Looking back at my journal entries from this time last year, I was sick. I felt physically limited, weak, stiff and was worried about my longevity. I knew I needed a change, but I also knew from experience that jumping into a new lifestyle was not a sustainable way to address the issue of my physical vitality. I needed a lifestyle overhaul, but it had to happen slowly. And going on a restrictive food diet was NOT going to be the answer. (for more on that, I encourage you to read this book)
Setting an achievable goal
I’m definitely what you might call a “goal getter.” I thrive on checking things off lists and following plans and having concrete next steps, so I wanted to use this to my advantage. I’ve run two marathons, not because I’m much of a runner, but because there was a plan – you run this many miles on these days, and eventually you can do 26.2 in one day, and I did. This mindset can be limiting when you miss the present day because you’re always focused on the next thing, but my ability to focus on the endgame is a strength to play to in many areas of life.
The key is making sure the goals you set are actually possible. I wasn’t totally sure what my aching, inflamed body was capable of, so I knew I needed to be vague on the “how” of my goal, but specific enough to have something to track.
I also knew that I needed to leave myself room for not feeling like it – one way I’ve gotten off track on previous attempts at lifestyle changes was that I inevitably hit times when I just didn’t feel like working toward the goal. Sometimes it was hormones, sometimes it was illness or injury and other times I just didn’t feel like it or got burned out. I couldn’t make my lifestyle adjustment contingent on a plan that required 24/7 adherence or else I’d be starting from scratch, such as training for a triathlon or a restrictive eating plan – I had to leave room to move in and out of the process.
I’m all about hacking yourself when changes are needed – self-flagellation and punishment don’t work for me. One of my life mottos is, “It doesn’t have to suck to count,” so finding ways to achieve what I want in life while also enjoying the ride is what I’m all about. That’s not to say that there aren’t unpleasant things that we all must do, but the idea that you’re not deserving of success unless it is painful and difficult is a fallacy in my opinion.
I enjoy exercising and being outdoors, but I also get bored of things after a while, so I wanted to allow room for that while also setting a goal to get me moving more.
Going long on making changes
I decided that for 2020, I would set a goal to work out 150 times. That didn’t seem too wimpy – it’s basically every 2 or 3 days, but it seemed like enough wiggle room to take time off for whatever reason, and I’ve experienced those reasons: I had to take two full weeks off to allow a muscle strain to heal after a yoga retreat (turns out there’s such a thing as too much yoga!), and there were definitely stretches of time earlier this year that my job didn’t allow for much other than eating, sleeping and working (more on that in a minute). But today, November 2, 2020, I hit 150. And I couldn’t be prouder of myself!
Big things come from small efforts
There are other changes that have come along with working toward this seemingly simple goal. I started seeing a naturopath to adjust my nutrition in a way that supports my body and lifestyle – I no longer engage in diet culture, but I do recognize that food is medicine and am working on adding more of the foods that help, which has aided greatly in my journey to rediscover intuitive eating. I’m also not focused on a number on the scale – this isn’t about making my body smaller, it’s about feeling energetic and supporting a long life of feeling great.
I also had to quit my job in order to reclaim autonomy over my time and gain the flexibility I needed to care for myself. This was a big one but was something I could do because of my previous efforts to achieve financial security, another example of the little things adding up. 7 years ago, I was still working to pay off a 5-figure credit card balance, had no vehicle and was way behind on saving for retirement. Today I have no debt besides our mortgage, a car I paid for with cash, am on track to retire for good at 60 and have a year’s worth of spending in my savings, which enabled me to quit a really well-paying job without needing a concrete plan to replace the income right away.
I didn’t just wake up and find myself in this situation, but I did have to make changes to get here – a combination of slowly increasing savings, which naturally quelled my spending, along with increasing my income (and not spending the increases) shifted me from a place of constant money anxiety to my current state of financial bliss – I’m not done earning money, but it’s no longer the primary focus of my being.
The 1° shift is boring
Overhauling your life is not as simple as it looks in movie montages that show the protagonist going for long runs in the rain, then getting a new haircut and wardrobe and voila! Everything is perfect and she gets the guy. It’s a lot more subtle and boring than that.
When it comes to making sustainable shifts in our lives, it’s really more about finding that 1 degree shift that doesn’t feel like a huge change, but after staying that course for a while, you find yourself heading toward a completely different destination. What small shifts have you made, either positive or possible negative, that you’ve found lead to great changes in the long run?