Nothing is more important in creating optimal health than our habits. We all know that we should be exercising regularly, eating a sensible diet, getting a good amount of sleep, minimizing stress and ideally establishing some kind of stress-reduction practice. It’s the actual doing that’s the problem. Too many lofty goals fizzle out, leaving feelings of shame and incompetence in their wake.
One secret to successfully adopting and integrating a good health habit into your life is to put the lofty goal(s) aside for the moment and focus on taking small, but consistent steps in the right direction.
See this one-minute TED talk by sociologist Christine Carter, who successfully eased regular running into her life by starting out small. And I mean small. Her initial commitment was one minute a day! But she did it consistently, and gradually it turned into more and more minutes. Consistency was the key. Because every time she put on her running shoes in the morning she etched the new habit more and more deeply into her psyche.
Psychotherapist Abby Seixas has written a wise and beautiful book especially for women called Finding the Deep River Within. It’s a guide to recovering our connection with our deeper selves and a sense of calm and meaning in the midst of a busy life—probably the most important health practice of all.
In her twenty-five years of work with clients, she’s observed that “the most effective approach to change of any kind is to think in small steps. Often, when we try to make big changes quickly, the parts of ourselves that may not be ready for drastic changes become fearful and resistant. So we become discouraged and give up when transformation doesn’t happen immediately.”
What does she mean by “parts of ourselves?” Well, we’re complex. An Intellectual Part of us sees the value in exercising daily and an Ambitious Part may set a goal of running for half an hour most mornings. But maybe a Rebellious Part hates goals because it feels it will never live up to them, or a Critical Part uses the goal to berate us (and discourage us) every time we “fail” in any respect. A Practical Part could object that we’re already pressed for time in our lives.
This whole committee of parts needs to be on board for a project to succeed.
By taking small steps the Rebellious Part won’t feel so overwhelmed; the Critical Part will feel satisfied that we’re doing what we said we were going to do; and the Practical Part will probably roll up its sleeves and help us find a little more time even in a busy schedule.
Seixas recommends viewing each step you take toward a goal, no matter how small, as a victory, and keeping a Victory Journal. In the journal you write down, and in so doing claim credit for, each “victory.” With the goal of running in the morning, a possible entry might be: “I was late and didn’t have time to run, but I put on my running shoes, went outside and took a few deep breaths before going back inside.”
Writing down every little victory celebrates it, strengthens your resolve, and reinforces the direction in which you want to move. If you’re consistent about this, as your list of victories gets longer, so too will the accumulation of little steps build momentum in your psyche and propel you forward towards realizing your goals.