My husband always says I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl.
I’ve always been that way. Even as a young girl, when my mother used to ask me to clean my room (and I was so messy back then), I could never just quickly put things in it’s place and tidy up. I had to go all out. But only when I felt like it.
First, I would wait. I would wait for the “perfect time”, when I truly felt like cleaning my room. I would start from 0 and I would turn my room upside down and inside out. I would basically move in to my room all over again. And of course – I’d get tired, so it would would take me like a week to complete cleaning my tiny little room. I’m exhausted just writing about it.
Honestly…A lot of things I do are exhausting. Life can feel a little chaotic when you are an “all or nothing” kind of person.
Last year I asked my mother what she thought makes me happy. She said I am happiest when I am in the right mood, in the right atmosphere, with the right people, at the right moment.
It’s true. I often find myself endlessly searching for a set of very specific and particular circumstances for me to feel fully…full. This is something about myself I’m picking away at and trying to dismantle, because I think of how glorious life would feel if I could feel fully full even when things are not so specifically my way.
Life never goes my way though, does it?
Or your way.
Life just goes life’s way.
I don’t want to generalize, so let me speak for myself when I say that I have always been drawn to the concept of a “fresh new start.” I love that beginning feeling of anything. The first day of school. The first day of a year. My birthday – the first day of a new age. The first day of a new work out plan. The first day of a new diet. First first first. New new new.
But the problem arises when;
I cannot sustain the newness. The firstness. The freshness.
I cannot sustain myself in it. I keep stumbling. I get disheartened. I forget. I capture a little essence of this failure, bottle it up, and keep it safely in my psyche. These little failures collect and I bring them with me everywhere I go.
I wait for the next first. So that I can try again. I am persistent though, and always set my heart on improving – I should give myself that much credit at least.
Another problem; these coveted firsts tend to come by rather infrequently. For example – the first day of a new year comes by – well, only once a year. So I spend most of my time waiting. Waiting for the next first day of something.
A couple of years ago, it occurred to me I wait and live in mediocrity for the majority of the time.
I wanted to change that. I wanted to dismantle some of these self imposed conditions for me to live fully. Here are some of the guidelines I have found to be helpful and that I try to follow now:
Create lots of “fresh starts” for yourself
The first thing I did in trying to ween myself away from “waiting” for the next “fresh start” which may only occur a month or so from now at the least – was to create lots of random “new starts” for myself.
Yes, I do have that “new start” feeling at the beginning of a month.
I decided to have a new start at the beginning of the week. Mondays. I started looking forward to Mondays because it promised a chance to start over.
Then I decided to have a new start on a wednesday too. A mid week fresh start. Boy, I could sure use one of those too.
And then…Friday is start of a new weekend.
And then I decided that every morning is a new start. A new day.
And THEN, I realized I can even have a new start within the same day! If my morning didn’t go to plan, I can have a new start in the afternoon. I can start over. The day is not over yet.
I can bring this freshness, this newness into every new moment with just our awareness.
My wise friend Carol once told me “you are only one breath away from who you want to be.”
We tend to treat each moment of our life as though it is shackled to our past, and crushed under the weight of our future. But if we could just see a moment of our life for what it truly is – we will see that it is a free, liberated, light, present and perfect moment.
Each moment is a completely new moment.
A new life.
Regroup and re-plan more frequently
Once I started implementing having all these new starts into my daily schedule – I soon realized that I have to adjust and tweak my plans much more frequently. I started checking in with my plans/goals/targets every 5 days or so, which is a much more manageable amount of time for me, rather than a month. A lot can change in a month.
Now I make small adjustments to my plan every week, and assess my progress so far – Doing this has given me a much higher chance of success. Because it meant I only needed to try to be consistent for about 5 days before I got a chance to reassess and make changes if I had to.
Because things have a tendency to change over time, circumstances change, priorities change, we are met with unforseen events and new opportunities we could not have predicted.
I realized that failure happens when the plans I made do not work for my life anymore. And instead of changing my plans so that they work for my life and I can succeed, I would just fall off the wagon, feel badly about myself, and then spend my time waiting and not doing.
And I was tired of collecting failures, I wanted to start collecting small wins.
All I have to do is correct and continue.
So if you want more wins, you have to set yourself up for success, you have to give yourself a chance.
Track your goals
What is success to you?
How will you track your outcomes? How will you know if you’ve made a step in the right direction?
Progress is the biggest motivator. So you need to have a system in place so that you can notice all your little wins.
For example – when it comes to weight loss, I have a goal weight in mind. But I will celebrate each kg/lb lost till I reach that goal weight. These are still small wins. These are still steps in the right direction. I track them and I celebrate them.
Another example, when it comes to studying – I have two parameters for a successful day of studying.
Did I meet my target of how many questions I wanted to complete? Did I meet my target of how many pages I wanted to review? Did my average score get any higher?
And how do I feel? Do I feel tired in a good way? Does my brain feel like mush?
If yes – then it’s been a good day.
Instead of having one lofty goal that I can declare “yes I did it” or “No I failed” at the end of the month/quarter/year – I take one goal and break it down into many small steps and I track and celebrate each one I take.
Conquer the “All” with finding joy in the “small”
I made the transition from All or nothing to All or small.
Small is better than nothing.
Done is better than perfect.
I have to keep reminding myself of this over and over again.
When I have a new project or goal in mind, I instantly gravitate towards the “all.” I want it to be impeccable and big and perfect. If I can’t achieve that, I do absolutely nothing.
My most recent example – I have recently become interested in the zero-waste low-impact living movement. This is something I want to implement in my day to day life. It’s easy for me to want to get anything and everything I will need to do this.
To switch out all my plastic Tupperware for a new glass set, a water bottle, stainless steel straws, a cutlery set, reusable bags, wax fabrics etc etc. There is a lot to “get” for me to fully live this lifestyle.
It would be fun to get all these things, passionately declare to myself that I am on this zero-waste journey, get overwhelmed after a couple of weeks and go back to drinking venti frappuccinos from a plastic Starbucks cup with their green straw.
But I’m replacing the “all” with small. So I will begin with one thing. One swap. One change. Let that change soak into my life until it is mundane and ordinary to me, yet still a change that I successfully implemented and enriches my life in some way.
I may not be living the MOST eco life yet, but neither am I living the least. Something is better than nothing. One day I will get there, and when I do, it will be a more consistent and stable change.
I have to constantly resist my urge for all. But that doesn’t mean I cannot strive for all. For example, if I am about to declutter/re-organize my wardrobe
What I want to do: Empty out EVERYTHING, create a HUGE mess, get exhausted and bored, take a week to finish, get my husband all huffy-puffy-annoyed-with-me in the process.
What I do instead: I am going to declutter and reorganize this one shelf. Once that is complete, I ask myself if I am willing to do another one. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I can continue this way until the whole wardrobe is done in one sitting. Sometimes I leave it there, knowing that something is better than nothing, and I can revisit this job another time.
These days, I try to take a look at the “alls” I want to accomplish, break it down into many small little tasks, and I enjoy the process.
What you do every day is more important than what you do occasionally
I remind myself of this when I choose the “nothing” option, when I am not equipped with the things I need to choose the “all” option.
This means I am doing nothing. I am choosing to do nothing most of the time.
I occasionally choose to do all.
When I really took the time to understand this – I started making a different choice.
It is what you do consistently that makes a difference in your life, not something you do occasionally.
Here’s a familiar scenario – we’re on a diet for about 2 weeks, things are going well, but today we decide to eat a couple of cookies. Suddenly, we declare that our diet is ruined, and spend the rest of the day eating poorly. The next day, our diet seems pointless. It has already been spoiled. Why continue. Let’s start again next monday.
But one day of eating poorly won’t make you overweight, just as one day of exercising and eating well won’t make you healthy.
As long as we keep aiming for a ratio where the “wins” slowly but steadily outnumber the losses, we will make progress.
Start before you are ready
I know. I know we want everything to be perfect. I know we want to pick the perfect time. I know we want to have all the skills we need before we begin.
But what I have noticed is that life is full of situations that require us to take the test before studying for it.
Marriage, or becoming a parent – are both examples. How can you have any idea what you are signing up for until you’re already in it.
When I find a youtube channel that I really enjoy – I love the content, the editing style, the filming, the aesthetic, the youtuber – sometimes I like to view their first ever video on their channel.
Most of the time, their first video is quite poor in quality in every aspect of the word, in comparison to the videos they produce now, years later.
I find this extremely endearing and inspiring.
Because growth is beautiful.
On some other channels, I notice that the youtuber has removed some of their older videos and kept only their newer, well-made videos, and I know it is not a big deal, but it can feel a little disingenuous to me. People like to see growth, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed of it (even though I can totally relate to how cringey it feels in retrospect)
My point is, if you want to start something when everything is perfect (if that is even possible), what you are also doing is opting out of improving. Where’s the joy in that?
And if you do want to grow, then you have to start first, where you are, with what you have. It doesn’t matter. Because you won’t stay there forever. You’ll grow. And there is nothing more beautiful that that.
This blog post is over 2000 words. Yikes. Sometimes I wish I knew how to write short blog posts but I just can’t do it. I can’t.
I just can’t.
I can’t overcome the feeling of feeling like I have to write every single thing I know about a topic so that it can feel “complete” – when I know that this is not the case in the blogging world. I have to remind myself I’m writing a blog, and not a book.
All I can do is hope that you enjoy reading.