How to Create Positive Change To Your Health And Wellbeing Using Small Steps

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

Today is day 38 of being in COVID 19 self-isolation for New Zealanders and what an emotional roller coaster it has been for many of us.

Being in Alert Level 3 is also a bit of a weird place emotionally speaking. What we have been doing collectively as a country has paid off (Yay!) and there is light at the end of the tunnel… However, after five weeks of everything being on hold, it is normal to feel a bit stir-crazy, frustrated, depressed, overwhelmed or demotivated (or all of the above).

We know that there is change on the horizon, our brains and bodies are trying to prepare us for change – but we don’t know when this change will occur and what it will look like.

Our brains are doing their jobs as nature intended, but are wired to prepare us for the worst-case scenario. This can mean that they are firing on alert, trying to keep us safe as we try to make sense of everything.

Overcoming Guilt and Shame About Feeling Lazy and Unproductive

You might also be feeling guilt and shame in yourself for wasting this time. Or for not being as productive as you feel that you should have been. Most of us went into this period of lock-down armed with a list of things that we wanted to achieve. You might not have achieved all or any of these things. Well-meaning social media posts could have fuelled these feelings of guilt by informing us that this was the perfect time to learn a new musical instrument, a new language or to write a book.

Now if you are feeling guilt and disgust in yourself for being lazy and unproductive at this time let me stop you right there! If you don’t emerge from lockdown more enlightened, more knowledgable or with a new skill or new side-hustle you are 100% normal. We have just been through a collectively traumatic event. Your body is still processing what has happened to it at a sub-conscious level. When you look at the diagram below (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) You might think that you should be at the level of self-actualisation (living out your full potential), but in reality, your body is crying out to have its basic needs of food, sleep, shelter, safety and security met. So give yourself a break.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

Shifting Gears

If you find that you are still at this level, notice this without judgement and accept it. This doesn’t mean anything about you, nor does this mean that you will stay stuck here forever. You can choose to stay here if this feels right for you but realise that you have the power to move yourself out of this place if you so choose.

If you feel that you are ready to start shifting gears but not sure how here are some things that you can do to start creating a positive change in your life.

Acknowledge the feelings

Take the time to notice the feelings that are coming up for you, the fear, the anger, the disgust and thank them for such an amazing job of keeping you safe. Then gently tell your feelings that although you acknowledge how helpful they have been in the past at protecting you, you are in fact safe and ready to move on. You might need to release them through journaling (you could try this FREE downloadable reframing exercise), talking about them to a loved one or through exercise and movement.

Start Small

You might be tempted to move into “fix-it” mode and set yourself all kinds of goals, but start small. Choose just one new positive habit that you would like to embrace.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear, highlights how making just a 1% change can have a huge impact. For instance, an aeroplane that makes just 1% course deviation could end up in a different country compared to it’s intended destination.

Another reason I suggest that you start small, with just one thing is that you want the change to be sustainable. Starting too big can lead to self-sabotage, failure and a reinforce negative thought loops or a fixed mindset that you have about yourself and your abilities. Ultimately you want to reinforce an identity as a capable, competent person. You want to be able to trust yourself and your ability to succeed. Most sustainable changes start small which gives us the foundation on which to stack future successes upon. Good habits are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle. When we automate something as a habit it allows our brain space to engage in higher function thinking such as learning a new skill.

Just Start

What you choose to focus on is up to you. It might be the smallest thing that will give you runs on the board so that you can get a taste for success. Or it might be the thing that is causing you the most pain. It is not important where you start as much as that you start.

You can easily get stuck in preparation or planning because this feels like you are taking action. However, this is motion and a form of procrastination triggered by the fear that you will fail.

Don’t wait for perfect – Just start!

Set Yourself up for Success

In the book, Atomic Habits mentioned above, James Clear identifies four things that we need to do in order to successfully adopt a new habit. Make it Obvious, Make it Attractive, Make it Easy and Make it Satisfying.

When we make a habit obvious we first need to identify the habit that we would like to adopt and why, and then we need to create an environment for success. Say for instance you would like to adopt the habit of drinking 8 glasses of water a day you can make it both obvious and easy by ensuring that you place a glass next to each tap in your house as a reminder about your intention to drink more water. And so every time you wash your hands you are reminded to pour yourself a glass of water and to drink it.

You can make the habit of drinking water more attractive and satisfying by adding slices of fruit, cold brew herbal teas or infusions to your water. Another way of making the habit of drinking more water attractive and satisfying might be to track your progress on a habit tracker and reward yourself at the end of the week after completing your new ritual seven days in a row. (I have a FREE tool that you can download here.) You can also make this easier, more attractive and satisfying by implementing this change as a member of a group as nothing keeps us motivated like being part of a tribe.

How could you use these four principles to create success for yourself when embracing a new healthy habit?

Keep Going

We have all been there. You start implementing a new habit and for a couple of days or even weeks, you are doing really well… And then for some reason, you stop and all your good work is lost. You then use this as evidence that you can’t make the change, or even as a self-torture device to prove how useless you really are.

You are not alone in this. Keeping the momentum going on a new habit can be challenging especially if you don’t see immediate benefits. Most of us get stuck in the “Plateau of Latent Potential”. This is often what happens during the “in-between”. This is the time between starting a new healthy habit and seeing physical results or benefits.

What to do if you need an Extra Bit of Motivation?

It is important to be prepared for setbacks happen. We often have the hardest time sticking to commitments to ourselves. However, you can give yourself a bit of extra motivation by using a commitment device.

A commitment device is something that you create to make it easy for you to stick to your goals.

  • For example, you might enlist the help of a friend as an accountability buddy and give her/him permission to say or do certain things if you don’t stick to your commitment to yourself. There may be certain consequences if you don’t follow through on your commitment. You might even formalise this in a written contract.
  • You might delay gratification by not allowing yourself to do something you want to do unless you have completed your healthy habit. Such as no social media unless you exercise.
  • Or you might create cue cards reinforcing why you are committed to this new action for when you are tempted to go off track. For example, your new healthy habit is to take a lunch-break away from your desk. You might make yourself a little card and stick it to your computer that says, ” Hey you, I know that you think that you are too busy to have a lunch break, but remember this break is going to make you a healthier, happier, more resilient and productive person. You will have more energy and be nicer to be around Xx”.

So where will you start?

What can you commit to?

Remember that every day you practise your new habit is a vote for the person that you would like to become. Where you are going and who you would like to be is way more important than how fast you get there. Progress might be slow but you can do this!

Arohanui

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