Imagine that you have moved into a new house. You’ve done that before, right? Do you remember how it felt to not be sure which light switches turned on what, or to wake up at night and have to remind yourself how to get to the bathroom?
It took some time before you could navigate around in the dark. You had to learn how to fold the towels so they fit in the linen closet the way you like them. Eventually you could estimate how long it would take for the water in the shower to warm up, or which room got the coldest at night. But it took time, right? You had to live there for a while before it felt like home.
Now imagine that you have been in your new house for a few days, still unpacking and surrounded by boxes, and someone barges in and says, “tell me where the can opener is!” Startled, you may look bewilderedly around at the half-unpacked boxes scattered about and stammer that you’re not sure. “Oh really,” says the intruder, crossing his arms with a self-satisfied smirk. “You’ve been here a full week and don’t even know where the can opener is. I’ll bet you’ll never know. This whole idea was stupid. This house will never work!”
You may get defensive. You may say, “well hang on a minute there, mister. I just got here and I have barely even unpacked. Just give me a minute to get things organized and then I can tell you where things are.” And he may shrug, turn on his heel, and sit in the corner, waiting to be proved correct.
That may seem like a ridiculous scenario, but it happens more than we think. How many times have you been on a diet for a week and then stepped on the scale only to see little to no change? The voice that says, “I told you so,” is the same one who barges in and demands the can opener. But when it happens on the scale, we don’t get defensive and stand up for ourselves. We hang our heads and say, “you’re right. This was dumb. This will never work.”
But in your house, you did find the can opener. You figured out the light switches. You learned how to jiggle the door so the deadbolt will lock. And now, after being there for a while, you can find your way around in the dark and know which part of the floor squeaks and where to be careful for Legos. You know that place like the back of your hand, because you stuck around long enough to unpack the boxes and figure it out.
It is the same way with the habits that we take on. Before we have barely gotten going, we’re demanding results and expecting to be proficient at our new skills. If the weight loss isn’t fast enough, or we overdo it during a weekend of travel, or nothing happens for a while, it’s easy to assume it will never happen. It’s okay to bump into a few walls while you’re finding your way around.
Now, that’s easier said than done, so here are some mantras you can share with that intruder:
“I’m Learning.” Yes, there is a learning curve to creating health habits! Remind yourself that you are learning, and give yourself credit for what you have figured out already. You can even keep a notebook of your discoveries as a visual reminder of what you have learned.
“Give Me Some Space.” I don’t know about you, but I find it almost impossible to work when someone is reading over my shoulder. My fingers get wonky and I can’t type, I make stupid mistakes, and it aggravates me. I need some space! You might, too. This mantra can sometimes work best when you physically stretch your arms out to the sides and literally make some more space for yourself. This is your goal, and you can take up all of the room in it!
“Keep Unpacking.” There is a picture on the wall of my living room that is crooked, and it has been that way for about four years, when I hung it up. Every once in a while I see it and I know I should take the nails out and straighten it. But I haven’t. That’s okay. It’s a reminder that we are always a work in progress, and always settling in. Allow yourself to keep unpacking and get settled before you decide the place is not for you.
This week, give yourself time to bump into the walls and try a few light switches before you call it quits on your health goals. Give yourself some space to learn. Keep unpacking.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!