This is Wally. He’s my dog nephew. The idea of walking on the beach with Wally can create more of a sense of friendliness in a habit than just logging steps.
I know we haven’t met, but I can tell you already,
There’s nothing wrong with you.
I mean it.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.
How do I know that? Because you’re here. Not here at the blog, I mean here on the planet. And if you’re already here, you’ve got the right to be here, in exactly the body you have today. I know that’s pretty disappointing to people. They want the keys to someplace else. People wrote me a lot of letters last week confiding that they had clicked on the title of my weight loss article hoping that I had unlocked some kind of feminist, or not, solution to the problem of the body they were using to read the post. They’d been putting off exercising in public until they privately slimmed down just a little bit or they’d been waiting to get married until they could look better in the photographs, and they were even waiting to go to rehab until they lost 10 more pounds. Because we all know, it is a far more important thing to have the right photographs of life than it is to just live it.
If all of you incredible people are thinking you don’t have a right to be happy living the lives offered to you by the world in the bodies you have right now, the problem isn’t your body. The problem is the world.
It’s such a set-up, right? We’re supposed to police ourselves so hardcore that the policing becomes the fabric of life. Food gets shoved onto teams of good and bad like a high school gym class nightmare. But weirdly, and horrifically, the food talk fades and people begin to use phrases that are even more telling. They don’t say, “I ate some unhealthy things that made me feel sick to my stomach.” They simply say, “I was so bad.”
PEOPLE: You were not bad. You ate some fucking pasta. You didn’t mislead the country into a war where thousands of young people killed and died over an illusion. What happened was a decadent dessert. You didn’t lie to your best friend about siphoning off her kids’ college funds so you could go to Bora Bora with Ellen and Portia. Your nutritional escapades have nothing to do with your moral compass, your ability to accomplish meaningful things in this place, and they certainly have nothing to do with your deep and abiding worth here in this wide community of humans.
I hear it all the time.
“I was so bad. I have no willpower.”
You know what?
Willpower is an abusive tyrant dressed up as a hero with great abs and no emotional capacity to sustain a meaningful relationship. Willpower looks great at the dinner but throws up all over the back seat of the limo on the way home and never tips the driver. Willpower gives at the office but never marches in the street and willpower always dies bitter and pandering to the sky about having just one more chance. Willpower pulls a muscle rolling it’s eyes at you when it sees your hand reach out for just your ninth tortilla chip, then tears its rotator cuff patting itself on the back as it verbally shreds its lover because it’s HANGRY.
What do you like about your friends? Move toward that.
I don’t believe in willpower anymore when it comes to eating,
and I don’t believe in white knuckles.
I believe in habit.
Now a habit you can build in a way that suits your strengths. A habit you can stack up each day, a whole universe of everything that works. And when it doesn’t work, no big deal, just start again from a new angle. Or what about a habit that used to work and then stopped because life changed. Because you had a kid or got a new job or lost your license or you got Lyme or your funding got pulled or some jerk was careless with your heart and the pain came for you so hard and fast you lost your ding dang breath. Well then. Time for a new habit. But there’s STILL not a damn thing wrong with you.
What is this habit building I’m talking about? People, coaches in particular, have different ideas about how to do this. Now, obviously, I’m not the coach for everyone. I’m very focused supporting people to experience the life they are having WHILE they do the work toward making change. The idea that we should put off living until we get to celebrate that change cuts us all off at the emotional knees. And, it also prevents us from having support and joy while we get there. I’m not into that. We never know how long we get to have this life and so I say, now’s it.
Every client I have is different, each with remarkable personality, talents, and creative acumen. So each person I work with has a different path in building their particular habits moving toward their particular goals. But some things, I think, can be helpful to most people looking to replace the iron fist of willpower with the new model of a habit. So, here’s my jam:
1. Be Reasonable: Let’s say you want a seated meditation practice in your life in a lasting way. Presently, you are not sitting at all. So if the goal is to have meditation in your life for a long time, and ultimately from where you are now you envision a seated daily meditation for 30 minutes with various retreats over time and a regular sangha (or group), beginning with a task of 30 minutes just isn’t a reasonable path. There’s a ton of real estate for you to explore between the nothing of now and your eventual vision. For instance, have a list of tasks that build toward that goal and hook it onto a reliable habit you already have. Like, say, brushing your teeth. So your first task can be to make yourself a comfortable and inviting place to sit. Second you can hitch that sit to your tooth brushing. You know that no matter where you are, you always manage to brush your teeth every morning. That established habit can lend a reliable spine to this new one. Third, begin with 1 minute. Or with a recording of a teacher to lead you through 5 minutes. Build up. These suggestions can be applied to anything from trying to eat breakfast to yoga to writing to walking the dog.
2. Friendliness: What do you like about your friends? What qualities make you want to stay in a certain relationship or at a particular dinner party? Take those qualities and move them into your habit building. Like dressing up? Maybe your exercise can be tennis, which can often showcase a really killer outfit. Maybe you like to yell. How about deadlifting or kickboxing? Hate cooking but really want to gain some skills to have a little more say over how your nutrition at home is happening? Add friendliness to the task at hand. Find a pal you have who actually LOVES to cook. You have one. I swear. Tell them you’d like some help and do some cooking together. They can help demystify the kitchen as well as provide company while you learn. Or maybe you want a habit of cleaning your apartment weekly. Make a playlist that is SO GOOD, it feels like a friend, and you can cut a deal with yourself to clean for, say, 15 minutes of that playlist. I often find Back in Blackis a good song for this list. And by the time you get to 15 minutes one of two things will ave happened. You will either be 15 minutes further down the road to a clean apartment OR you will be enjoying your genius playlist so much you continue spiffing up the joint happily.
Willpower is fickle. A habit, you can grow.
3. Willingness: If you can feel it in the very core of your being that you don’t actually want to do the thing you’ve set yourself up to do, trust yourself. You know that feeling better than anyone. Change the shape of the task until you feel willing. Get support in finding a version of your task you are willing to do. Like for me: at some point I wanted to run a marathon. Looking back, it’s clear to me that the ONLY thing that made that possible was the fact that I wanted to do it. My body is in better shape now but I’d never be able to finish another marathon because I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO. I’m not willing to put in the time or the pain or even the entry fee. I do want to continue my running practice, though. And having a distance kind of task to support that goal really helps me with structure. So I need to find a task I am willing to do. Because 26.2, for this gal, not gonna’ happen.
There’s more, but just begin here.
Be as Friendly with yourself as possible.
And just be Willing.
See how this goes and let me know.
You don’t have to white knuckle your way through life. The universe is going to hand us so many challenges, so much pain and struggle already, that it really doesn’t need us to help it along.
I am not saying we shouldn’t strive or toil, or that everything should be, or will be easy. And some days even the most established habits are a total drag to show up for. But as the habit is built and the result of that habit is that we feel better in our lives day in and day out, we begin to believe in it. In ourselves. In our humanity and also in our bodies, where that humanity exists. We begin to approach ourselves with a shot glass of kindness not just in these habits, but in our most brutal and punishing days, when we need it the most.
Don’t feel like running? Put on a gay bandana. WORKS EVERY TIME.