One of my clients is an athlete who has been cruising on a training high for months. Her bike was her release during lockdown. She broke her own records week after week, and the success was intoxicating.
Another had a smaller but no-less-revelatory experience of successfully pausing—one night—to ask herself with genuine curiosity if she wanted to engage in a destructive habit that had dogged her for years. For the first time, the answer was no—a quiet, surprisingly non-angsty "No, I don't want to do that."
Both broke through barriers: one over the course of months, the other for a single night. And both followed those revelations by slipping back into a period of familiar, hum-drum habits they'd prefer to leave behind.
Once you break through, shouldn't it always be like that? We assume we should be able to check a box and move right along. Problem solved! Unfortunately, that's not how it works, but maybe that backslide isn't so unfortunate. More likely, it's a necessity for a durable breakthrough.
It happens all the time: You got a glimpse at another way of being. You mustered all your energy to take a leap and got a peek over the top of a very tall, impenetrable fence that surrounds your life. You decided you wanted something to be different and did all the things necessary to give it a try. And it worked! And it was awesome! But the next time it didn't work out quite as well as before because, well... extenuating circumstances, so then you got discouraged. You tried again though, not to be dissuaded. But it still wasn't as good as that one time. So that's disappointing... and also demotivating.
After that first glimpse, if your effort doesn't measure up to a past breakthrough, it can be hard to get back on the bike or to take a pause to make an active choice about an old habit. So you keep trying... but it feels like a bummer.
You got a peek, but now you have to build a ladder to actually climb over to the other side. What's over there? And what materials can you gather from your current environment to help you build the ladder to get there?
The ladder building process is only unfortunate if you spend the whole time mad at yourself for not already being solidly on the other side.
Back on earth, staring at the fence, you're faced with two options.
Option #1 is easy. It's right where you're standing, back in the hum-drum same-old, same-old.
Option #2 is new and different. The glimpse you got was a visitation with one of many alternate possibilities there, but pursuing this option requires doing something different than you've done before in a sustainable way.
Landing back in #1 after getting a peek at #2 gives you a chance to decide which place you like better. The first option is the path of least resistance. The second is harder, but if you prefer it, the task is clear. You need a ladder, and you're much more likely to be able to put it together if the assembly process is at least a little bit rewarding, in-and-of-itself. If you can't find joy building and climbing the ladder, you'll spend a whole lot of time being pissed at the fence and at yourself. In that case, the better part of wisdom is probably to make peace with where you are, the best way you know how.
If you want to build a ladder to some new and different behavior that makes you feel amazing and free in the After Times, consider the following questions:
What is the behavior you want to change?
What is getting in your way?
What are some ways to eliminate those obstacles and make the new choice easier or more pleasurable?
Those answers will help you experiment as you emerge from your COVID cocoon.
The cyclist I mentioned is considering her options. She can train a different way. She can do virtual races or play around with different sports for fresh inspiration. She can work to qualify for an in-person race she hasn't considered before. Or she can rest and remember what it feels like to move for the love of it.
The late-night decision-maker can create what I call a "gap ritual," a micro-ritual to mark a moment for the decision: touch an object, draw a symbol, make a gesture, take a breath. Then make the decision, and make it on purpose.
When you're having a hard time seeing over the fence, have a look around for your ladder supplies. You'll find you have more resources than you thought. What can help make your healthy decision easier? Try things! Putting the pieces together is an unpredictable but intriguing puzzle, and it gives you something to focus on other than the fact that you're haven't broken out of the fence quite yet.
Hum-drum just means you're flirting with what used to be and deciding whether to stay there or not. And the dead branches you've got laying around from the last year might make pretty good rungs for your ladder.
Last week, I was honored to be a guest on Joyce Shulman's 99 Walks - Walk & Talk podcast, where she interviews health and wellness experts like Martha Beck and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Her listeners can call in to listen live for a 30-minute group walk or listen later on their own time in their podcast feeds. We talked about microdosing habits, the science of building confidence for change, finding inspiration, triggers (both helpful and unhelpful), and the importance of cupcakes.
You can listen any time HERE or wherever you find your podcasts, and if you're interested in joining Joyce's 99 Walks community, you can use code WalkTalk50 to get half off your first month's membership. As she writes on her website, "Habits are powerful. Use them wisely."
Walking is always a great place to start!
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Past posts can be found HERE.