“Easy is earned” is one of Elizabeth Benton’s favorite expressions and she is not wrong. The more you do something, the easier it is. Example: when I was in high school, computers were still pretty sci-fi and typewriters were the spawn of Satan. All of us dreaded the ‘research papers’ that had to be typed, because it took us forever to do it. We all had to take a typing class with- wait for it- manual typewriters! (For all you millenials out there, google it and you’ll see what I mean). For every test, the typing instructor covered our keyboards so we had to touch-type. To put this in perspective for the millienials, I want them to imagine using a rotary phone, providing they can still find one. It’s that confusing and awkward. Learning to touch-type was a pain in the butt, and I liked using a typewriter. I got a portable manual typewriter when I was in 8th grade for my birthday and it had been a much requested gift. I pounded the heck out of that little thing and it was immensely useful as moved into high school and even college.
It was sometime in college when I was working on my word processor (millenials: google it) when I realized that I was looking at the screen and not the keyboard anymore, and I was typing at a pretty good clip too. It wasn’t that I had intentionally practiced touch-typing or learning the keys: it was simply that I had done it so many times, that when I hit the wrong key, my hands already knew I’d hit the wrong key and were correcting it by the time it registered with my brain. I didn’t have to look at my hands because my hands had done the same movements over and over again. You probably learned the same way: doing it over and over again, you had practiced so many times that now you don’t even think of it anymore. It’s easy now but once upon a time, it had been really hard.
It’s the same when you practice building healthy habits: starting the new habit is hard, but each time you do it successfully, the next time it’s a bit easier until one day, you don’t even realize that you’re going through the grocery store, not looking longingly at the potato chips or the pastries or the soda. You have ignored them so many times, you don’t notice them anymore. Even when the bakery is pulling the fresh sourdough out of the oven, it’s no big deal, just like typing out a memo used to take you an hour to do a couple paragraphs and now it takes you only a few minutes.
This is what most people don’t realize when they start a new habit. I know this isn’t exactly news to you, but I’m going to tell you anyway: it’s flippin’ hard starting a new habit!! If any of you are hikers, you know that following a trail that is well-traveled is a whole lot easier than breaking through the brush for the first time. It’s the same when you make a new habit: doing it the first time is a whole lot harder because you’re dealing with situations that aren’t familiar and solving a problem that crops up can be a bit of hassle. Everything takes longer and tasks that you initially thought would not be difficult turn out to be hard. It’s annoying and stressful and in the middle of this huge hassle, you start thinking “this is more trouble than it’s worth!” or “this is just making things worse- not better!” That’s because you’re stuck in that high school classroom trying to touch-type with a piece of binder paper over the keyboard. Your fingers are searching the keyboard, making sure you’re in the ‘home position’ so you can find the keys easily.
I wish I could say that things get easier pretty quick, but I’d be lying and you already know that. Things get easier on an incremental basis. It takes patience and a whole lot of really annoying practice before things get easy enough to type without looking at the keys. This is why so many people give up: it’s not fun and it’s not getting ‘fun’ at any kind of rate you can measure, but this is why Elizabeth Benton says that easy is earned. You have to do the work to get the prize, and there are no shortcuts. There’s no one you can pay to learn it for you and there’s no hack that will get you there quicker: it’s showing up every day and doing the job that earns you the Easy.
Some of you have heard me mention the Boss From Hell. She was an old school attorney who never learned to type. Seriously. When she was in law school, older women attorneys who’d come up in the 1970’s told her not to learn to type or she’d get stuck in the secretarial pool, even with the law degree, so the Boss From Hell did the two-finger hunt and peck every time she had to type: for emails, for letters, for pleadings- anything on the keyboard. Peck. Peck. Peck. Peck. Peck. Rather than learn to type, she tried all kinds of shortcuts: dictation with micro cassette tapes, digital recorders, and speech recognition software but her favorite was real live people. She would hire someone to sit at her keyboard and type as she talked. Seriously. Rather than learn to do it herself, my penny-pinching Boss From Hell paid someone to sit there and type for her. The problem with that was no one liked working for her: there’s a reason she’s called the Boss From Hell. Some of these typists lasted only a morning and at most a few weeks, so when she was looking for a new victim, she was forced to do her typing, and again it was peck peck peck peck peck coming from her office because she didn’t want to learn to do it herself.
I recently started bringing a protein smoothie to work with me and the first week I got up fifteen minutes earlier because I had to measure the almondmilk, measure the protein mix, blend it up, and pour it into my travel mug, and even though it’s only 8 oz of almondmilk, because it’s aerated by the blender, it doesn’t all fit in my 12 oz travel mug, so I’d have to drink or throw away what didn’t fit (saving it was not an option!) So it was a bit of a hassle, but the more times I did it, the more shortcuts I was able to devise and the easier it got. Now I measure out the almondmilk the night before and I actually use a little less (so it all fits now); I adjusted the amount of protein mix and now I get it done while the coffee is brewing. It’s easy now and takes no more time than making the coffee: pour, stevia, cream and screw the lid on the travel mug. It takes me more time to brush my hair! But that first week, I was wondering if this habit was going to be a keeper!
I know a lot of you (me included) made New Year’s Resolutions and this is the time of year when most of us are thinking “well, that was a bad idea!” Odds are, it was actually a pretty good idea to get healthier and lose some weight, but now it’s looking like it’s a lot more difficult than you thought it would be. That’s only because the habit is still new. There are a lot of studies that tell you it takes X amount of days/ repetitions to create a new habit. I don’t want you to listen to those posts or websites, because everyone is different. I know it’s an overused expression, but people are not robots nor does every day happen just like it’s supposed to. People learn at different paces. When everyone sees online that “it takes 21 days to make a new habit,” and on day 22, 25 or 30, when it’s still hard, people start thinking maybe they’re doing something wrong or maybe this new habit just isn’t right for them.
Well, they are doing something wrong: they are trying to make themselves fit into the little “21 Day Habit” box. I don’t know anyone who fits in that box! I confess: I am a routine-a-holic. (That’s a nice way of saying “stick in the mud.”) I function best when I do the same things the same time on the same days over and over again. I like to be on auto-pilot and you can pretty much set your clock by me: at 5:00 p.m. Sundays, I’m at the grocery store; on Mondays & Wednesdays at the same time, I am at the gym getting ready for water aerobics; at 7:00 p.m. Tuesdays, I’m in front of the tv watching NCIS. I even tend to eat a lot of the same foods over and over, not because I don’t have any options eating Paleo- it’s because I like them and they are easy to do. I am very happy in my rut. So, as you can imagine, doing something different is really really hard for me. I hate change and I complain the entire time that I’m trying to do something different (like the smoothie above), but at the same time, I know that once I’ve gotten used to making the change, it’ll be a lot easier for me. Once I’ve merged it into my rut, I can go back to auto-pilot with a healthy new habit added. Yes, I complain a lot, but that’s just my way of blowing off the frustration with the different routine.
The benefits of incorporating the new habit into the routine are pretty substantial, and not just for me. Most of us are creatures of habit and it’s time we put that tendency to work for us. Our brains and our bodies get used to doing the same things and they look for them, even when the situation is different. There are a lot of days I really don’t feel like going to water aerobics, especially if it’s cold, wet and windy like it has been here. I really don’t want to get out of the warm pool, get dressed and then go out into the cold and even once I’m home, I still feel cold most of the evening, no matter what how many layers I have on. Ugh. Yuck. I don’t wanna do it! and yet, there I am turning into the parking lot at the gym. The nights when I can’t make it because of work or traffic, I miss it. My body and brain are saying WTH??? and it feels like I missed out, because I did. Not only is it exercise, which helps me be stronger and more flexible, I miss seeing my friends at the pool.
It took me a long time to get used to going to water aerobics. I’d forget to pack my gym bag; I’d forget my gym bag at home; I misplaced the lock for my locker; I had to get some new equipment (swimsuits, pool shoes, new bag, new lock, new towels, etc) and it was a big hassle, with me grumbling the whole time of course. It will be a year in April, and it wasn’t until around August or so that it really started to get easier. I remember thinking that now that I’m finally getting into the habit, it’s going to get cold and how much fun will that be? Well, it wasn’t fun, but I didn’t want it to derail the progress I had worked so hard to obtain. That is the other good thing about investing in a new habit, because it is an investment in you. You are putting your time and energy, and probably some money as well, into improving your health. As tempting as it might be to throw it all away 8 weeks into the project, throwing it away means you’ve lost everything you’ve invested to date and you’ve got nothing to show for it. No healthy habit, no improved fitness, no weight loss, no goals reached, but there is probably some leftover protein powder or vitamins, some weights or other fitness equipment that’s gathering dust before it gets donated or thrown out, along with a gym membership waiting to expire unused. Time lost, money lost, frustration increased, disappointment increased. This is the same routine millions of people go through about this time every year. I can see it at my own gym: the parking has gotten a lot easier because there are fewer people now than there were in the middle of January. I had to park on the other side of the lot in January and now, at the third week in February, I’m back where I was in the middle of December. People have already given up, and as much as like parking in my old spot, I feel bad for all those people who threw it all away.
They’ve not only given up on their goals of better health and fitness, they have given up on themselves. They decided they weren’t worth the work. You might be thinking, “no, I decided this habit wasn’t worth it.” Take a good look at the habit you are working on and what was your goal? Was it losing weight? Was it building muscle? Was it eating cleaner/ healthier? All of those are great habits that lead to increased health benefits, so what wasn’t worth it? You are not just another project that can languish in the garage like the half-finished birdhouse or the cabinet that still needs to be sanded and varnished. You are worth the work, the investment and, yes, worth the frustration! It takes a long time and heck of lot of work to build a healthy worthwhile habit, but think of the return on that investment: your body will feel better almost all the time; you can go running, walking, hiking without feeling like you’re about to collapse; you can play with your kids/ grandkids/ pets like they want you to; you will look a lot better and you can do a lot more than you ever thought you could. It’s not just a better habit you are building: it’s a better life! Isn’t that worth all the hassle you’ve been complaining about? FYI: you might even feel good enough to finish sanding that cabinet in the garage.