I am the first to admit it: I like big steps. I like to be right right away, to be proficient and then advanced in short order. I like to make sudden and immediate changes in my life, to feel the satisfying reverberations of an earthquake-sized change.
I think of my vegetarianism like that (it wasn’t). I think of my veganism like that (not it either). “Before I was that way, now I am this” sounds good to me, like snapping fingers. I like to imagine that I make a decision and then methodically progress towards my goal. It sounds so orderly.
It isn’t that way at all, I suppose because I’m only human. I make big changes, like deciding to get up at 5 a.m., run two miles, write for thirty minutes, practice Spanish and read before work. I did that for awhile. I liked it, and then something happened and now I don’t anymore. Or I decide to meditate everyday, and ten minutes is hard, but I do it until…. I don’t anymore. Because it was hard and I was tired. I do very well in classes and then the classes end and…
Well here we are. Sometimes the steps I imagine are bigger than my feet. So I’m trying to try something smaller. It’s hard. I like big! I like monumental changes that make people sit up and say, “wow, you did that?” But the big changes don’t always work, and the truth is, they never work like they seem to from the outside. Most of the time, they’re really just small changes piled up over time to make a big change. Changing a life is like turning an oceanliner. Small degrees matter and you need time.
I tell people that I’ve been vegetarian since seventh grade, and that’s mostly true. What I tell very often is that I tried to be vegetarian in fifth grade and failed because that doesn’t elicit the “ooh that’s so long!” of the former statement.
And the truth truth is that I’ve eaten meat since then! Not much, but some. I remember being in early high school and a friend’s mom insisting that I eat meat spaghetti sauce because I was in “her house” so I should eat by “her rules.” I don’t think I’d asked to be fed, but I ate around it because I didn’t want to embarrass my friend. And I ate some meat when I was in Spain, though I didn’t care for it much. And there was the infamous pork chop incident, which I cared for very much.
I tell people I went vegan after reading a book on dog training because it’s funnier than telling them I’d been trying since college and I was finally ready, and it makes me sound better than telling them “I’m vegan but sometimes when I’m stressed I still sneak a reese’s, but I’m working on it.” But those are the steps. Trial and error and success and error.
The truth is when I make big goals and fail to keep them, I fail big too. I stop doing anything. When I stopped going to poetry class, I stopped writing poetry. When I broke my streak on the language site, Duolingo, I stopped practicing for weeks. When I miss a workout, I miss three or four. I want to be a person who does those things all the time, even if I am not ready to give each of those passions the time that I wish I could.
I have to get it out of my head that I “need” half an hour to write and get it into my head that one sentence is writing. If I write one sentence a day, which is really all it feels like I have time for this month, then I am a writer and I have written. If I’m not ready to read a novel in Spanish yet (particularly one that’s due back at the library in two weeks) then I need to be okay with reading “Si llevas un raton al cine” and practicing my Duolingo.
So what do I have on my steps list?
- Say ‘I love you’ every day to my man. Because I care about having strong positive relationships.
- Take deep breaths. I don’t have time to meditate right now. It’s just not happening. But, I have time to take a deep breath a few times a day. And that’s important because it keeps my stress levels lower which helps me make better decisions and it makes me a nicer person to be around which goes back to having those positive relationships.
- Follow my half marathon running plan. Yesterday I ran for 25 minutes after work because it was on the plan. In the past, I would have said that 25 minutes is not long enough, but you know what? I don’t need to be the overachiever on the running plan, especially if it means I’ll burn out and stop running entirely. 25 minutes is enough.
- Duolingo one time per day. This one was going to be tough, but it’s been going okay for a few days. Why? Probably because I blocked Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest on my computer so that it redirects to Duolingo when I try to access those sites. It’s just a quick reminder that this is a priority, and that if I don’t have time for Duolingo right now, I probably don’t have time for Facebook either.
- Write one sentence. I’ll be honest. I haven’t even done this one yet at all. But I have it on here because it’s a reminder of my values and who I believe I am. If I can’t even write one sentence this week, I’ll drop it down to one word. But realistically, I’m starting my writing class this weekend, so hopefully that will also help me write at least one sentence per day.
In the past, I would have tried to schedule date nights or dinners together every night, or set aside an hour for time with my man. I would have set aside ten or fifteen minutes to meditate even though I found it really hard to do for that long, and I would have added additional workouts to my half marathon training plan. I would have tried to get to the next Duolingo level each day, or gotten a book in Spanish to read because that’s “real Spanish.” I would have set aside hours for writing.
And there’s nothing wrong with that if it can be done, but I wasn’t actually doing any of those things. I was just setting goals and making plans that invariably would get derailed when I had an extra long meeting or a fun opportunity arise, or if I was just tired. And the truth is, I don’t want to wait until I have hours to spend on writing before I write. I want to write now, even if I can only write blogs a few times a week and one sentence on the other days. It’s more than I’m doing now! It’s progress. I don’t want to wait until I can go to Spain for three months to learn Spanish, because that may never happen! Likewise, a weeklong silent meditation retreat in order to find inner calm. I need those things now, even if it’s just one breath a day.
Especially when things are hard and busy, just one breath, just one sentence, can make a big difference.