Don’t Fight the Current

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If you’ve been around recently, you know that I thoroughly enjoyed a book on decluttering. The author was so practical and clear in her guidance that when I came across another of her books, I enthusiastically jumped right in.

This time, it wasn’t about decluttering, but sustainable housecleaning practices. As someone who greatly values order and tidiness in their living spaces, I was interested in seeing what words of wisdom she had on the subject.

I am pleased to say she did not disappoint. Very early on, I realized the book was ultimately about habits and how we can successfully implement and maintain those.

One of my favorite lines from the book was, “Don’t judge a habit by the first time (you do it).” Wow isn’t this the truth!

As someone who teaches people how to do skills they don’t always want to do (things such as delivering feedback, or having difficult conversations) most things simply don’t feel natural the first time you do them. But you can’t let that feeling stop you from doing the things that need to be done.

This got me thinking about a concept we learned years ago by nonverbal communication expert Michael Grinder. He teaches that many things we experience are NEDs; they are new, emotional, or difficult. Often, they are all three.

How do habits and NEDs work together? Let’s take daily exercise as an example many of us can relate to.

The first letter in NED is “N” for new. When we are in the early stages of building new habits, routines or skills, the newness can feel quite daunting. Maybe you haven’t exercised consistently in a long time or… ever. There are questions to be answered and decisions to be made. You must figure out what you are going to do and when. Perhaps you need some new equipment or resource to be able to do it safely. Then when you start, it’s natural to feel a bit silly or uncoordinated until you get the hang of it. And let’s not forget about any discomfort, aching or fatigue.

So, what helps us most with “new”? Don’t build a routine so big that it’s easy to fail. Be kind to yourself; start small, ease into it and get good instruction. Most of all, remember nothing is new forever, this will feel more natural if you keep trying and stick with it.

The next letter is “E” for emotional. Exercise can certainly be an emotional experience. Maybe you are looking to make a change for health or appearance reasons; both of which may have strong emotions attached. It’s possible you have some negative emotion because you have tried this before and been unsuccessful.  Perhaps you hate feeling awkward or incompetent at what you are doing. It’s also easy anytime you are new to make comparisons to others and be tough on your progress.

My advice on this part of the NED? Remember that your feelings aren’t facts. Sure, they are data, but they don’t need to be the final word. Also, try to find the positive emotions that outweigh the negative, for instance, you can be proud you are trying hard – accomplishment WILL follow!

The last letter of NED is “D” for difficult. Creating a daily exercise habit can be hard on your schedule (where to find the time, should I do this in the morning or the evening, etc.) hard on your body and hard on your mind. You must fight a lot of inertia to get up and make something happen. The actual activity might also be hard, leading to strain on your muscles or lungs.

How to deal with “difficult?” Remember most everything gets easier with time, find some friends who can be a support system and consider rewarding yourself for both effort and consistency.

As we move into the month of December, I realize it always presents itself as a temporary state; a frothy confection that isn’t meant to last. Trees, wrapping paper, fancy lights, and delicious desserts! But no one lives that way on a permanent basis. Eventually, the chaos of December gives way to the order of January filled with resets and resolutions. If we can enjoy the season for what it is, we can welcome the structure of January and delight in new beginnings. If we fight against it, we make everyone unhappy and deprive ourselves of all the fun we could experience if we would only try. It’s the same thing with NEDs; whatever is new, won’t be forever, whatever is emotional, becomes something we eventually know how to navigate and whatever is difficult, inevitably becomes easier.

Just as you wouldn’t judge an entire year by the month of December, don’t let a NED make you think a habit can be properly assessed by the first time. Allow yourself to enjoy both and life becomes a whole lot merrier.