It's an old adage - akin to "keep it simple stupid," or being "present," and "mindful." It may seem cliche, but if one can move past the knee jerk reaction to dismiss it as an over used buzz word, they would find it's quite life changing.
All too often, we get caught up in wanting to improve ourselves right away. We are a generation of click and receive, immediate feedback, and now, now, now. In my humble opinion this attitude shouldn't be disregarded, and like everything on this platform, there is a time and place for it - but self improvement is not that place.
Think about it. What happened the last time you set a goal? Did you pull out your planner and pretty colored pens and write it down like you have been told to a thousand times? Did you break down the goal month by month, week by week, planning it out to a tee? Did you wait for the first of the month, or a Monday, or after that one last treat? Did you go out and buy the latest gear? Then did you go cold turkey with your old behavior and replace it with your new behavior in hopes that this would be the time?
Maybe not. But that's what I always did. I would jump in feet first with full commitment and a heavy does of self discipline. That's what it comes down to right? Self control?
Not so fast. (Please tell me you see what I did there...)
When I look at where I am at in my life in the areas that I feel I have grown the most, it's been a long, steady, two steps forward and one step back process. I have had to try over and over and each time I would get just a little bit closer to where I wanted to be - so "little bit closer" that I didn't even realize I was making progress at the time.
I have been trying to "eat healthy" since college. College! That was over 10 years ago! (Fuck, I am old.) I would say "Okay, time to lock it up. I'll go to the grocery store and load up on salad and veggies and fruit and start fresh!" But I hadn't cultivated a mentality that supported a change in my habits. I meant well - and I really did want it - but my subconscious didn't have the ability to assist me yet. I was jumping into a pool when I hadn't learned how to swim.
I think the most concrete example I can think of is when I started training for my first half marathon. (I know, I know, a "running metaphor." But it really does reflect the idea I am trying to explain here.) It was a 12 week program and I don't think I had a run over three miles on the schedule for the entire first month. (I could fact check this but I am too lazy - rest assured it at least felt like an entire month.) By the end of those 4 weeks I couldn't wait to crank up the mileage. It might have something to do with a slightly rebellious spirit - you know, I want to color outside the lines but ONLY if you tell me I can't color outside the lines - but I think it also had to do with going so slow that my body was aching to progress.
It's important to note that prior to this training I had tried running a 5k more times than I could count. The routine went a lot like my eating healthy routine. Download the Couch25k app on my iPhone, write down my runs in my planner, and then will myself to complete each day on the treadmill until I got to 2 miles and then lose interest and resign myself to trying again later. I am not kidding when I say I tried this routine at LEAST 10 times.
But with my training for a half marathon, the mileage seemed so far off, that all i could do was what was on the schedule that day, and start out sloooooow. There were runs where I only went out for a mile - and the plan specifically told me NOT to run more than what was on the schedule. So I listened. I went slower than I felt like I should. And when I did that, two things happened.
1. My body (and mind) had time to adapt. It got used to what I was doing so that the next step was not only natural, but a craving. and 2. My mentality was no longer "3 miles, I should totally be able to run three miles - I am healthy and athletic," but was now "13 miles - how the hell am I going to run 13 miles? I have no idea. I can't think that far ahead so I guess I'll just take it day by day and do what the plan says - no more, no less."
The long runs increased by a mile and a half (ish) each week. And they were hard. But my mind and body were ready because I had not gotten impatient and I didn't buy into having to "feel like a runner" right away. When I met friends and they asked me how far I ran and I said 1 mile, I tried to ignore the fact that they probably thought that was not even considered a "run" and wasn't I training for a half marathon? As my mileage increased, the long runs became more challenging, but they weren't so hard that I wanted to give up because I didn't think I could do it. I just put one foot in front of the other and leaned on the support of my friend. I can't thank her enough for giving me the training plan she did, and believing that I actually could run a half marathon with her.
Which leads me to another point. I was no longer running on the treadmill. I had found a more natural and social way to achieve my goal. This point doesn't really support the main point I am trying to make in terms of taking things slow, but it is worth noting because you cant fit a square goal into a round hole...not quite sure that metaphor works here, but you get what I'm saying. I had to find a way to move my body that fit in with my life. Sweating it out in a gym has never been my thing - playing outside and exploring has. Trying to learn to run on a treadmill never would have worked for me, and I unknowingly found another way that did.
But I digress. The point that is trying to get out of my mind and onto paper is, if we want lasting change in any area of our lives, we need to check our immediate gratification at the door. Some people sign up for their first Iron Man and kill it - but for every Rich Roll out there, there are at least a thousand middle aged men that started training with good intentions, but stopped a quarter of the way through and then beat themselves up for it when it really didn't have anything to do with lack of self discipline, but more to do with trying to be someone they just aren't ready to be yet.
I ended up running a full marathon, but only after a couple of years following my first half. I never dreamed I would even want to run a full - but our bodies and minds are designed to want more. They are designed for growth. I am talking science here people. So once I reached one threshold, I was ready to move to the next one. But not until I had cultivated a mentality that could support that movement - and I know now that try as I might, I cannot put a time frame on cultivating a mindset. It's part of the mystery of the process.
When I began meditating I didn't say "okay, every day for 10 minutes starting......now." I just would sit for a couple of minutes and try when I felt like it.
Take the god damn pressure of yourself and trust that if you really want something, you can work at it little by little and enjoy the process. If I would have tried to meditate 10 minutes every day back in May I would have burned out and thought I hated it. But I cut myself some slack and knew I didn't have anything to prove. This was for me - I wasn't trying to be a Zen Buddhist, I just wanted to learn about this practice I had read so much about.
I feel the need to repeat what I just stated above. I had nothing to prove. I don't know about you, but as for me, if I am trying to reach a goal for ANYONE other than myself, I am going to fall short. I am not going to be a marathon runner in 12 weeks. I am not going to wake up one day and be spiritually enlightened, and I am not going to be a foodie/chef after cooking one outstanding meal. But if I enjoy running, and meditating proves to have an effect on my day when I give it a trial run, and I like reading about these crazy herbs, so why not try a new recipes with them, then one day I will wake up and realize "Holy shit, I just completed my 205th meditation session - how did that happen? Who am I?"
Lighten up - you have nothing to prove, Jillian Michaels. If you go to the gym for a month after January 1st and then fall off the wagon in February who fucking cares? Try again. Try different ways, different company, different techniques, until you find something that clicks. But don't for a second think that it's your fault because you don't have enough will power, or you will never get there, or you just "aren't that kind of person." Take little tiny baby steps until you are that person - you can't become that person overnight, so don't beat yourself up when it doesn't happen.
Physical health is a good example because it's concrete, but I have tested this process with trying to boost my feelings of self worth, finding someone special to have a connection with, advancing my career etc. They are all intangibles, but I can honestly say that in all these areas I have found myself in a situation I never would have dreamed of a year ago - and they all happened because I made sure what I wanted was what I really wanted (not what anyone else wanted), and I did one little thing each day (sometimes every other day, shit happens) to become that person. Whether that was visualizing how I would handle work that day, or reminding myself that I was enough, or trying a new recipe even if it sucked, or turning off the tv and reading a book instead. Eventually, my life changed. Naturally. And I wake up really happy with my life and who I am almost every day now.
It didn't happen over night. This isn't Amazon Prime - it's life - and we only get the one (maybe - but that's an entirely different musing).
Cheers to not rushing, slowing down, and enjoying the ride.