When you are building a habit, you are constantly going back and forth between the big picture (the habit, the system, the goal) and the small picture (the task of the day, the hour, the minute.)
It can be tricky to remember that the task in front of you will add up to the future goal. Conversely, when we are focused on the future goal it can be really frustrating if today’s circumstances require us to change our planned task – it can end up feeling like changing one day’s task will prevent us from ever reaching our goal.
That’s why, today, I’m inviting you to think of the biggest picture, not just the big/small ones.
What’s the biggest picture?
Your sense of wellbeing.
Yep, whether you are doing cardio, yoga, or meditation, whether you are running or writing in your journal, whether you are dancing or taking mindful breaths, the habits you are building are all in service of creating, improving, an expanding your sense of wellbeing.
And that’s good news for every part of your big picture and of your small picture.
It means that the repeated actions that move you toward your goal are part of the biggest picture.
It means that changing today’s task to match today’s circumstances is part of the biggest picture.
It means that anything and everything that improves your sense of well-being can be part of that biggest picture.
You can stick with your plans or you can switch them up and still be moving toward the place you want to go.
Keeping the biggest picture in mind lets you enjoy both today’s victories and the victories that lie ahead.
Recognizing the importance of the biggest picture lets you ‘off the hook’ if your plan was to do some intense HIIT but your body is asking for some yoga.
It also gives you room to be kinder to yourself when you aren’t feeling well. And, with well-being as your ultimate goal, it only makes sense to take a nap to ward off that headache, or to stick to something low-intensity when you have a cold.
Obviously, I believe that habit-building, creating systems, and taking repeated action are useful practices – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing these daily posts.
However, I think it is really important to remember that these practices are not ends in themselves, they are in service of our peace of mind, of strength, of flexibility, AKA – our wellbeing.
So, when it comes to being kind to ourselves in these practices and about the details of these practices, it’s vitally important that we remember the biggest picture and do what we can to stay true to it.
If you are old enough to be reading this, you are standing atop a stack of past victories.
I know, our brains like to remind us of the times things didn’t go so well but we can also consciously choose to remind ourselves of the times that everything worked out just fine.
You have sailed through some things and struggled with others but, more often than not, you have been victorious.
The victories may have been small, they may have been enormous or they may have been anywhere in between, but they are all right there, tucked away in your mind, waiting for you to recall them.
So, today, let’s do that.
Let’s revisit our victories of all sizes.
And literally anything counts.
If it is hard for you to get out of bed but you somehow made yourself do it? That’s a victory!
If getting out of bed wasn’t in the cards today but you texted a friend to commiserate? That’s a victory!
If you were running and kind of wanted to cut things short but you forged ahead a little more? Victory!
Last month, when you had to make those phone calls for work and it took you three days to work up the nerve but you did it? Victory!
When you finally decided to tackle the clutter in your basement and it took you weeks to get rid of it bit by bit, but you persevered? That’s a victory!
When you went to the job interview. When you stood up to that jerk. When you stepped away from the argument. When you studied for the exam. Victory. Victory. Victory. Victory.
It doesn’t matter how long ago these victories were, they still belong to you and the efforts you put into them still matter.
At this point, you might be asking yourself ‘Why is Christine bringing up all of these unrelated things? What does this have to do with the habit I am trying to build?’
Well, Team, like we have said lots of times – habit-building is hard work. It takes perseverance, it takes repeated actions, it takes a willingness to endure the stress of challenging ourselves, it takes a lot of plan-adjusting, a lot of restarting, a lot of picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off and diving back in.
And I want you to remember that you have done this before. You have all of those skills and resources and that you applied them in a variety of contexts and were victorious.
By revisiting those past victories, you can see that there have been many, many times when things were challenging but that you were able to pull together the energy, the strength, the persistence, to get the thing done.
Sure, you may be facing different challenges this time, and you may need different help or different resources but you already have the key skills you need for habit-building and you can call on them again.
This isn’t about willpower or any kind of ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ approach, this is about reminding yourself that victory is possible. And that you know it is possible because you have done it many times before.
So, bask in those past victories. Remind yourself how you felt in the process and how you felt when you were done.
Use some of that energy to help carry yourself forward through any challenges you are facing on the way to the victory ahead.
Oh, and please be kind to yourself in the process.
Here’s a very goofy looking gold star to celebrate your efforts, past and present:
This post is another one of those times when I try to lead by example.
My day took a (positive) turn a few minutes ago and now I have limited time to write this post. So, instead of getting into a story and lots of examples, I am going to take the idea I wanted to communicate and just frame it as a series of questions for you to consider:
How can you make the habit you are building an automatic part of your day?
What is the smallest, most straightforward version of your habit-related tasks?
How can you make that version possible on even your most unexpectedly busy day?
What does an automatic version of your habit-related task look like?
How can you increase the chances of fitting that automatic, streamlined version into every day that you want to fit it into?
There will be lots of days when you will be able to do the extended remix versions of your habit-related tasks too but today, I am inviting you to go full robot and develop the automatic version.
And here is an inspirational robot with your gold star for your efforts to automate.
She’s proud of the self-kindness you are demonstrating with your approach to your habit today.
Whether today is a straightforward day or a tangly one, I’d like to remind you that everything you do in your habit-building practice counts.
Even if the task doesn’t seem like it will add much to your overall goal, it will add to you feeling like this habit is a regular part of your life.
And when something is a regular part of your life, it feels more in reach, more like something you can fit into your busiest days, more like something you can do without having to work up a lot of energy first.
So, if at all possible, I’d like to invite you to do something teeny related to your habit right away – or at least as soon as possible.
If you are trying to move more – do a little movement now. Even getting up out of your chair and sitting back down a couple of times in a row will count.
If you are trying to meditate more – try a few deep mindful breaths or a few minutes of doodling.
If you are still trying to plan your activities for the next while, maybe you could make a list of three things to try over the next few days.
If you are trying to create a journaling habit, maybe you could write down one thing you are hopeful about.
I know that these things may feel ‘too small’ right now. They may not feel like they have anything to do with the goal you are working toward. But, everything and anything you do that helps you to wrap your brain around the tasks and systems related to your goal will help you to feel like ‘the kind of person’ who can create the habits you are seeking to create.
So please, make those small efforts and celebrate every one of them.
Here are some gold stars to help you claim those victories:
So, aside from me, who is on your team for your current habit-building project?
I mean, I assume you know that I am on your team – I’m here with the gold stars and the daily posts and the complete confidence that you will find a way to do the things you want to do.
You may not have thought about it that way, but I have. I didn’t randomly choose ‘Go Team!’ as my series title – I feel that we are all in this together, we’re all on the same team, so we might as well cheer each other on.
Ok, so far, there’s you and me, a formidable team if there ever was one, but who else are we going to recruit?
Let’s think of some roles you might want people to fill. You may not want everyone in every role to be talking at you every day but you want to know who to call on when you need them.
Maybe you need an expert of some sort – a doctor, a trainer, a kinesiologist, a psychologist, a coach – in some cases the expert will be a trained professional in other cases they might just be someone with more experience than you.
You’ll want to choose your expert carefully, of course – you can’t have a hobbyist doctor or a self-trained kinesiologist, that’s not a safe way to proceed. You want an expert you can trust on a personal level and who has skills, training, and experience that you can trust.
Perhaps you’ll want a cheerleader – someone you can turn to when your enthusiasm is waning. This would be someone who believes you can do it, no matter what, and knows what to say to inspire you.
Maybe you’ll need an empathizer – someone who can talk you through the hard bits and knows when to encourage you to take a break. This person will probably also be able to remind that these things take time and that you need to go easier on yourself as you build your habits.
The Tough One
Sometimes, we need empathy and cheerleading, sometimes we need someone to say ‘Enough of this foolishness, go do the thing!‘
Personally, I don’t call on my tough team members very often because ‘just do it!’ is rarely a useful technique for me but it is good to have someone like this to call on when you need them.
This is someone who is trying to do something similar to what you are doing. They are working toward a similar or equivalent goal, they know the struggles, they use a similar vocabulary about it.
This is the person you can work in tandem with – encouraging and supporting each other and letting each other’s momentum pull you both along.
This is a person who will check in with you and make sure you have done the thing.
They will keep track of how often you have done it, how much progress you have made, and they will remind you when you forget.
This person doesn’t have to be an actual accountant, of course, but accountants are very good at keeping track of things so they would be an excellent choice for this role.
Other Ways To Assemble A Team
Like I said above, you don’t need to have someone in each of these roles on your team – I just hope you can (metaphorically) assemble people to give you the support you need and want as you challenge yourself in whichever ways you have chosen to.
And, your team doesn’t have to be people you know in person.
The most obvious answer is that you can ask people you know online to support you in some of these ways. They may be online friends or they may be people who you see in Facebook groups or on Discord or wherever.
You can join accountability/ encouragement groups related to the specific habit you are trying to build.
You can choose different Instagram accounts or websites or YouTube channels to visit depending on which kind of encouragement you need. It might be a good idea to make a list of which places to go for each kind so you don’t have to figure it out in the moment.
You can pick characters from TV shows or books and channel your inner Leslie Knope, your inner Wednesday Addams, your inner Wonder Woman, your inner Harriet the Spy and give yourself what you need today.
You can gather quotes from your favourite personal development books, your favourite novels, your favourite interviews and designate them as your ‘go-to’ for different types of encouragement.
And, of course, you can post in the comments of one of my Go Team! posts and I’ll cheer you on in whichever way you happen to need just then. I’m automatically on your team so it’s ok to reach out when you need me.
Be Kind To Yourself
My point here is that you don’t need to know everything and you don’t need to have every resource in your head at all times.
You can outsource some of your motivation, some of your information, some of your accountability – whatever resources you happen to need in a given moment.
Recognizing and utilizing these outside resources is an excellent way to be kind to yourself in the process of building a new habit.
As always, here’s a team of gold stars for your efforts today whether you are team-building or contentedly working alone at the moment.
I’m not a fan of the sort of visualization advice that is based in imagining the eventual results of your efforts. For starters, I find that focusing on results creates a lot of stress and frustration AND my brain likes to argue that it’s a waste of time to create an image of something that may have to change. (ADHD is quite stubborn like that.)
I *am* however, a fan of visualization that focuses on future actions, on the tasks I will undertake sometime soon. I find that very helpful and I think you might, too.
Note: If you happen to be one of those people who doesn’t have a ‘mind’s eye’, someone who can’t create a picture in their head, that’s totally fine. You don’t actually have to be able to picture this, you just have to be able to lay it out for yourself in words or ideas or text – whatever works for you.
So what’s the difference between results-based visualization and efforts-based visualization?
Results-based visualization relates to a future time when all the hard work is done and you are crossing a finish line, lifting the heavy weight, sitting in 30 minutes of meditation, handing in your thesis. In this kind of visualization you would imagine how you would feel, how you would celebrate, the entire situation in which you will find yourself when you’ve completed your task.
Effort-based visualization relates to a time in the very near future in which you will be working on your task, working towards your results. It involves things like imagining yourself getting up from your desk at lunch time, saying hi to your colleagues, putting on your coat and your boots, and heading out through the door of your office for a walk while you eat your sandwich. You can call your mental attention to the details your senses will experience – things you will see, hear, taste, smell, touch. You can imagine the sound of the door closing behind you, the smell of winter air, the hushed sound of snow…you get what I mean.
I’m sure lots of people enjoy the first type of visualization and find it useful but for me, the second type is far more helpful.
Doing a mental rehearsal not only makes me feel taking that future action is *possible*, it helps make it both tangible and probable. And it lets me imagine some likely obstacles in my path and to create ways around them.
As a storyteller, I know that our brains like to dive into stories and they mirror the character’s activities and emotions as if we were actually experiencing them ourselves. I can only assume that creating a vivid ‘story’ of our own future actions works the same way and perhaps it also helps us increase the feeling that we are capable of taking on these tasks, of doing these actions. Maybe it feels like something we have already done before or at least like we are the kind of person who *can* do these things.
Years ago, I read about a study in which the researchers had students who were going home for winter break with an academic task to complete work in two different ways. One group were just told to fit the task in whenever they could. The other group were encouraged to decide on a very specific time and place to complete the task and to create a very vivid image of themselves going to that place at that time and working on it (i.e. on Thursday right after the news, I will go to the kitchen table and write that paragraph.) Since I am bringing it up here, you already know that the second group had a greater number of people who were able to complete the task, and with more ease, than the first group. (I’m pressed for time at the moment but I’ll try to find this study and link it here a bit later.)
I find it helpful even for ordinary tasks – to imagine myself getting up from the table, putting away the clean dishes, and then heading upstairs to fold laundry. I don’t need such a vivid image for those kinds of tasks but even just imagining the tasks and the order I will do them in often helps me to get started and make them feel doable.?
I’m wondering if this approach might serve you well, too?
Could you try imagining yourself working on your plan/doing your exercises/sitting in meditation/drinking that next class of water/saying no to the task that won’t fit into your schedule?
Even if you can’t imagine an image of the scenario, could you create a list for yourself about what will happen and what you could do?
Could you find a way to mentally rehearse the actions you have decided to take?
Be sure to be as vivid and detailed as you possibly can without getting on your own nerves about it. 💚
And, of course, please be kind to yourself about the whole thing.
Even doing a mental rehearsal may take some practice.
Here are today’s gold stars – I’ve drawn a person hanging them up in a tree for you.
Notice that there are lots of stars in that basket on the ground so we can hang more stars as we celebrate your efforts over and over.
Here we are 10 days into a new year and I’m wondering what do you know now that you didn’t know on day one?
Maybe you have figured out some things that you like about the tasks involved in the habit you are building.
Perhaps you have figured out a good time of day to establish your practice.
Maybe you have figure out what you don’t like or what time *doesn’t* work for you and you are figuring out some workarounds.
Perhaps you have discovered that you need to take action first and plan later.
Maybe you’ve discovered that your initial idea doesn’t actually interest you all that much or perhaps you’ve realize that it is much more interesting than you anticipated.
Perhaps you want to change a few things or maybe you want to keep them exactly the same.
Sure, 10 days may not be enough time to do a full assessment of your practice so far but it is enough time to gather good information to shape your plans going forward.
10 days is enough time to begin to determine if your reluctance is due to resistance or if you need to change things a little. (Resistance often diminishes with persistence or with creating a low bar for success – if you need to change things up, persistence and a low bar probably don’t help much.)
10 days is enough time to realize that your approach to planning needs some refinement.
10 days is a decent amount of information.
But, please be kind to yourself in how you use that information.
Gathering information of this sort is NOT about judging yourself or finding ‘mistakes’ – it’s about adjusting your approach, your processes, your systems so they are helping you instead of making habit-building harder.
It’s about using that information to celebrate the good and to support yourself in facing the challenges.
For example – if you love the way it feels when you exercise right after work but you have found yourself getting derailed because you are hungry at that point in the day, that’s excellent information. Getting derailed isn’t an indication that you have failed or that it is the wrong time of day to exercise, it’s information that’s telling you to have an energizing snack late in the afternoon or on your way home from work. By making good use of 10 days of information, you can celebrate the victory of finding a good time of day to exercise AND you can address the challenge of getting derailed.
Your victories and your challenges may be more complex than that example but as long as you are kind to yourself about it, the information you have gathered so far (and that you will continue to gather) will help you to find ways to meet your needs and establish your new habits.
So, perhaps you could take a few minutes today to figure out what you know about your practice so far and how you might want to celebrate, enhance, adjust, or change things going forward.
“I am the cake? What the hell is Christine getting on with today?”
Well, Team, I am in full cheerleader mode and I am about to go all in on an analogy.
(Or perhaps I am going all in on a metaphor, my brain won’t sort the difference right now so you can choose whichever one feels right to you.)
Just roll with it.
Sooooooo…you might be working on new habits, trying to develop new patterns, adding or subtracting things in your life, but all of those things are details.
You are good just as you are, whether you change those details or not.
You, in fact, are the cake and all of those things are icing.
Actually, truth be told, some of those things aren’t even icing, they are sprinkles or those hard little silver balls that you’re never exactly sure you should eat.
Since you are the cake, you have substance, you have worth, and you are delightful, no matter what form you are currently in.
Hell, you are terrific even if you feel like you are a bowl of cake batter at the moment.
You might be a cupcake, a sheet cake, a layer cake, a cake pop – it doesn’t matter – you are still marvellous.
Sure, you can experiment with different types of icing, with sprinkles, or with decorations, with anything that you feel would enhance your life but those enhancements are not required – you have pre-existing goodness.
So, if you try one kind of icing or a specific type of decoration and you find that it doesn’t feel right or that it doesn’t suit you, scrape that stuff right back off and start again.
You aren’t an icing display.
You aren’t a decoration shelf.
You are cake and you are good, just the way you are right now.
Please keep that in mind if those icing details ever start to feel lIke they are overshadowing your wonderful cakeishness.
So, on that note, I wish you ease and self-kindness, my delicious teammate.
I’m going to borrow from my writing coaching practice again today.
When people want to get started/get back into writing they often look for ways to do it ‘right’ – the right time of day, the right way, the right number of words.
And while I tend to fall into that trap a lot of the time myself (Thanks, ADHD brain. Sigh.) I have also found this quote that helps me escape that trap.
I know that the idea of writing ‘well’ adds its own kind of pressure so I remind myself (and my students) that the ‘well’ part comes in later drafts. Before we can get to the part where our writing is good, we have to do the part where we write something, anything, at all.
The same is true for any fitness or well-being habits that you want to develop.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to do it perfectly, of trying to find the perfect plan, of beating ourselves out (and up) in the name of doing things ‘right.’
But if you are trying to get into the habit of exercising or meditating or journaling or stretching, you don’t have to follow a precise method. You can choose to do things that you like and that you feel like you will be able and willing to do regularly.
Sure, you can look for information and advice to help you make decisions about what to do but, just like with writing, the way you do it is your own damn business.
You can have a very specific plan with specific milestones or you can have a variety of activities that you cycle through according to your inclinations on a specific day. Or you can do some sort of combination of the two.
You can do what works for you because no matter which you choose…
If you repeatedly move the muscles you want to strengthen, body is going to respond.
If you repeatedly do a meditation practice, your brain will respond.
I mean, obviously, you will get different results from different approaches and different types of efforts.
And, you’ll want to be sure that you match your expectations to your efforts.
Someone who does yoga for 30 mins every day is probably going to be bendier than someone who does yoga for 10 mins each weekend. That doesn’t mean it is wrong or pointless to do 10 mins of yoga on the weekend, it means that you have to adjust your expectations of how bendy you will get as a result.
(In a writing context, matching your expectations to your efforts looks like recognizing that daily writing gets you to a word count faster than once-a-week writing. However, you may only have 5 minutes a week to spare so why not spend it writing? Moving slowly is still moving. 💚)
But, once you have made sure your expectations match your efforts, you are free to do what you want to do. (You can do what you want to do even if you haven’t matched things up but you may end up being hard on yourself about the results and I want you to be kind to yourself as much as possible.)
If you want to build a base level of fitness, a foundational habit of meditation, a solid practice of self-care, doing it your own way is a great way to get started and build momentum.
You don’t have to do it perfectly, you don’t have to follow anyone’s plan, again, how you do it is your own damn business.
So, Team, while you are working in the way you want to work, please be kind to yourself, do what you can with the time and resources you have, and celebrate every single success.
Before I get into my encouragement post for today, I want to draw your attention to two of my favourite recent posts here on Fit is a Feminist Issue. I enjoy everyone’s work here at the blog, of course, but these two posts really get into the same territory I like to cover so they were especially resonant today. If you want a great overview on how to set yourself up for success with new habits, check out Martha’s post – New year, new you, who dis? If you, like me, have trouble convincing yourself to start small, check out Tracy’s post – The two minute rule: start really really small.
Okay, so today I’m inviting you to think about why it can be so tricky to start new habits (Martha’s post also covers this quite nicely but I am adding some different layers.)
Most of my posts so far have been about taking things slowly, building step by step, making adjustments, and about being kind to yourself, and all of those things are important and useful when building habits.
However, if you find yourself needing to make adjustments to your plans EVERY day or if you have to work hard to talk yourself into your habit-related planning or tasks EVERY time, you may have to approach things differently.
I still want you to be kind to yourself, of course, but the nature of that kindness might go a bit beyond ‘letting yourself off the hook’ from time to time.
You *may* have to be kind to yourself by changing your systems or your goals to match your capacity.
We all get things done through systems – they may not be effective systems, they might even be chaotic systems, bur we have systems for everything. And when we decide to change or add a habit, we are introducing something new into those systems – something that that system was not designed to handle.
That’s going to create a challenge for us.
And, we might have even gone so far as to create a new system for this new habit that works on paper but that is hard to integrate into our lives and difficult to connect to our existing systems.
So, in these sorts of situations, we will keep running into the same frustrations over and over.
We’ll be attempting to add a new task, a new habit, or a new plan and, over and over, we will find that we don’t have the time or we don’t have the energy to work on it.
THIS IS NOT A FAILURE ON OUR PART.
This lack of time and energy is not a lack of willpower, it’s not a lack of discipline, it is definitely not about us ‘not wanting it enough’, and it is NOT about not working hard.
It’s about our capacity and about our systems.
As annoying as it is to accept, we all have limited capacity. That capacity changes from day to day (sometimes from hour to hour) and it changes in relation to our life circumstances and the external pressures we face.
We can’t beat ourselves out and beat ourselves up trying to follow a system for its own sake.
Instead, we need to look at the plans/goals/habits we are trying to integrate into our lives and we need to look closely at our systems and see where the friction is, see what is getting in our way.
The problem is not YOU.
The problem is that your current systems don’t match your current capacity.
To address the problem, you may need to identify and adjust your systems, you may need to change your plans/goals/habits, you may need to work on recognizing and accepting your capacity, and you’ll need to make changes in your expectations of yourself.
You will DEFINITELY need to be kind to yourself during the whole process.
So, if you are struggling with these habit-related tasks, day after day, and your struggle goes beyond feelings of resistance and reluctance, please don’t blame yourself.
Instead, I invite you to consider this as a systems/capacity issue and start the problem-solving process there.
Once you have removed ‘I’m the problem’ from the equation, what other solutions start to present themselves?
If you recognize the limits of your capacity, how does that change the scale of the habits and the tasks that you want to try to include in your life?
And with that information in hand, how can you apply the information from Tracy’s and Martha’s posts to help reshape your plans for your next steps?
Please remember that changing your plans or making different choices based on new information is NOT failure, even if part of your brain tries to tell you that it is.
Changing plans based on new information is actually the only logical way to proceed.
After all, why would you stick with a plan that isn’t going to get you where you want to go? That would be like trying to stick with the route that your GPS has set out even though you can see that the bridge it is telling you to cross is washed out. You wouldn’t stubbornly plunge your car into the river just because the bridge *should* be there, you’d back up, turn around and then get the GPS (aka – the system) to recalibrate.
Note: Speaking of the value of systems, have a look at this post from James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) – Forget About Setting Goals. Focus On This Instead. He’s talking about systems you deliberately create to work on something that is important to you, and I have been talking about noticing your existing systems in relation to your capacity, but the two are connected, of course.
Here are your gold stars for your efforts today – there are a lot of bits and pieces in this post and in the work related to it so I thought it would be good to have lots of gold stars on hand to reward your efforts.