advice · fitness · goals · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team 2023! One shovelful at a time

We had a giant snowstorm here yesterday, around 50 cm/20 inches, and as I looked out at the snow this morning, I was reminded of one of my favourite writing analogies and I realized that the analogy works just as well for habit-building as it does for writing.

Lots of times when people want to start writing, or revising, they get caught up in trying to do the whole thing at once. I mean, if we stopped to think about it, we’d know it’s impossible but mostly we don’t even realize what we are trying to do.

So, when I realize that I am making that mistake with my writing (or that my client/student is making it) I compare the process to having a driveway full of snow and expecting to be able to shovel it all at once. (If the person hasn’t had that experience, I compare it to having a huge pile of laundry to fold,)

I think we often do that ‘try to do it all at once’ thing for habit building, too. We may not realize that we are trying to develop the whole habit in one go but if we are overloading ourselves with exercises, putting a lot of pressure on ourselves, or hoping for immediate results, we are probably falling into that trap.

If you look at a driveway full of snow (or a huge pile of clean laundry), you know very well that you can’t just clear it all away at once. And you know that you can’t dig out the front steps at the same time as you are digging the bottom of your driveway. You have to choose a place to start and clear it away one shovelful at a time until it is done.

If you are trying to build a habit (or if you are planning to write or to revise something), it’s like having that driveway full of snow. You aren’t going to be able to just do all of it at once, you have to pick a place to start and keep plugging away at it until it is done.

In your driveway, you might use a shovel, you might use a scoop, you might use a snowblower, or you might use a plow on the front of your vehicle. But, no matter what tools you use, you still have to do a series of repeated actions to get that driveway cleared.

With a habit, you might start daily, you might start weekly, you might start small, you may start big, but you will have to choose where/how to start and keep plugging away at it until you get your habit established.

If you have to get your car out quickly to get somewhere, you might not shovel a path from the car to the house, you might just clear the car’s windshield and shovel out behind the car and drive off, leaving the rest of the shovelling for later.

Similarly, if you quickly need something specific from your habit, you can start with the tasks that are most closely related to it. For example, if you are trying to improve your overall fitness but also you have a lot of back pain – your habit might start with emphasizing stretches for your back or with focusing on strengthening your core muscles. Or if you are finding that racing thoughts make it hard to fall asleep, the first part of building your meditation habit might focus on pre-bed relaxation practices.

Meanwhile, if you have no idea where to start with your driveway or with your writing or with your habit, it’s ok to start anywhere and just keep doing a shovelful at a time.

The driveway will get done, no matter where you start.

The thing will get written, no matter where you start.

And, if you are trying to build a habit and you return to it a metaphorical shovelful at a time, over and over, you will create the habit you want to create – no matter where you start with it.

I wish you ease with your habit-building, your writing, and with any snow-shovelling or laundry folding you need to do.

Here are your gold stars for your efforts today, whether they are small or large, whether they are a fresh start or part of the momentum you are building, or whether you are just trying to be kind to yourself while you figure out where you put your shovel.

Three gold stars resting on rectangular stands.
A drawing of three gold stars atop rectangular stands (one short red, one taller green, and one royal med-height blue, with black pinstripes on each), the edges of the drawing are decorated with tiny gold dots.