It really is an audacious thing to do: to set out to change your self in the midst of living your life. And no one really comes out and tells you how fragile the whole thing is.
There are hints.
Keep it small, they say. Change only one small thing at a time. P.N. has a “five minute action” habit which follows this advice. At Zen habits, Leo Baubata offers a habit change program based on the “small is best” approach, too. So, if you want to start a meditation habit, for example, both would probably recommend starting with five minutes a day, tied to another, already existing habit.
I never really subscribed to it. I mean, I nod along when I read about it and I do understand it intellectually. But it all seems so puny, so insignificant. After all, lasting change can come with great upheaval–like becoming a vegetarian or quitting smoking. In those specific cases, though, a change of identity precedes the habit change, usually. So, while you might forget to meditate one particularly busy day, you wouldn’t likely stop and eat a burger.
Another clue is found in the exhortation to “schedule your workouts. Make an appointment with yourself.”
Or, they say, involve someone else. Either do a workout with them or make a bet with someone or somehow get some accountability built around your proposed change.
My life isn’t all that full, so scheduling my workouts seemed excessive. So did involving other people. I’m what Gretchen Rubin calls a Questioner. If I’ve established my own reasons for doing something, I can be relied upon to do it, pretty much….so I’ve never felt the need for an accountability partner. I’ve never made a bet with anyone, either. It all feels like tips and tricks if you ask me.
But these ideas are all getting at something essential to change–namely–that it is difficult and that sustaining new behaviour requires support.
And that’s true.
A short while ago, PN devoted two weeks of lessons to creating a fitness mission statement. Throughout the process, I thought it was absurd. Then, late one night, I just decided to write it out.
And something changed in me. Boom, just like that, I changed my identity. I became someone who includes exercise in her life. I became an “active” person. And then I realised: by changing one thing….I am changing everything.
Shortly after this I had a conversation with my awesome PN coach Lisanne. I was blathering on about how exercise is an “anchor” habit for me–that once I’m exercising regularly everything else just falls into place. I feel better (endorphins are my friend), I eat better, I feel more confident at work and I even sleep better. The idea to work out every single day came up. Every day, without fail. Maybe only be five minutes on some days. I poopoohed that idea. But Lisanne made me realise that five minutes of squats–or a five minute plank– would still be a workout.
So I made the commitment to do something physical every day.
And boom. I had an action plan, a next step, to reenforce my new change of identity.
But that identity could have dissolved before it took hold. That new-me, the one who is a “fitness nut,” as we used to say, could have died without that conversation with my coach.
For 19 days straight, I exercised. Some days, there was no more than 15 minutes of pilates but there was something. It was exhilarating.
I created a protected space around my new identity with my committment. No matter what, I was going to work out, every day.
That’s why a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly inside a cocoon. Change requires protection: it needs to happen inside a shelter, in a safe place, in a sacred place, if you will. All those exhortations? All those tips and tricks? Shelter.
This insight has been profound for me.
This perspective, that I need to guard and protect my transformation, means that everything becomes secondary to the health and fitness goals I have this week. That is hard to sustain.
I feel the need to protect the time I’m making for exercise. I need to plan carefully for it and then do it. Weight training is tricky since you can’t do it every day. I also work weird unpredictable hours. Leaving me to figure out my workouts every day is about as reliable a method for me to be consistent as me trying to figure out dinner everyday. Not happening. So, I created a small weekly spread in my Bujo and now I can schedule it for the morning, afternoon or evening.
But it doesn’t always happen. There’s a lot that still needs to happen to support a change of this magnitude.
But I’ve begun.