Like most people my age (50+), I grew up watching M*A*S*H and one of my favorite characters was Major Charles Emerson Winchester, III. He was a pompous snob and obviously meant to be the butt of Hawkeye & BJ’s jokes, but he was also very well read and educated and when he went on about opera or authors, I usually knew who he was talking about. I admit: I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to great literature too!
During his first episode, he made it clear that he does things his way. He pompously announced to everyone in the operating room: “I do one thing, I do it well and then I move on to the next.” Despite all his arrogance and ego, he was not wrong about that. One of our biggest mistakes when it comes to making New Year’s Resolutions or any kind of ‘self-improvement’ changes is that we try to do too much at once. Instead of doing one thing, doing it well and moving on to what’s next on our list, we decide we are going to do it all now and save some time and effort!
Big Mistake!! Biiiigggg Mistake!! Huge!! I honestly can’t say it enough. Remember when you were a kid and you saw the jugglers at the carnival? Five or six balls or batons in the air all floating easily like it’s no trick at all? Remember when you tried juggling tennis balls and just got hit in the face by all of them? YUP!! That’s pretty much what happens to us when we write our list of resolutions and then try doing them all at once. The only difference is that if we were hit in the face by them, we would probably learn something (like we did when we were ten and tried juggling) instead of trying to do them all again the next year or the next time! Sometimes bruises are good for something, and I really think if New Year’s Resolutions came with bruises when we screwed up, we might learn a little faster!
The trick isn’t that different from learning to juggle or even Maj. Winchester’s pompous pronouncement: do one thing, do it well and then move on! When novice jugglers learn, they start with one ball or baton: toss it, watch it, catch it. Repeat. It’s harder than it looks, really, because it means tossing it straight and knowing where it’s coming down. So once you can catch it blindfolded, you get to add another ball/ baton. As in, one ball/ baton. Now you get to catch two of them! Repeat until you’re about to die from boredom, and when you can catch both of those blindfolded, you get to step up to the Big Leagues and add in a third ball/ baton. Now you’re really juggling! You’ve got three objects in the air and once you’ve got all three going, then and pretty much only then, you appreciate all that super boring practice with balls one and two! Because you practiced until you could toss and catch without even thinking about it, now that you actually have to think about # 3, not thinking about # 1 and # 2 makes it look easy and almost effortless. Really, even though you’ve got three balls in the air, you really only have to think about ONE. That’s the secret with juggling and that’s the secret with weight loss and ‘self-improvement’ habits: you do one thing until you do it well, and then you add another.
I wish I could tell you it’s glamorous or exciting or even funny like on M*A*S*H, but it’s not. The behind-the-scenes truth to juggling, working out and weight loss is just more of that super boring repetition. When you watch the jugglers or any kind of performance, what you are seeing is the Finished Product. It might be five minutes or less of a trapeze artist flying through the air or two jugglers sending batons back and forth with flawless ease, but what you don’t see is the hours of dropped batons, getting smacked in the face or the trapeze artist missing her hold and falling into the safety net. That’s the whole point: they make something extremely difficult look amazingly easy!
This is what happens when we are presented with the infomercials and diet books/ plans and exercise programs. They make it look like it’s just so simple and all you need is fifteen minutes or less! Everyone has fifteen minutes! No counting, no meetings, no measuring! It’s just fun delicious food and fifteen minutes of walking! Anyone can do this and have rock hard muscles, a chiseled six pack and lose twenty lbs in six weeks! Really! Just sign here!
Ummm…….NO. It’s never that easy because you have to do it. Consistently. The fact is that even if it is as easy as opening a box of diet food and eating it or using your new machine for fifteen minutes, it’s still a change to your regular routine. How easy is it to say “I’ll do it later”? Even if it’s only a few minutes, you have to find a way to stick into your day: before or after dinner/ lunch/ breakfast? After work? Before work? Does walking the dog count? The same thing goes for opening that box of microwave diet food: it’s not what you normally eat and it’s one thing if you live by yourself, but when everyone else at home is doing “make your own taco night,” you’re there with your diet pasta. Everyone else is having ice cream for Netflix night and you’re okay with your diet chocolate brownie?
I don’t mean to make trouble with exercise and diet plans but eventually we get tired of the repetition. It’s work! That should be obvious to us but what we were sold was “simple and easy.” If you want to buy the machine because you don’t want to go to the gym, that’s great! Just remember that the machine only works when you use it and you’re going to have to use it. Again and again and again. It’s the same thing with whatever diet plan you choose: it only works when you follow it, whether it’s make it yourself Paleo or frozen diet food from wherever. If you give in and decide to have taco night with the family, and then the ice cream and then the fried zucchini and burgers on the weekend, it’s going to cancel out the diet breakfast and lunch you’ve been eating. Unless your office had pizza at the weekly meeting or bagels at the Friday conference, and you didn’t want to look different by not eating. Then, you’re consistently not-eating your diet food.
Consistency is the monkey wrench in learning anything new and the secret to being consistent is the super boring repetition that makes the jugglers, trapeze artists and everyone else look awesome. No one wants to hear about being boringly consistent doing the same thing again and again. Where we get overwhelmed is when we try to be consistent with too many things all at once: again, if dropping our new healthy routines ended with a bruise on our face like a missed tennis ball, we’d probably be more sensible about starting new healthy habits!
Making one change to your regular routine is easier than making two, three or more changes. Whether it’s going to the gym, eating your new healthy meals or even just going to bed earlier: choose one, and do it until you don’t need to think about it anymore. Once it’s a complete no-brainer, move on to what’s next on your list and repeat. It’s not glamorous or exciting but it works! FYI: the exciting part comes when your waist gets smaller, your arms get cut and you can fit into the same size jeans you wore in high school. It’s the equivalent of the flawless rhythm of batons flying through the air with the greatest of ease! No one has to know it was day after day of being boringly consistent: show off the amazing results! You worked hard for it so enjoy being awesome for a while!