I make no secret of that fact that my current body status is officially fat and out of shape. I have been working on building better habits for about a month now, but I’m not doing anything strict or steep or sudden. I tend to go all-or-nothing into things, and diet and exercise have always been two of those things. Like most people who need to lose weight, I start a plan, and it involves working out every day and eating on a strict regimen of counting calories and/or macros (the amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in one’s daily meal plan). I can maintain it for a few weeks, but then I blow it and binge. I’ve started to recognize that I tend to binge eat on occasions that my emotions are a wreck or my stress levels are off the charts, so when I combine the tendency to binge eat with the stress of maintaining a perfect diet and exercise program cold turkey, I’m going to be “clean” for a few weeks, eat my weight in chocolate and cheese for a month, and hate myself for all of it forever.
It’s a cycle I’m working hard to break this time. Instead of plotting out my exercise plan and expected weight loss and then being disappointed when I don’t meet my goals, I’m working on a single habit at a time. If I happen to do something I plan to build into a habit before I can add it to my habit tracker, fantastic, but I’m not going to push myself to cultivate all the good habits all at once. I’ve really never done this kind of plan before – I guess because I feel like I will either do it all, or none of it matters. So, my habit tracker currently has three daily items on it: drink at least 100 oz. of water, clean the kitchen, and write. I need to add a whole lot more to that routine, but I’m actually doing a good job of eating well, exercising, and trying not to let the house explode. I’m just not pressuring myself to do those things until I’m solid on these three things first.
It seems to be working in that I’ve lost nearly ten pounds since I started tracking my water intake, my kitchen has been clean most nights except for one week, and I’m writing regularly, with a solid chance of completing NaNoWriMo successfully for the first time. It’s super tempting to let my excitement over those things spill over into adding all of the things onto the daily habit tracker so I can see the progress on each of those routines. But I know I’ll fail the second I do. Slow and steady wins the race. Progress not perfection. Be the turtle, not the hare. This is my new mantra. In fact, I think I’ll just shorten it to “Be the turtle.”
I may fail in this endeavor, too, but I can at least say that right now, this time feels different. The slow start lets me celebrate what goes well, and I am quicker to offer myself grace on the things that aren’t on my list yet. Didn’t exercise today? No problem: it doesn’t require a check mark on the habit tracker, so I’ll worry about that next week. For a list motivated person and a perfectionist (I NEED all those boxes checked!), this is actually working. The reality of why it’s working is that those habits are building blocks for other things, so if I drink a gallon of water a day, I’m not drinking anything but water and coffee, and I’m not eating as much. It’s slowed down the binge tendency because I’m too busy drinking water to eat a pint of ice cream. If I set the generic goal of “write” every day, I’m not setting a word count goal. Some days I really don’t have the capacity to do more than just add a sentence to a WIP, and occasionally all I have done is typed a title for future blog post and called it a day. But most days, I sit down to type at least one sentence, and my writing brain kicks in, and I’m at nearly a thousand words before I stopped to take a sip of water. With my kitchen clean at night, I walk into the kitchen in the morning without thinking, “Uggh. That’s gross. I’ll do it later,” so I’m starting with a clean slate and sometimes manage to pick up or clean up in another spot so it will match the kitchen.
I just won’t make myself accountable on the checklist for those things all at one time. Once they are second nature, then I can start tracking laundry and exercise and drawing. Be the turtle.
I know I’m not the only one who goes after things like a fanatic only to fall and give up after a few rounds of the fanatic-flop cycle. What works for you? Comment and share your best methods of slow and steady change. It’s tempting to go full hare, but science is on the turtle’s side. We make and keep new good habits when we don’t try to do too many at one time. Be the turtle. I promise you’ll get there!