Taking the next step

Today's (unsponsored) post is inspired by the Oxfam Trailwalker (Melbourne, April 10-12). If you have been spared from my constant references to this, which is currently fairly consuming (the TRAINING! the HILLS! The SPONSORSHIP REQUESTS!), let me fill you in. I am part of a team of four, and we will all walk 100km (together) through the Dandenong Ranges, to raise money for Oxfam. One foot after the other - we will get there! 

source: e-devotions.blogspot.com
source: e-devotions.blogspot.com

Things need to change

If you are anything like me, you will have a range of things you know you should change in your life. You know that if you make these changes, they will really benefit you. I know I need to improve my eating habits (less chocolate, for instance, and diet coke, and more whole grains and vegetable), I need to be more consistent with exercise (these past couple of months not withstanding), and I need to get far better at going to bed. Most significantly, I need to improve my time management. This is just a starting list, too.

I know I need to make changes. I know I am not happy with some of the patterns I have slipped into. In many cases I have tools – recipes, systems I could put in place, exercise programs, and so on. In theory, I am equipped to make these improvements. But yet I don’t. And my family and friends hear what I am ‘gonna do’ (I am a big ‘gonna’ person), try to support, and see me fail again to put things into action. Understandably, at times, they stop listening to me.


Why do I things I don’t want to do, and not do things that I do want to do?

I’ve realised that there is no single reason that applies to the different aspects I would like to get better at. For different habits, there are different reasons pulling me back, including:

Fear – Change involves risk. There is a risk of failing. While slipping up in terms of eating better may not have major consequences – I can always get back on track – I don’t like to fail. It doesn’t look good (if anyone is actually taking note). It doesn’t feel comfortable. But I need to get more comfortable with the feeling of failing, as in most cases it is a step towards succeeding.

Of course, because nothing is simple, there is also a risk that I might succeed with these changes. That’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe not. There are also bigger changes that I want to make (which I’ll talk about next week, as they are a bit more complex). They will take extra effort, and there are bigger risks involved. If I get some of these things under control, I remove my excuses to start on these scarier changes. Fear is a big issue.

Effort – To get out of a bad rut, you need to put in some effort. You need to keep showing up – planning ahead in terms of meals, scheduling time for exercise, making good choices with time and not bad ones (like staying up reading way too late). Although ultimately these changes might become habits, I will need to move through the novelty stage into the sheer persistence stage. Am I ready to put the effort in? Am I prepared to give up some activities I love, because I do not have the mental space or time for them? Often I become quite grumpy when I am adjusting to change – am I ready to put some measures in place so I don’t take this out on others around me?

Letting go – A related issue is shifting the way I think about myself. I have realised that I feel like I give a lot to others and I deserve a reward (and, often, that reward is time to myself. Unfortunately that time is late at night, and the impacts of lack of sleep flow through to the next day).


How to change my bad patterns for good

In recognising the barriers to change above, I do think I already know how to overcome them. It’s not one single jump, but a series of of smaller step changes I will need to make.

Clear some space – Mental, time and physical. I need to put in place plans to make these changes. Schedule the time for exercise, but also the steps to get there – have I got everything set out ready to go? If I plan to exercise before work, have I put in place a process to ensure I do not get delayed in leaving? Have I planned my meals in advance and bought required ingredients? Working out where I trip up and putting in place contingency plans is important.

I am allocating time this weekend to make these plans – I need to stop talking around this, and actually take some action.

Review and ensure these steps are feasible It’s not likely I can make changes in a range of areas all at once. Setting myself up for failure will not help me continue. I may need to stage these changes. I also need to allow breathing space – call it ‘white space’, ‘margins’, ‘third space’, whatever. There needs to be allowance for the unexpected.

Accountability – Build it in. Schedule time with others, so I can’t let them done. Tell people I trust what I am trying to do, and how they can help me (and a big one – don’t get angry with them if they actually do what I have asked and try to hold me accountable).

Keep working on my mental barriers – including why I run late. This has been a lifetime challenge, and I think this will be the biggest to change. Acknowledge that I will not feel happy about the changes all at once. Be mindful about it – recognise the discomfort, the desire to stay in bed a little longer, see if there is something more underpinning it? But at the same time, don’t give myself an out in the process (save the reflection for afterwards!)

Let go of some things – Maybe the house doesn’t have to be tidy? (I say, whimpering, as it isn’t as tidy as I would like now, but cleaning up is one reason I delay going to bed at night. Maybe I have to let it go a bit?). There are probably many similar things I need to accept – at least, while I am putting changes into place.

Work out what I find rewarding – Habits form from effective cues, routines, rewards and cravings, according to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. Will I find the feeling of feeling less bloated enough of a reward to resist the morning teas we seem to have so often at work, or will I still just be looking on resentful, craving the sugar (or caving in)? Will I get to the point where I prefer to go to bed earlier at night and sleep, rather than stay up, craving the feeling of greater energy in the mornings? I will need to work out what is effective for me, and what acts as a barrier – and keep adjusting my routines to build in more rewards and cravings for good habits, if these changes are going to be sustainable.

Remember past (or current) successes – The Oxfam Trailwalker training is a good reminder of what is possible if a) I put my mind to it and b) I have good accountability, including good support. Over the past few months, I have now gone from someone who hated hills and found, after about 10km, that even on reasonably flat terrain, I was very tired. I also could not get up early. Now, I still don’t enjoy hills or early mornings, but am much better at getting through both. And we covered 60km the other night in a pretty quick time, so the 100km to be walked in a couple of weeks is looking much more achievable (there’s me on the right, below – what a beautiful setting!).

One step after the other
One step after the other to get there
Have you had any habits that you have needed to overcome? How have you tackled them?


9 thoughts on “Taking the next step

  1. I am a big believer in lists! If I write it down, then I am accountable to make it happen. Almost a year ago I decided to make exercise part of my daily routine. Sometimes this is just a walk, but 3 times a week it is a run and I do yoga one night a week. Yes, planning is key. I also find it essential to carve out some time purely for myself. This might not happen every day but i ensure it is several times a week. Physical activity has enormous internal benefits for me.


    1. I think that is right – I am now noticing the value of more regular exercise. I just need to keep it going beyond the next two weeks (when I don’t have the pressure of an upcoming event), so having it on the schedule will be really important (plus time for myself – which is often more time to read – is also important. Need to factor that in too).


  2. oh wow, you are setting yourself some great goals there Helen! I admire your planning and your reasons. I’m currently working through reducing fear….of many changes we have made since retiring from paid work and moving to a rental house after owning and to a new place!! I’m telling myself on one hand I am doing it ok and on the other (when I let that fear back in) I want to cry. Well, I did that but I am also taking baby steps towards acceptance of what is and not trying to do too many changes at once. Something about being 65 is helpful then as I have already lived some of these changes and “failed”. Meditation and staying more grounded in the moment might seem a bit ‘woo woo’ but it is helping me for now. I look forward to hearing how you are going! Denyse


    1. Thanks Denyse for commenting – lovely to see you visiting this page! I think step by step is the only way I will move through these changes – and tomorrow is earmarked for the first step of scheduling (plus getting to bed soon tonight – making two nights in a row – and planned for tomorrow too – so starting to build a pattern).

      Yes, the fear thing is painful, isn’t it? – and I suspect it’s something that pops up for different reasons at different stages at life (ie. my grandmother, at 101, is moving into a nursing home this week – and she is pretty nervous about that. Change is hard). I think I’ve read that you were a teacher? (from comments you’ve made on other sites – I do read a lot in the background!) – if that’s the case, both my parents were too, until fairly recently, and I know Dad in particular found retiring hard (there is a lot of security in teaching profession, provided you are pretty well established, and also security in the colleagues, the structure of terms, etc – and if you change those, plus add moving to rental accommodation into the mix, it must test you. Mediation and staying grounded sounds like a good approach (and I’d be keen to know what this second one means) – and yes, I will be updating on my progress! Thanks, Helen


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