So, you’ve read books and blogs, listened to fitness experts and maybe even consulted a wellness coach. You’ve decided that you’re ready for a change and first on your agenda is eating better. You open your fridge door and, whoa, bottles and packages of processed foods everywhere. Where do you start?
Rule #1: There Are No Rules
Effecting change in life can seem an overwhelmingly large proposition. The secret to effecting change and having it stick is to go slowly. Take baby steps. You don’t have to do it all in one day and, in fact, you’re far more likely to succeed in the long run if you take your time in making the changes.
Sticking with the baby motif for a moment, kids learn to walk not by succeeding but rather by failing. By falling down over and over again, they learn what doesn’t work and adjust their methodology until, wonder of wonders, they wobble across the void between the coffee table and the chair.
Effecting change in your life is much the same thing. The subconscious mind drives some 95% of our behaviour, as it is the “habitual” mind. Changing long-term behavioural patterns, therefore, requires conscious intervention. That conscious intervention is the equivalent of our baby attempting to walk. As soon as our conscious mind gets preoccupied with other business, which is what our conscious mind is all about, those long-term behavioural patterns take over yet again and we very unconsciously decide to carry on with the old ways. Baby fall down, go boom.
Instead of getting frustrated by the “fall”, it’s important for us to view the event as a learning experience. Take another tentative step in the direction you want to go. Try again to make the change and be accepting – and even happy – for another fall. By trying again (and again), you learn what doesn’t work and your brain will by nature gently tweak your methods in the direction that keeps your desired goal in your sights the longest. Eventually, you’ll have practised enough that the new behaviour becomes your habit. You’ll be walking. They might be wobbly, baby steps, but you’ll be walking!
You may fall once in a while and, you know, that’s okay, too. There are no rules here. It’s a journey. You’re on your way to making changes and there are bound to be bumps and bruises along the way. See it as an adventure, akin to the excitement of being able to finally ride your first bike the length of the entire block. It’s still a journey fraught with the possibility of falling, but the journey itself makes the risk worth the effort.
Do you see guilt anywhere here? Not in the reality I describe. You see, I don’t see the falling as failure. I don’t see the falling as being anything more than a natural part of the process. When we embark on something new, we are going to stumble. How could we not? It’s unreasonable to expect to have mastered something before we’ve even had the chance to try it, after all. Yet so many people have been programmed to expect exactly that.
Worse, Western cultures are brilliant at laying on the heavy hand of blame and guilt. We love making ourselves and others feel like crap for failing to meet someone’s definition of perfection. We belittle people for failing to carry forth their New Year’s resolutions. We bully them for not quitting smoking. We laugh at them for putting the weight back on. In short, we punish people for what should be nothing more or less than learning something. Something that could wind up being vitally important later in life.
It’s incumbent upon us to be kind to ourselves and others in our mutual journeys to learn and grow. We need to foster forgiveness and encourage change. Part of the reason why we humans find change to be so scary is that most of us have been taught that the penalties for failure are severe. Instead, we should have been taught that falling down however many times we do will eventually lead us to standing tall and firm. Wobbly steps will become solid. Eventually, we’ll stride forth with confidence. We’ll have changed.
Regardless of the changes you wish to make in your life, your number 1 tools toward success are love, forgiveness and flexibility. Flexibility comes in handy when your best laid plans go awry. Forgiveness and love are vital in helping you stay on course with bold conviction in the face of failure. Brushing yourself off and trying again as many times as it takes to succeed, all while focusing on the absolute joy of the journey that is your life, virtually guarantees a life well lived. And loved.
Getting back to that refrigerator for a moment, don’t let all those bottles and packages scare you. The simplest change to effect in this situation is to just use up what you’ve got, but don’t buy replacements for what you’ve used. Instead of processed sauces and dressings, replace them with a broad assortment of herbs and spices. As you begin cooking only whole foods, you’ll find that you’ll rely less on those bottled sauces and more on your spice rack.
Don’t sweat it if you end up cooking something that tastes god-awful, either; I spent many years cooking professionally and even to this day I still manage to turn out something that nobody in the family wants to eat. When it happens, I grin and bear it. Remember, it’s an adventure, and that which does not kill you makes you stronger. It might, however, give you indigestion. 😉