When I was younger I had notebooks.
I’m talking 11-12 kind of age. Not quite a teenager, more a teenager in training.
In those notebooks I would plan out the next major life overhaul I was about to make based on whatever article I had been reading in a magazine that week. Bear in mind the magazines I got my hands on ranged from Jackie, through Just 17 to my Mothers Prima and Family Circle magazines, so my life overhauls could be a little odd.
Generally they looked something like this:
7am – A brisk run around the block
8am – A nourishing breakfast of a fruit platter and hot water with lemon.
8:15 – 15 minutes of brisk dry skin body brushing followed by a cold shower.
8:30 – Dress in whatever glamorous outfit style I had decided was my new look (I remember one year desperately planning outfits for a holiday that included a gypsy top and tiered skirt, that I did not own. I drew pictures and everything)
Lunch Time – Green salad with grilled fish and another cup of hot water with lemon
6pm – Some bodyweight exercises copied from a magazine that promised to give me a flat tummy and toned arms.
7pm – Dinner – More grilled fish and salad. Lots of water.
8pm – Elaborate skin care routine that is entirely inappropriate for 12 year old skin.
8:30 – A warm bath and change into the silk pyjamas that I do not own.
9pm – Bed. Warm milk and honey and a silk pillowcase to prevent wrinkles that I do not have as I am 12.
What would actually happen would be that my alarm would go off at 6:30am, I would turn it off and then my Mum would bring me tea and toast like she always did and then I would go to school and eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch. Like I always did.
The urge to make broad and sweeping changes to my life didn’t go away as I got older. I’ve spent an awful lot of my life thinking that THIS was going to be the time that I actually lived the life of a millionaire supermodel, despite being a short, chubby, woman who works in an office for minimum wage.
Recently I have discovered the magic secret to change your life. I mean, I’m not claiming I get up at 6am for a brisk run, I discovered I didn’t actually want to do that, even if Cindy Crawford does (does she? I don’t know.). But if I did. I bet I could now. With the amazing secret discovery I have made.
That discovery is to change almost nothing.
Nothing at all. Ok, well except one tiny thing that you don’t even notice.
That super magic secret has helped me exercise more regularly, drink more water, eat better and actually spend time meditating every day. All things that I’ve tried and failed to stick at for my whole life.
But the thing is that it’s taken me 5 years to make those changes. But better 5 years and changes that stick, than still being in the same place you were 5 years ago, right?
It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.
I’ve seen the quote above attributed to different people, so lets just say it’s a proverb. But it’s a great way to start re-training your mind and make those big changes that lead to you living the life you wrote in your notebooks all those years ago. If you had notebooks, I truly suspect I was probably the only person that tragic.
As human beings we LOVE routine, and the routines we’ve done all our lives are surprisingly hard to change. They are safe and reassuring. When you get up tomorrow your mind and body are already anticipating having toast and tea in bed before driving to work. So when you leap up, have a cold shower and hot water with lemon, then run to work, your mind does a damn good job of kicking in the defence mechanisms to make sure you can get your routine back as soon as possible. It thinks tea and toast are vitally important to your wellbeing.
If you want to change your life and replace tea and toast with new routines you need to trick your own mind by changing hardly anything at all.
Pick something small. Then make it even smaller. Don’t even replace your cup of tea with hot water and lemon, have the hot water and lemon as well. (Just to be clear, I have coffee in the morning. No power in the ‘verse will make me give up morning caffeine, this is purely an example).
That’s no biggie, right? Then once that’s ingrained in your new routine, start skipping the cup of tea every other day, then cut it out all together, and WOAH! That’s part of that whole new Super Model lifestyle right there. Cosmopolitan will be printing details of your un-achievable daily routine any day now.
You might find making time to go out and run a 5k 3 times a week kind of daunting. I mean, where do you fit it in? So pick your running days, and just go out and run for 5 minutes, go round the block. Then try 10 minutes, then 15. You get the idea. You can go back to 5 even when you’ve made it up to 15, and if you miss a day, just go back out the next scheduled day. What matters is that you keep doing it. Regularly.
Sneaking up on yourself with new things is the key to creating new routines. Building up slowly helps build consistency. Creating new habits means breaking old ones, and that’s hard. Even if that habit is just an over reliance on Netflix marathons as a means of relaxation.
We so often think of ourselves as a finished product, but in reality we’re changing our whole lives. Sometimes those changes are good and we welcome them with open arms, sometimes we don’t feel so good about them. But, and I hate to quote Aerosmith, Life is a journey, not a destination (Ok, apparently that was Ralph Waldo Emerson, but who the hell knows who he is?).