Can Lasting Improvement Stem From Commitment to a Process?

snowCan lasting improvement stem from commitment to a process? We’re swiftly approaching the time we traditionally look back to review our progress of the past year and set goals for the upcoming one. We’re also swiftly approaching the time when we fail to meet those goals and give up on them. Perhaps that’s because we commit to goals in the first place. This year, rather than resolving to meet some goal, perhaps it is better to commit to a process of improvement that can be broken down into easily repeatable steps.

For example, rather than resolving to go to the gym more, commit to dedicating 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week to doing something that raises your heart rate. One day you might walk to a neighborhood restaurant for coffee. One day, you might take race your children in the pool. One day you might take the stairs at the office. One day, you might walk the dog in a hilly neighborhood. You could join a rowing team. Or you might go to the gym, walk on the treadmill, or play basketball with your friends. Whatever you do can be different each day, and it can be part of your daily life. Just make sure it makes you feel good.

After years of buying gym memberships to go to gyms I didn’t like to change in locker rooms I hated in order to share a lane in the pool with someone who ruined my swimming experience, I finally allowed myself to start working out at home. I wish I could say, I finally built a saltwater lap pool in the back yard, but alas I have not progressed that far. After some experimentation with walking, stair climbing, yoga, and weight lifting, I finally landed on a combination of yoga and weight lifting that makes me feel great and want to come back for more. I do 3 days on, alternating lifting and yoga, then a day off, then 3 days on. That means I’m working out 6 days a week. If it happens to turn into 5 days on a specific week, I don’t worry about it because I know I’m stronger than I was last year. My heart resting heart rate has dropped, and any soreness I experience now is from overdoing, not underdoing.

Another example of lasting improvement would be to commit to shopping differently to save money. Rather than denying yourself any new clothes, commit to only buying things that solve a problem. If your feet get wet each time it snows, buying some boots can solve the problem. If your hip hurts every time you wear your current boots, buying new boots may solve the problem. If you already have a couple of pairs of well functioning boots, then say no to the cute pair you want because buying them will not solve a problem. Unless, of course, your problem is that you’re depressed because your well functioning boots are ugly. If that’s the case, then donate the ugly boots before you purchase a new pair. This will slow you down enough to make sure you are making a wise decision.

I started reducing the number of things I own a couple of years ago. I didn’t go crazy. My house is still full, but I reduced the number of things sitting on shelves, the number of books in my bookcase, the amount of clothes in my closet. Now when I buy something new, it’s to solve a problem. And when I buy it, I also get rid of something. It makes me feel better to have fewer things. Too many possessions make me feel weighed down.

Eating healthier can look like a commitment to eating 5 vegetables or fruits each day 5 days per week. This is easily accomplished by adding berries to yogurt or cereal in the morning, having some carrot sticks as a morning snack, eating a side salad for lunch, having an apple in the afternoon, and eating a vegetable at dinner. Done.
Eating healthier can also look like a commitment to choosing less packaged food and more fresh food in the supermarket every other week. After a while, your palate will taste the subtle flavors in fresh food and artificial flavoring will become less pleasing leaving you wanting the fresh food you are regularly buying. Choosing fresh food at home may also lead to a change in your restaurant preferences. I find myself staying home for more meals or being very selective about where I eat. Average restaurant food just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m happier with leftover chicken and rice and blackened Brussels sprouts than I am with many restaurant meals.

Reducing stress can look like a commitment to saying no more often. Many of us are stretched too thin trying to please too many people. With some practice, saying no will become easier and easier.

Increasing happiness can look like a commitment to saying yes more often. Some of us say no because we’re afraid to try something new. With practice, you may discover that fun moments can result from stretching your wings a little.

If you take a look at all the commitments we’ve explored, you can see they’re easily sustainable. You’re simply following a process rather than attempting to achieve a specific result. Because of this, there’s no reason to ever feel as though you’ve failed. If you miss a day, you just pick the process back up the next day. Day after day after day of lifting weights and you’ll get stronger. Day after day after day of eating fruits and vegetables will cause your body to respond positively to the nutrients you’re receiving. Day after day after day of purchasing to solve problems will curtail impulse spending and leave you with less problems.

It seems obvious. Sticking with a process can lead to lasting improvement! I think it’s time to get started…

Dessert First! Day Two.

Initially it was more difficult than I anticipated to stick with my intent to do dessert first. The morning presented the challenge of nonworking phones, an unexpected customer visit, and an irate phone call from another customer at a university who believed she had been shorted on an order. While the visiting customer tried to look at his website on our screen, the printer jammed upon printing his ads causing the computer to freeze. The thought of anything pleasant seemed beyond my grasp. It was going to take some resolve to follow my plan.

Perhaps I should mention that all of this followed an hour of pulling up carpet and moving furniture in my bedroom so that the 2nd full bathroom in my 1910 house can be demolished due to the same water damage tha caused us to demolish the bathroom below two weeks ago. And did I mention that this is the only other full bathroom in the house? In addition, on the way to the office I had fielded a call from an unemployed friend who is feeling angry and desperate.

When I finally managed to turn my mind back to my intention to savor the small pleasant moments of each day,  I felt angry, unsettled, and a bit overwhelmed.  Nonetheless, I accepted my visiting customer’s invitation to an early lunch.  I told him how I felt.  I savored a hamburger steak with crispy edges topped with grilled onions.  I lingered and enjoyed catching up with his family stories even though I had not yet researched the order shortage for my other customer.  I began to feel a tiny bit more relaxed.

Back at the office, I researched the problem and could document that we had delivered the full order and that it had been signed for by the university.  Even with that, I recognized that they believed there was a problem so I had to deal with them as if there were a problem.  Was there some morsel of pleasure I could savor first?

I turned my attention to some invoicing that needed to go out. This felt good to me because it means cash flow sooner rather than later and is a way of taking care of my finances.  Then I made the phone call.  Once that was done, I went to the dry cleaners and the bank.  Along the route, I noticed a huge weeping willow tree blowing in the breeze.  I took a moment to watch the scintillating leaves.

By the time I returned, I was feeling peaceful and calm.  Then I got the phone call that someone at the university had misplaced a box of my customer’s order.  Ahhhh, more relaxation that problem is gone.  Perhaps even the brief moments of pleasure I managed to lean into were having an effect?

Late afternoon presented a minor bump in the road, but by evening I was feeling energized by positive energy and happy as I began a book I’ve been looking forward to at bedtime.  In the moment it’s hard to analyze anything, but this morning (the morning of Day 3), I awoke feeling joyous with an excitement toward embracing whatever the day may bring.

Could it be that the small shift in focus that I managed yesterday was a powerful catalyst for how I’m feeling today?  Perhaps.  Check in tomorrow to find out.

Dessert First! Day One.

This week I am going to try something new that I’m calling, Dessert First.  I don’t mean that I’m going to literally eat dessert first.  Okay, maybe I will once or twice since I’ll be thinking about it, but that’s beside the point.  Dessert First is a week dedicated to savoring the rich, sweet moments of every day BEFORE I rush off to fill an obligation, achieve a goal, or take care of something for someone else.

We all know dessert is best when it’s savored rather than hastily gulped.  When I roll a bite of chocolate around on my tongue letting it slowly melt, I taste all the subtle layers of sweet and bitter.  At the same time, I experience a pleasing texture. Lingering over dessert with a cup of coffee, I often feel a sense of pleasure, exhilaration, or relaxation.

So why not incorporate those feelings into every day?  Instead of glancing at the sunset sideways through the car window, I’ll sit on the back deck and take note of the depth of the clouds and the reflection of the light.  When a client compliments my work, I will sit still, say thank you, and absorb the good feeling that brings.  When my son calls and wants me to stop everything to run an errand for him, I will not do so until I reach a natural break in my schedule and I will not rush through the day’s pleasures in order to accommodate him.

What will happen?  How will this experiment affect my work, my sense of well-being, and my family?  Will it help me thrive at a different level?  We’ll see.  Check back here and I will give you the results each day!