Many years ago, in a land far, far away (California), I had a good friend who I admired greatly. She had lost a lot of weight, and went from couch slug to an avid runner, and kept at it for almost a decade when I finally moved to Ohio. When I met her, she was fully into her health-nut, Californian, mode and it came as a huge shock to me when I learned she had once struggled with both weight and inactivity.
One day, over coffee, we were discussing some of the things she had learned over the years—her tricks. Some of them were annoying. While I loved it when my husband and I would go out for dinner with her and her husband, she was one of those people who special ordered everything from the kitchen, directing how it was to be cooked, and everything “on the side.” I kind of wanted to slap her when she did that, or suggest that she go into the kitchen and cook it herself. Mostly, she was inspirational.
She imparted something that day over coffee that, apparently, I tucked away for use twenty years in the future. She was talking about running. She had a goal to run every day, even if it was just around the block. Often, she didn’t want to. Really. Didn’t. Want. To. She played a game with herself. She would say, “Look, it is perfectly fine if I don’t run today. It won’t kill me not to, but I can put my running shoes on. That’s it. That’s all I need to do. Then I can go sit on the couch if I want.”
She’d put the shoes on. “Great! Excellent! I can be done for the day, or, I can just go down the stairs. That’s it. Just go down the stairs, in my shoes, and then sit on the couch if I want to…” And as you can guess, the progression went on like that. “Well now that I’m downstairs, I can sit on the couch or I could open the front door and stand on the porch, just to say I’ve been outside…” One of the key points was that while this was a little mind game, she also meant it. If she had decided just to put on her shoes, and then sat on the couch, she allowed herself that choice without beating herself up. There was no iron-fisted willpower at play here, rather gentle acceptance and choices.
I thought that was interesting, and she certainly had a good track record. (Pun intended.)
Over the years, I have studied quite a bit about goal setting. I even used to talk to my clients about it as we’d set their treatment plans up. If my friend had simply said to her couch lounging self, “I’m going to run every day for years…” that goal would never have been met. She knew how to chop it up into little, doable bits. So do I. I’ve taught that to others.
I always thought her little bits were a bit too little. Too simplistic. Too “duh.” Put on your shoes? Nahhh.
My way of setting goals has been to make little teeny goals, but never quite that basic. I break things down, write lists, organize systems. My brain over-intellectualizes everything. I have a multi-step (but simple steps) morning routine, that I hit and miss and often don’t do 100% every day. I have a cleaning schedule (ditto). I have… all sorts of things broken down into little steps, on written check lists. I would often talk to my clients about accepting themselves as they are, and to accept that where they are is where they are and to proceed from that place. If someone had a tight hamstring, it wasn’t realistic to start at “run a mile a day.”
I do not, and have not applied that to myself. I never have. I see my little lists of mini-goals and think, “Those are so easy. That’s the very least I can do!” Only for years that has been denying where I am. Where I am is akin to my friend wrestling with “just” putting her shoes on. In her world, I’m not even at “put the shoes on.” I’m at “stand up” and the next step would be “find shoes.” Pride and fear have kept me from facing the reality that I’m not even at the “put on your shoes and sit on the couch” phase.
That’s been really hard to admit, and I’ve only just started to face that reality. Part of that is due to my new therapist. Part of that is to remember that long ago coffee, and to finally get the whole lesson. Thanks, Kate, I’m a slow learner.
What I was listening to while writing: