It’s all too easy to reflect on time past as lost or wasted, the consequence of losing time only becomes apparent during moments of guilt based contemplation. Guilt causes us to value lost time to a higher level than the time we still have ahead of us. But perhaps this perpetual way of thinking is too caught up in regret and therefore we continue to waste time rather than build sustainable change to obtain our desires and goals. It’s easier to overestimate the power of the past and therefore underestimate the value of small changes and habits to daily life.
I had not considered the power of small habits until recently, this realisation came from an enormous change in the routine of my work life. I had spent the majority of my adult working life sacrificing a minimum of 40 hours a week to a physically and mentally challenging job. On top of that, I received my rota a week at a time, usually a day or two before the week started. The notion of habit and routine was impossible for me to obtain due to these constraints. The impact a lack of routine had on my physical and mental wellbeing was not unnoticed…definitely suppressed. When I think back to this lifestyle a quote from Bruce Tift rings true: “we don’t have to consciously participate in what it’s like to feel claustrophobic, imprisoned, powerless, and constrained by reality.” I felt as though I was down a rabbit hole with no idea how to get out. I needed more good days.
Personal time became a sparse luxury, when not at work I either needed to clean my flat, do laundry (AGAIN), or simply turn my body off and enter the abyss that is reality television. It wasn’t living, it wasn’t even surviving, it was simply existing. After having a sad and almost existential realisation that my work was the root cause of my unhappiness, changing my job became a necessity. Fast forward a year and two jobs later I finally found myself in a job that gave me TIME! Beautiful time! What did I do with this time?! I watched more TELLY! I mean…c’mon it was well earnt and a new series of Euphoria was calling my name. This didn’t last too long as I was well aware that this time could be better spent. Having said that, it’s just as important to know when to hibernate and recuperate.
“We often seem to dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment.” -James Clear: Atomic Habits.
The first small change that I made in an attempt to improve my wellbeing was to go to the gym. When I say I hated it, I really mean it. I hated the smell, the music, the sound and the look of the machines. Everything was monochrome and industrial. However, it became an important first step towards my ultimate goal. I wanted to become a runner. I knew I would never have the confidence to run in public without an improvement in my fitness levels. Even once I made it out of the gym and into the great outdoors, I kept running a well guarded secret. I wanted to protect my desire to run as far away as possible from the stigma of weight loss, this was not my goal and not my intention. I feared that outside opinions would push this unwanted pressure onto me and the public declaration of being a runner would skew my own vision.
Why am I running? Metaphorically form the patriarchy, in reality for myself! Overestimating the importance of a defining moment is easy, it’s even more important to value small improvements that you create daily. Success and achieving a goal does not require massive action. For me, the reason I run isn’t to run a marathon, it’s to have time to myself, to listen to music, to be outdoors and see the seasons change…
Routine aided in me identifying as a runner, now I can’t imagine not doing it and i’m certainly no longer scared to say that I do it. James Clear prompts the celbration of identity as it is a form of intrinsic motivation, “It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.” Schedule the time and show up for yourself, routine will form confidence in your actions and they will therefore become sustainable and with time, unconscious.
I felt that it was important to tell this story as it points out some fundamental things that first must happen in order to engage in positive lifestyle changes and become your ‘best self’. First, is your environment. This is both your home life and work life and acknowledging that a balance is needed. The second is motivating habitual practices in order to achieve a positive change.
“Your goal becomes your compass, not your buried treasure. The goal is your direction, not your destination. The goal is a mission that you are on, a path that you follow. Whatever comes from that path—whatever treasure you happen to find along this journey—well, that’s just fine. It is the commitment to walking the path that matters.” –James Clear: Atomic Habits.
When you identify a change you want to make in your life, or set a new goal the most important part is to make it a manageable change. If you set a goal that is too impossible to reach, it is unlikely that you will achieve it. Instead manage ambitions into smaller goals, this will enable you to change habits and generate sustainable progression. An unattainable goal will cause you to fall possibly at the first hurdle and therefore instantly lose motivation. Your habits must also align with your environment, looking back now I would not have made positive and sustainable changes in my life without changing my working life.
It’s difficult to appreciate small changes and the creation of small habits because they do not matter in the moment. We’re all guilty of comparing ourselves to those who are already where we want to get to. It doesn’t matter how unsuccessful or good you are right now, the thing that matters is curating the time, environment and nurturing the habits. Once you’ve consciously made these decisions (and ofcourse stick to them), everything else falls into place.
Curating your environment will expose many practical changes that ultimately lead to good habits and rituals. For example, I’m personally guilty of leaving my phone to charge on top of my ever growing pile of unread books. It’s as easy as charging my phone in a different room, by removing the distraction of a phone (and silly animal videos), maybe…just maybe, those books will get read!
“Making a better decision is easy and natural when the cues for good habits are right in front of you […] be the designer of your world, and not merely the consumer of it.” -James Clear: Atomic Habits.
As we come into colder and darker months, it becomes even more important to consciously establish positive habits. Maybe it’s just as much about understanding the deep route of why you want to do something, or embody something? What does it bring to your life? I think without at least a curiosity to understand why, perhaps it won’t bring you the redemption you want it to. Is there a change in your lifestyle that you want to make? Ask yourself how you can create meaningful habits to build and shape your world. Write it down, break it down, enjoy the process of change and have more good days!
“[Life] is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.”- Oliver Burkeman:The Antidote.
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