling unsure, scared, doing things you’ve never done before, and wondering why the heck you’re even doing them, congratulations, your breakthrough is definitely on the horizon.
You find something that clicks. I realize there’s a lot of potential discomfort in these signs — after all, who wants to be faced with fear, self-doubt, and uncertainty on an almost-daily basis? But when you stick with it long enough, you’ll reap the rewards. With enough resilience (and an understanding that you’re headed in the right direction), you’ll get to a point where everything starts to fall into place and your path becomes crystal clear. That’s when you know you’ve reached the other side.
Don’t Give Up, You’re Almost There
Most people give up before the good stuff happens. Right before they see the results, get the PR, or fit in the smaller pant size. If you’re feeling frustrated, filled with doubt, or wondering why you ever started working toward your goal in the first place, let this be your invitation to stay the course. These five signs mean that you’re just on the other side of a breakthrough:
You notice an increase in resistance
You feel like giving up
You want to change your goals
You’re uncomfortable more than you’re not
You find something that clicks
How about you? What signs do you notice when you’re getting close to a breakthrough?
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.