We thought this might be a good time to check in with newer folks who have taken on the 2009 Primal Challenge. (With four weeks in, how’s everyone doing?)
But the truth is, the title has bearing for all of us. Old hat or not, a healthy lifestyle always encounters challenges at some point. External pressures – heavier work load, added family responsibilities, etc. – can suddenly shift the ground we thought was solid and stable. Internal factors – stress, injury, illness– can creep up on us and make us realize we’ve taken our motivation a little for granted lately.
Whether we’re committing ourselves to a new plan or reinforcing a long-time program, we end up playing psychologist to ourselves. For some of us, we may identify with the dual voices battling for our ear – our better self on one shoulder and the trouble-making naysayer twin on the other. For others of us the struggle takes on other shapes: tempting social distractions, consuming work habits, a guilt-laden conscience as we learn to balance family and self-care.
Since the beginning of the new year, expert opinion on issues like motivation, stamina, and dedication have been front and center in health and lifestyle sections everywhere. The problem is, feature stories move onto other calendar-appropriate themes about the same time people fall off the wagon in droves. New eating habits are thrown to the wayside. Gym memberships go unused or are cancelled. Forget April: perhaps February is the cruelest month – the falling off point of many a good intention.
We thought we’d weigh in with a little perspective – and a bit from those now archived expert opinions. Barely a month into the new year, the question often revolves around short-term gains. Blame it on whatever you will, but we as a society expect a pretty quick turnaround when it comes to returns on our investment. (O.K. – so not the best metaphor these days, but the figurative connection stands, right?) However, our efforts (particularly if we ease into change with baby steps) don’t often deliver a deluge of blatant benefits. It takes an overcoming of short-term attention span and a commitment for the long haul to really make things happen. And if we’ve had problems in the past or we’re tackling a long-term health issue, our abandonment tendency can spike. As Dalia Llera, psychologist and professor at Lesley University reminds us, “You can’t accomplish in a few weeks what you haven’t accomplished in a few years.”
Perhaps some of you are still in the phase of solidifying a new habit or practice. Though experts’ opinions range on how long it takes to mentally establish a routine, one month surely falls short of their estimates, especially if you’ve had some fits and starts along the way. But the progress is there to enjoy the same. Sometimes success isn’t just measured by our sustained attention but by our continued commitment to refocus when we get off track.
Where we get into trouble the most, some say, is when we refuse to accept responsibility for our own trajectories, however straight, skewed, and circular they might appear. Can we look into the heart of our lapses and see what’s really staring back at us (that would be, well, us) or do we see a myriad of circumstances all conveniently beyond our power of self-determination? “Excuses, excuses,” our mothers might say. Potential “self-handicapping” some experts would suggest. Self-handicappers, in fact, block their own success right out of the gate by lowering expectations for themselves typically in an effort to shield their egos from failure. In their minds, experts, say, it’s easier to accept a limited life than the menacing prospect that they might truly “fail” despite their best efforts. For these folks, it’s less a dearth of actual ability than a constant crisis of confidence and even self-worth. To accept, let alone pursue, a life of health and vitality, you first have to believe that you deserve it.
So, then, what about all those lapses, the fits and starts, the slips, blunders, drifts and tumbles? We say there’s no problem accepting them as par for the course. Wear them proudly like battle scars – even if it’s a battle with the likes of breakfast cereal or a punching bag. As the old saying goes, “It’s not where you’ve been but where you’re headed.” A primal life is, just that: a life, not an image. A static, two-dimensional trophy shot in time isn’t the point. It’s not what you’ll see at first but how you feel. Maybe at first a little stronger, a little more energetic, a little less stressed throughout the day. Keep following it and see where it goes, how it unfolds. We’ll check in again next month.
Benchmarks you’d like to share? Stories you have to tell – of lapses, refocus, successes, benefits both felt and seen? Hard-earned advice for continuing the commitment over time? Thanks for your comments.