I was catching up with a friend yesterday, reflecting on the first three months of 2019 and how drastically different they’ve become from the months prior. In many ways, I’m a completely different person.
In the fall I used a lot of alcohol, fleeting relationships, food delivery apps, Amazon Prime and Netflix to cover up my anxiety about the future. I spent money to surround myself with nice things, because subconsciously, nice things made me feel like a nicer person.
Now at the turn of spring, I’m the guy who’s more interested in staying home, cooking meals for friends, finding affordable ways to exercise, and dealing with uncomfortable thoughts head-on instead of running away from them.
Maybe it’s just me getting older, but I keep asking the question - how have I been able to keep up this new mindset for so long? In my head there are endless instant replays of my previous attempts piled up like VHS tapes, and from the archives I’ve noticed three things that have made this go-around truly different:
I’m focusing on one change at a time, one day at a time, one thought at a time. Any other lofty ideals I’ve been trying to live up to are out the window. For example, after two months of working out 4-5 times per week, the backseat and trunk of my car have been nightmarish. Between multiple sets of clothes and towels and yoga mats and boxing gloves, I just haven’t kept it organized. It’s out of character for a pseudo clean freak like me.
Instead of beating myself up about the dirty car, I realized that it’s just the tradeoff for making health my real priority now. It’s natural once you start shifting your routine for things to get knocked out of place. Being okay with that allows me just enough self-respect to keep it going.
I’m making it about the practice, not the result. If I was working out solely to get ready for the beach or to get into “artist shape” as I’ve coined it in the past, I’d easily become frustrated if I didn’t see results in the mirror fast enough. Then I’d give up out of that frustration, prematurely forfeiting all the other benefits.
This time around, there’s only one criteria for success - consistently doing a thing (i.e. exercise) day in and day out. We tend to overestimate how much we can accomplish in a day and underestimate how much we can accomplish in a year. I’ve found it much more enjoyable and sustainable for me to wipe out my expectation for quick results and external validations. I celebrate the practice of being and doing instead.
I am my own and my best accountability partner. When I’m not in the mood to do a thing like go to the gym I’ve been an expert at talking myself out of it - negotiating the pros and cons, convincing myself that it’s too late, too expensive, or that I’m too tired. I’ll literally debate myself for so long until time has really run out and I’ve succeeded in putting off another healthy habit.
But finally I’ve learned how to outsmart that voice in my head. As soon as I get a sense of that naysaying voice, I stop listening and start moving as quickly as possible. “We can have this conversation in my head on the way there in the car instead of on the couch, yeah?” It’s not the easiest thing to put that voice on mute while I’m lacing up my shoes - but when I do, the job gets done every time.
Life feels a little more aligned now, even if on the outside my surroundings haven’t changed. These little mind hacks have been the key - and I can’t wait to see how they hold up over the next 90 days.