I’m an all or nothing person. Or at least I was an all or nothing person.
I’d set myself these crazy, lofty goals based on something I read in a book or heard in a podcast and tell myself, “If they can do it, I can do it.” More times than I care to admit, I couldn’t do it – or, more to the point, I didn’t do it, and with every effort, I handed myself another stick for a mental beating.
It’s funny. None of us would expect to be able to run a marathon without any training simply because we decided to run one. Yet we do this all the time with goals that involve mental stamina and training. We simply expect ourselves to be able to cope and then berate ourselves when we struggle.
In my early efforts to quit drinking or stop eating sugar, I went into them with no prior ‘training’ – I did nothing strengthen my resilience, build my self-trust or shape my beliefs or identity.
I thought the small things were lame and I told myself I was just procrastinating because I was too weak to achieve the big goals. Truth is, all those small things were gradually making me stronger and more resilient. They were teaching me that I could always take a positive step, no matter how I felt, even if the step was tiny.
So, for my money, anything you do that leads you to feel more resilient, more confident and more in control will ultimately prove useful when you move onto the bigger things you feel scared to tackle right now.
It took me a couple of years to tackle alcohol – and almost my entire life to address my relationship with food – but every little thing I did to change how I see myself has led me to this point and it was all worth doing.
If I could go back and talk to myself when I first started doing those things, I would say, “Every single positive thing you do makes a difference. Don’t feel bad about anything you choose. Just do it, enjoy it and, most importantly, notice how much better you feel and how much you’re learning. Then keep going.”
In case you’re interested, here are a few of my favourite ‘starter activities’.
These are the activities I used right at the beginning (around 5 years ago) to get moving and they are the activities I keep in place when I feel too stressed or low to do some of the more energetic, big scale things that now form part of my routine.
Keeping a journal
The value of journalling is well documented and probably isn’t a surprise. I found it a great way to learn about myself and get some sense of the demons I was facing. Although I had to give up booze and sugar before I finally came face to face with them in earnest, journalling was great preparation for tackling them.
In addition to my main journal, I started a bullet journal a couple of years ago. I love this form of journaling because it’s creative and you get to use colour pens if you want to! I found this particularly useful when I wanted to uncover patterns – the effects of sleep cycles, diet, morning routines, etc. I gathered a lot of information about how I do my best.
The more I read, the more I was able to combine threads of ideas and pull out the bits I wanted to use. Even when I felt completely demotivated and depressed, I kept reading – and when I didn’t have the energy to read a physical book, I listened to audiobooks instead. I lay in bed with my eyes closed and listened – and if I fell asleep, I just went back and listened another time.
As I mentioned on Day 85, it’s using your body to hack your mind is a great strategy. Walking was the ‘starter activity’ that got me through depression and later, made more regular and vigorous exercise possible. It helped me see myself as someone who takes health seriously and is willing to do something about it – an idea I had to internalise before tackling alcohol and sugar.