I’ve had a lot to say about the different kinds of challenges and obstacles we face when we try to make changes in our routines and habits. Those things will affect us all in different ways and to a different extent, of course, but I would encourage you to consider that if something is an obstacle or challenge for you, then it is a real obstacle or challenge. No matter whether you think it *should* be or not.*
Maybe you have been making tweaks and adjustments and additions to your practice as you went along and if so, that’s great! Collect your gold star for your efforts and forge ahead. Go Team!
But if you are proceeding like I usually end up doing, you have probably been trying to make your original plan work and getting frustrated because things keep going awry to various degrees. (Knowing the difference and applying for myself are two different things, Team.)
Not being able to make your plan work does NOT mean that something is wrong with you. You are having a perfectly natural response to an annoying situation. The problem isn’t you – it’s your system. And your system can be changed.
Now, to clarify, I am not suggesting that we assess our systems for any potential results.
Instead, I am inviting us all to look at our processes, find out where the glitches might be, and reshape our systems to serve us better.
I figure it’s a good idea to do this after about two weeks instead of fighting with our systems for a month or more and then making some tweaks.
(I can’t even begin to tell you how often my wonky sense of time has resulted in me suddenly becoming aware of something that has been impeding me for ages but that has a relatively easy fix.)
Before I go any further, I have to remind you that we are living through a pandemic.
Don’t roll your eyes too much yet. Actually, never mind. Roll your eyes a bit. Curse if you need to. Be annoyed at me. Do what you must.
Now, back to my point.
THESE ARE NOT NORMAL TIMES.
Your usual plans, coping mechanisms, and support structures might not be in the best working order and you may not even realize it. In many ways, we have gotten used to the fact that things are weird and we are probably assuming that we have adjusted. And we have in some ways, but the ambient stress and weirdness will still be affecting us all in unpredictable ways. So if your capacity isn’t what you thought or if your stress-tolerance is off-kilter, please be kind to yourself about the whole thing. If changes, whether epic or minute, are beyond you right now, that is ok. To paraphrase a quote from one of my favourite movies that I watched as a teenager (Pump Up The Volume) – Feeling screwed up at a screwed up time in a screwed up place does not necessarily mean you are screwed up.
Increase your self-kindness accordingly. Pretty please.
System-tweaking questions to consider
Have you picked a practice that you are interested in? Or did you pick one that you thought you should do?
If you are interested in your practice but you just can’t work it into your days the way you had hoped you would, please skip to the next section.
BUT if you are trying to work on a practice because someone said you should, well, that’s an immediate source of extra friction. If you don’t care about the practice, it’s going to be really hard to add it to your days. If this practice isn’t specifically related to a health condition, is it possible for you to just drop it and choose something you want to do? If it IS related to a health condition but you hate the practice, can you figure out why it was recommended and find something else that will get you that same result? For example, if meditation has been recommended to you but you have zero interest in meditating, you will have trouble doing it. BUT if it was recommended because you need to reduce stress or practice mindfulness, then you could colour, listen to certain music, knit, or do gardening and still get those results.
What are your complaints?
When I have a new coaching client, the first thing I get them to do is to whine to me about all the things that they are having trouble with. I know that whining isn’t productive in the long run but it’s an excellent way to get all of someone’s frustrations out in the open so we can see what to work on and what bits and pieces might be connected. This process can help you figure out the glitches in your system, too. Make a big whiny list/journal entry/voice memo about the things that are frustrating you. You don’t have to add in the ‘oh but I know I should be grateful’ or the ‘I know they are doing their best’ caveats that we usually add when we complain aloud because you know all that and that stuff is beside the point right now.
Once you have that list, you can see (or hear) the things that are gumming up the works for you. Maybe your mornings are actually busier than you thought so morning yoga can’t be a thing right now. Maybe you fall asleep if you try to meditate at night. Perhaps your sister always calls when you try to walk lunch time and you don’t don’t enjoy talking while you walk. Maybe you hate facing those lunges first thing in your strength training. Maybe using your phone as your alarm clock means that you get drawn into texting late at night and you can’t get the sleep you need.
None of these things are a moral failure on your part. None of them show a lack of dedication. None of them show any problem with YOU as a person.
What they show is that you have competing priorities and that you are juggling a lot of different things.
So, your solution doesn’t lie in trying to work harder or ‘be better.’ The solution lies in finding a system that fits into your life as it is right now.
Sure, as we add new habits we will be adjusting our lives bit by bit but those adjustments start from working with what we have right now, not from pretending things are different and judging ourselves when we can’t meet impossible standards.
What needs to change? How can I change it?
Now that you have identified the kinds of things that are getting in your way and you have eliminated the possibility that you have some sort of inherent flaw that prevents you from establishing this habit…
Wait. You have eliminated that possibility, right?
You are NOT flawed.
We all HAVE flaws and imperfections and unfortunate habits and counterproductive responses and so on but we are not FLAWED. We aren’t BROKEN. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have right now. YOU are doing the best you can with the resources you have right now.
You can and will change and grow over time. You can learn to adjust your habits and responses and approaches. You can expand your resources and your capacity and firm up your boundaries. All of those things are possible but NONE of them mean you are broken or bad or flawed now.
Ok, rant over. (If you think that was weird, you should see that rant in person. There’s flailing and dramatic sighs and imploring looks, the whole she-bang. It’s a production.)
Anyway, since we are putting aside the whole notion of you as the problem, we can look at the the actual problems and seek solutions.
You can brainstorm all kinds of ideas for how to make things work more smoothly for yourself and you can experiment to see what works.
Meanwhile, for me, the solution to my challenges often has its roots in the challenge itself. Maybe it is the same for you?
For example, if you are falling asleep in meditation at night you could start by asking yourself if that actually is a problem. Maybe it’s not the perfect meditation you envisioned but it is clearly helping you relax. If that doesn’t reframing doesn’t sit well with you, perhaps you can start your meditation a littler earlier, or do it an a different time of the day, or consider walking meditation.
If your phone as alarm clock is preventing your sleep plans and you are straining your willpower to avoid text chats, can you get a separate alarm clock? Can you put your phone in sleep mode? Can you get an app that shows the time but blocks notifications?
Once you take ‘I am the problem’ out of the equation, it usually becomes much easier to brainstorm other solutions.
And keep in mind that sometimes the solution is ‘This habit is not something that’s important/available to me right now.’ There are lots of great things that help you feel good, help you be kind to yourself, and that enhance your life and your days, if this one isn’t right for right now, that’s totally ok.
Gold Star Time!
As always, here is your gold star for your efforts, whether those efforts are big or small, consistent or erratic, they all count.
Maybe today’s gold star if for your commitment to tweaking your systems all along, maybe it is for being like me and only remembering to tweak things when prompted, or maybe it is for giving yourself just a little space to consider that you are not broken.
Either way, I celebrate you and your efforts. Go Team Us!
Bonus stars for reading this long, long post: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
*For example, if all of your socks are too tight on your ankles when you sit in meditation and you find that distracting, telling yourself that you *shouldn’t* be distracted won’t help. All that *should* will do is add a kind of frustration or shame to an already distracting situation. You’ll end up pouring energy into trying to correct your feelings or perception when you could just take off your socks and put a blanket over your feet while you meditate.
About the Go Team! posts
For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.