I've always enjoyed the concept of giving up something you believe you can't live without for six weeks, even though deep down you know you can. As a kid, I always gave something up for Lent—I usually chose some specific vice, like chocolate. I even remember writing it on my hand the first week because I kept forgetting, gasping as I found myself mid-bite. Later in my teens, I went for tougher challenges like bread—I'm like Oprah; this one was tough!—and peanut butter, which may not seem like a big deal for some, but I was basically eliminating a food group.
I saw these six weeks as a way to see how tough I was, how much willpower I had. After college I took the opposite approach. I decided to add something instead of giving something up. Maybe it was getting older, but I longed for more of a self-improvement challenge instead of a self-deprivation challenge.
Forgoing things I planned to continue as soon as I crossed that six-week mark felt contrived. I wanted to use these six weeks to get the ball rolling with habits I wanted to build into my lifestyle.
Last year, I decided I would do yoga every day for six weeks. I practiced at most once a week and enjoyed the class I went to but rarely thought to do it on my own. My only parameter was for my challenge to do a minimum of 15 minutes. Here's what I came away with:
1. Consistency brings about change.
While I did gain some flexibility by going to an hourlong class once a week, it was only noticeable to me. And I was quickly set back after missing only a class or two. Even though I committed myself to only 15 minutes a day during my challenge, I was doing it every single day. Within the first 10 days, I noticed it was much easier to touch my toes. That may not sound impressive, but trust me—I was excited.
I tell the clients I coach constantly that the best workout or diet is one you will do consistently. Still, I was surprised by the big difference I felt by doing such a small amount, and this concept really clicked. It didn't matter that I wasn't going to a full-hour class or attempting incredibly hard poses each day; the changes came from my taking time each day to practice.
I took a picture of a single pose when I first started—crow pose—and took one of the same pose on Easter to compare. I could see the changes! It's not how hard or extreme you go but rather that you keep coming back consistently to bring change.
2. There IS time for what's important.
We're all guilty of this. We say we "don't have time," yet we manage to fit in 45 minutes of Facebook and Instagram scrolling, or three episodes on Netflix. I realized I wasn't making time for yoga in the way I made time for other priorities. No matter how busy my morning is, I will find a way to get my cup of coffee! The first week into my challenge, I found myself on the couch after dinner jumping up, "I didn't do my yoga!"
Without recognizing it as a priority, I was quick to brush it off as something I didn't have time for. There was no class offered at a convenient time, or I couldn't fit in a solid half-hour on my own, or I wasn't wearing "yoga clothes." However, when I stopped letting myself off the hook, I found there was time, I just wasn't looking for it.
I found when I let go of the regimented idea of what yoga "should" be—taught by a professional, an hourlong class, done to relaxing music—and let it be whatever form it needed to take to fit into my day, it wasn't nearly as daunting.
There's no one way to do anything. Letting go of your ideal version of your goal actions in favor of what you can actually do that day, is the key to building lifelong habits. As Harry Truman said, "Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time."
3. Embracing where you are is key.
I used to hate pigeon pose. My shin was nowhere near close to parallel like the other women in class, and I was so focused on forcing my hips down to the mat that my breaths were short and I was beyond relieved when it was over.
Then an instructor casually said, "Your leg will go here, and if your hips don't open that way, it'll be closer to your glute." That seemingly obvious concept served as my "aha" moment. Some poses simply aren't in my personal range of motion, so instead of forcing it and getting frustrated, I settled into a position that was good for me and let gravity do the work as opposed to tensing and pushing.
Isn't this true for everything in life? Looking at what you don't have and can't do never serves us. Yet, when you embrace where you are at that moment, you open yourself up to possibilities you overlooked and can enjoy the journey. Pigeon pose is now a regular part of my practice and something I even look forward to.
I don't do yoga every day anymore, and that wasn't my intention. However, I am practicing at least three to four days every week. I am consistent. I look forward to my Monday night class and have built up enough knowledge to easily do 30 minutes on my own throughout the week, each time looking forward to trying whatever challenging pose I'm currently into.
When you're working to build a habit, you're going to have slip-ups. Instead of wasting energy on what "should" be, focus on what is and what you can do in that moment to grow closer to your ideal self. You may just find you're closer than you think.