fitness · habits

Habit change: no different in January than any other month

CW: mention of diets and other methods for changing eating habits.

Everywhere I look this month, I see article after article about changing habits, about developing new patterns, about getting unstuck from whatever behavior I’m currently mired in.

The New York Times is doing an Eat Well Challenge (of course they are…) They recommend ditching the dieting (yay!) and suggest we “train the brain” instead. Train the brain to do what? To eat differently from the way we ate before January 1, 2022. Their current advice involves mindfulness, some psychology, and focus over time to see what results occur.

My favorite meditation app Ten Percent Happier is doing a two-week challenge called Getting Unstuck. I’m now on day 7. It’s a series of short discussions and 10-minute meditations, all on themes related to attention, focus, self-compassion, identifying thought and feeling patterns, and other topics TBA. So far I’m enjoying it, but you all know I’m already a huge fan of theirs. YMMV.

Yesterday, Natalie wrote a post about celebrating small victories from tiny changes. (Spoiler alert) She’s been walking a lot-a-lot in 2021, and she’s now a better walker and also feeling more resilient in the face of, well, times like these. Go Natalie!

But, if you read the small print (actually all the print in her post is the same size), what Natalie says is that, over an entire year, she (with lots of support) has implemented some new habits. She also opened up some space for adjusting to the vagaries of life (e.g. weather, schedules, etc.) and set up her house and clothing to make it easier to get outside. Again, go Natalie!

My 2021 behavior change story is similar to Natalie’s. Over the course of a year, I’ve developed a daily meditation practice. How did I do it? I did/do a lot of things:

I bought some apps (Ten Percent Happier, Headspace, Calm). I also downloaded free apps (Insight Timer, Buddhify).

I virtually always do a 5-minute in-bed morning meditation, using my phone. I sit in my living room on my yoga bolster, which is handily in the corner to meditate several days a week. I do an in-bed evening meditation for sleep or just cool-down before bed

I notice times during the day when I’m feeling extra anxious or stuck or fearful, and I’ll stop and do ten good breaths. I can’t recommend this enough for everyone.

I spent some time and money on books and also a weekend meditation retreat with my favorite teacher, Jeff Warren. Spending dedicated and extended time deepened my practice and my dedication to exploring it.

After more than a year of adjusting our lives to accommodate and incorporate these new patterns, are Natalie and I drastically different versions of ourselves? No. Well, sort of yes, but not in the Gut-Busting-Challenge sort of way. Both of our guts are intact (Natalie delicately hinted at this, and I’ll say it outright about me). My physical health is about the same. But I’m moving more than I did in 2020, and I’m more focused and happy and resilient (I’m borrowing that last term from Nat, but it’s just as true for me).

Challenges are fine; I’ve finally, after much struggling, made my peace with them. And there’s nothing to be done about the fact that it’s raining challenges every January. But, readers, we here at Fit is a Feminist Issue know (and know that you know) that developing different behaviors (around whatever you’re looking to add or subtract from your life) is a year-long and years-long enterprise. It’s also influenced by life changes (like getting a dog or changing jobs or moving or shifts in health status). The results are often subtle and not what the challenges often promise. There will be no splits done by me on February 1. But that’s fine.

Readers, I know I keep asking this, but I’d love to hear from you what your current thinking is on adjustments or plans you’d like to implement and where you are in that process.

6 thoughts on “Habit change: no different in January than any other month

  1. I hope my daily Go Team posts aren’t falling into the challenge static that is everywhere right now, I wouldn’t want to be adding to that noise for you. 🙂

    I completely agree with you here, of course. Making changes that serve you and that help you feel more satisfied and at ease in your life must come slowly. That change is a gradual, long-term thing full of tweaks and adjustments and stops and starts.

    I haven’t quite managed to make meditation part of my daily practice yet (except in December when I was selecting them for daily posts) but your posts here and there have often reminded me to pick it up again. Making a little more space in my day to make space in my head is one of the tweaks I will be working on this year. I’m not expecting rapid change and I’m not undertaking a challenge, I’m just trying to return to it more often until it becomes routine.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Catherine.

    1. Thanks for reading and for the comments, and also for the helpful daily posting you’ve been doing. It’s not too much at all. I’ve taken up some of the suggestions, and it’s really nice to see what possibilities there are for switching up ways to care for ourselves. Meditation is just one of many ways we do that, and it’s not everyone’s bag. I find the apps super-helpful for me, but others just do it old-school (I think Tracy might use just a timer). Finding helpful and supportive routines is where it’s at– that’s what I think we’ve both been learning!

    1. I’m so glad you liked it. I do it in class with my students from time to time, and I hope it offers them an option for when they’re feeling stressed. It does just that for me.

  2. I read Fit is a Feminist Issue almost every day but seldom comment. Your post struck me today so I wanted to give you some idea of my journey. Most of my adult life, and I am now 63, was spent dieting or planning to diet on Monday or the first of the month, all stories you have heard before. I dieted my way up to 285 pounds at my highest weight about 8 years ago. I was referred to a clinic in a suburb of Vancouver in 2014 called Weight Loss Management. The doctor who runs it has made it his life’s work to be ahead of the curve in weight control theories, medications, practices and outcomes. There was a core program of 8 different 4 week courses in building resilience, cooking for one or two and any number of any subjects open to us as part of the plan and all covered by MSP in BC. This led to several break throughs for me, in thought process management and also in a metabolic realization. I made a decision to have bariatric surgery as the outcomes were notably good with each person I interviewed that had made this decision. All who I talked to had changed fundamentally their way of life and their thought processes around weight and it’s management. Hard decision and not an easy two year’s lead up to surgery. Many medical tests and long drives to the bariatric surgery clinic location (an hour both ways) and blood draws and much required reading and tracking of food input and content, but this was all for a purpose, I now believe. My surgery was on August 2, 2019. Within 7 months I had lost over 100 pounds and fundamentally changed my whole way of life. I walk at least 4 or 5 days per week, tracked my foods and lowered all my salient blood results to normal levels. I use my CPAP only half the night, and I believe it is only a habit not a need any more. My psychiatric issues around anxiety and depression improved to the point that I see my psychiatrist only when necessary, about once a year. My psychiatric drugs were reduced to minimal levels. My head space is also fundamentally changed. With the metabolic issues more or less back to whatever normal should be, I am healthier in mind and body that I ever have been since being a teenager and have lost a further 20 pounds and am keeping it off with very little issues.
    What you expressed about changes being gradual and mindful is the best way of expressing what has happened to me. I have no down sides to report except having hair loss within 3 months of the surgery, which is expected, and it has now grown back in quite lush and curly. I know this journey is not for everyone but for me, the mental and physical changes have been remarkable and lasting. I believe it can be done without the drastic surgery but for me, it was necessary to have this hard stop and then a gentle restart to my life. I am grateful every day that I was referred to this clinic and have been able to make the changes, which takes a lot of mental strength, and then keep up the changes on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. There is still a decision making process every day or sometimes every hour, but with practice and a willingness to be gentler with myself, it is working.
    Just thought you might like a slightly different point of view

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