If there’s one mantra that’s been drilled into my head over the years; it’s PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION. And yet I continue to stumble– making mistakes (shocking I know), and then condemning myself for it. Instead of saying: ‘Hey, you’re human, it happens. No worries. Let’s do better next time,’ I want to bash myself over the head for it. Can you relate?
It’s fitting though, as the years pass, I find it just a little bit easier to employ and truly absorb this idea of progress, not perfection. Let me give you an example.
About a week into the new year, after indulging in my fair share of holiday and birthday treats aplenty as well as my normal stock of nightly candy, I couldn’t avoid the truth that’d been staring me in the face for some time: I was addicted to sugar. Big time.
Thus, my somewhat impromptu but important decision to ditch the stuff, particularly the added and/or processed variety. In the first week, all I allowed myself was the natural sugars in fruit. I felt sick and cranky and like a ball of nerves ready to attack. My poor boyfriend trenched through it with me (gosh I love him).
All said, my sugar withdrawal wasn’t going too bad. I could see the light at the end of the freakin tunnel. And then… brunch hit. I’d made the decision to host it without much thought as to how I was going to remain sugar-free during the occasion. I certainly wasn’t going to drag my guests through a bland meal on my account.
And so.. I indulged in coffee with cream and sugar, biscotti and white chocolate coconut wafers. It was a splendid day and I enjoyed every sugary once of it.
Here’s the truth. It wasn’t brunch that was to blame, nor my lack of proper planning, not entirely anyway. The biggest culprit here was the fact that I wasn’t ready, at least not ready to eliminate sugar altogether. And guess what? That’s okay.
Because I didn’t condemn myself for my Sunday slip-up, I was able to get right back on track come Monday and have only had the occasional sugar fix since. And I imagine in time, I will figure out how much, if any, and what kinds of sugar(s) work for me. Until then, I do the best I can and treat each day, and each decision, as an opportunity to start anew.
What I’ve learned from that brunch and all my other “failed” endeavors is, it’s just important to grow by inches as it is miles. What I mean is- not all change is sudden and dramatic. Rather, it occurs organically, subtly, and often- slowly.
I used to bemoan this fact, and sometimes I still do. “I want all the growth and transformation and enlightenment now, damnit. ” But that’s not how it works. Not for me anyway.
Yes, I’ve had those sudden insights and dramatic moments of revelation and powerful as they are- if I’m really being honest with myself- they rarely lead to dramatic change in daily practice then and there. Rather, the revelation has to set in, slowly cracking the outer shell of skepticism through good old fashion experience, trying again and again, and falling on my face in the process.
I can think of several times when I was aware that my actions no longer served me and yet, I found myself indulging in them anyway. It wasn’t until I’d made enough mistakes and endured a certain level of pain that I was truly willing to relinquish these harmful habits. But once I did, there was no more back-peddling. My intentions were finally realized.
Let me give you another example: I’ve heard about the merits of meditation since I was 19 and only just started regularly practicing in the last year. That’s nine years between the moment I realized it would be a meaningful endeavor and the moment I actually began a regular practice.Up until that point, I had read books, attended group-led meditations (in temples and recovery rooms), and even designated a meditation space in our second bedroom for it. But it wasn’t until nine months after creating the space that I began sitting in that spot.
This tells me that real change- in diet or lifestyle, or any other for that matter- does occur and it doesn’t always happen in twenty-one days. Yes, I believe creating new habits can be fairly simple, especially with the right circumstances and setup, but they must be instituted on a foundation of readiness. And sometimes it takes a while to get ready.
I now know that by putting that desire or intention out there and earnestly trying everyday to bring it to fruition will bring me down a path of real growth. And if that takes a few years and a few failed attempts, so be it. I’ve heard we learn best through pain and that there’s no such thing as a mistake if we learn a little along the way–no experience is wasted. In that case, I can’t lose.