As we embrace a New Year filled with lists, promises, or one-word themes, I need to remind all of us that no matter how hard we try, we will never be perfect. We will never be “done.” We are a work in progress. Any self-directed changes we make don’t happen overnight, but over time.
Rome really wasn’t built in a day. In fact, the experts tell us it took almost 1,300 years. The ancients learned what we should naturally know: plans change, intentions get dashed, goofs occur and sometimes we fall, fail, trip, stumble and hit our thumbs with hammers. Despite the best of intentions and armed with our new 2023 diary-calendar-planners, daily inspirational quotation apps and renewed health club memberships, most of us will give up our intentions, resolutions and mindsets in a few short days.
If Rome wasn’t built in a day, why do we quit on ourselves if we’re not perfect in a week?
This year, my friends, I would like to propose a heavy dose of acceptance and compassion into our thinking. Let’s make 2023 the year we STOP trying to be perfect and instead focus on our progress. Consider this:
- STOP stressing about eating a healthy diet.
- STOP worrying about exercising daily.
- STOP feeling anxious over having an empty email in-box.
Instead, START by choosing ONE new behavior. ONE that you can consistently practice until it compounds into a new habit. This approach creates a solid foundation and prevents cracking under duress.
This discovery, for me, came after years of trying to lose 50 pounds where one imperfect meal led to weeks of bingeing. Only when I chose to commit to ONE new daily behavior (substitute a vegetable for a starch during dinner) did I find success. I spent months developing this routine before I ever attempted to cut back on sweets or treats. Only then did I add ONE more new behavior to my plate. Over time I built skillpower, rather than rely on willpower.
Yet, we are imperfect beings. We will sometimes fail and sometimes succeed. We are not always going to meet our own expectations and we will occasionally go back to our old ways. The days I found myself eating an entire pizza, I followed it up with a chaser of compassion versus shame. I talked to my imperfect self like I would a good friend. Focusing on the progress I had made, filling myself up with encouragement to begin again.
Change Takes Time.
The old theory that we can change any habit in 21-days is a myth. In fact, New York Times bestselling author James Clear, a brilliant student of habits and behaviors, wrote a blog that details how a plastic surgeon’s comments came to be quoted as statistical fact. The truth is it may take us three times that long, even longer, to change a habit.
With that in mind:
- Begin with ONE new behavior. For example, stop inviting your computer to lunch.
- Link or stack a new behavior with another to prevent cognitive overload. Drink a full glass of water before pouring your first cup of coffee.
- Most importantly, choose progress over perfection. Prevent your slip from becoming a slide by measuring backwards. Recognize your growth, show yourself compassion and keep going. This time next year, you’ll be glad you did!