The Intensity of Adjustment and the Case for Letting Ourselves Change…Slowly

PushupsLife = change.  I’ve just been through the most dramatic shift of my life, which at present, is bringing a new baby into the world.  My son is a few months old now, and I’m presently returning to my work as an independent fit lifestyle consultant.

I may be a subject matter expert when it comes to health, fitness and behavior change, but even the adjustments that come with pregnancy never could have prepared me for what was to come.  The magic and exhaustion that are caring for new life hit me hard, especially since the baby wasn’t (and still isn’t) keen on sleeping very far away from his mama.  I’ve worked closely with pre-and-postnatal moms since it became my specialty in college, but nothing could have prepared me for the constantly fragmented sleep and hundred percent shift in focus from anything and everything I’d been doing pre-birth to baby care tunnel vision.  How I’ve functioned so highly for so long given basically no sleep must be some kind of mom miracle.  It is an awesome adaptation and let me tell you, what moms do for their children every minute of every day is nothing short of miraculous.  The first steps, pregnancy and birth, are easy.  It’s the utterly jarring lifestyle change afterward that hit me personally like many tons of bricks.

Is that what it can feel like to attempt a healthy lifestyle shift?  Over the years, I’ve observed so many people in their first steps to healthy change.  Oftentimes, people want to instantly be healthier or skinnier or look like they used to before.  There’s a deep emotional motivation we have for looking good and in turn, feeling good.  This is especially true for American culture, in which a polished and even flawless outward appearance is prized above other, arguably worthier pursuits.  What happens when this deep desire meets a sudden realization that one is NOT where one wants to be health or looks wise?  We want to push a button or snap our fingers for that immediate result, and we can’t possibly have that, so we mentally and emotionally “flip the switch” and over-commit to change.  We’ve all seen this over-commitment happen every January.  The motivation is truly there, but it’s only temporary.  Real, sustained change takes time and consistent effort…and the ability to understand that the change can only be sustained by consistent commitment.  Otherwise, most of us are beyond our human capacity to adjust and we set ourselves up to fail.  Over-commitment feels good in the moment because it meets the emotional need for some kind of change that we know we need.  But like a marriage entered into without due consideration, it’s not sustainable.

How can we set ourselves up for success?  Adjust the intensity of any health behavior change to a level truly do-able for you.  Take it one step at a time, and maintain flexibility along with your consistency.  I know that can be challenging for those of us who want the instantaneous result (hello, fellow type-A, driven to achieve personalities), but it’s worth it in time to ease into a healthier lifestyle.  The shock of intense change is rarely effective.

So if you’ve started once or twice or twenty times to work toward a health goal and stopped, ask yourself why it didn’t work before.  It may be because it was just too intense given your temperament or life circumstances.  Maybe you need more resources to achieve your goal, like expert help and social support.  Innovation is social by nature and we need each other to recognize and defy negative behavior patterns and create newness.

No better example of this than bringing new life into the world.  No matter the exact circumstances, we need each other for the creation and sustenance of new life.  The same is true for new, healthier, happier life within us.

[Photo: Baby does pushups! @ the home “gym”, CA]