I like this time of year because life is hard – it’s rarely what we hope it will be – but at the beginning of a new year there is a stirring of hope that maybe if we just make some changes we can have the life we imagine.
I have a great imagination when it comes to this. When I feel inspired, I find I’m suddenly lifted out of the harshness of reality up to a dream where I am physically fit, my house is clean and organized, my relationships are deep and healthy, my kids are thriving, and my life is slow-paced and meaningful. That would be a great place to be, and it’s certainly a good thing to shoot for.
The hope this time of year brings makes me feel like if I just tried a little harder, my life would turn around quickly. Somehow my habits would instantly change, things would easily be more manageable, and I would be more content.
Those dreams come crashing down when I remember that life is hard, change is slow, and it’s almost impossible to get anything done with a baby and a toddler at home.
My house is a mess, I’m addicted to eating sweet things and watching TV, my life and schedule are directed by the (constant) needs of my children, and the chores that I find the time to do are ones that almost instantly get undone (dishes, laundry, picking up toys).
The life I dream of that is full of health, purpose, organization, connection and hope seems to be far out of reach.
How do I bridge that gap?
How do I set my sights high, but not be constantly disappointed?
What is realistic?
How do I change habits and make the changes stick?
Here’s my hypothesis: baby steps.
Maybe that seems overly simplistic, but it’s hard not to be discouraged when the change I want so desperately doesn’t come, or comes really slowly. I need to start with one decision at a time to get me closer to my goals.
This year, I sat down and wrote down the aspects of the life that I want to be true. Then I wrote down specific things that I can do to inch towards that ideal. I came up with a list of specific (and small) goals that I could realistically picture accomplishing in one week and wrote them down in my planner.
My plan is to attempt to do one of the things on this list at a time. Some will need to be scheduled in. Some will be things I can do if I find myself with a spare few minutes (or napping kids). A few of the tasks that made my list are things like: get some form of exercise, take some time to myself, meal plan, have a date night with my husband, read a book for fun, deep clean one room, etc.
To take these small steps I’m going to have to shift away from some of the habits I have made part of my rhythm. I’m going to have to choose to go to bed earlier, so that I can wake up earlier, even when I really want to stay up and watch TV and eat snacks.
The beauty of this plan is that I can find encouragement and hope whenever any ONE of these things gets accomplished. The goal is to get all of them done, but the expectation is that only some will get done. And each one being accomplished is a cause for celebration, each one is a baby step towards the life that I envision for myself and my family.
It’s going to be hard, but I need to be encouraged by the baby steps. They are so good and necessary. They require courage and effort to step out of the normal rhythm to make new habits. My hope is that these things will begin to become habits in my life and I will be able to include them more frequently (like, ideally I should be exercising more than once a week, but at this point I can’t expect that to happen!).
The reality is that even if all these things do become my new habits and my life becomes more characterized by balance and health and connection, life is still going to be challenging and unpredictable. I won’t reach my ideal. But if I did it would probably be boring, and lacking the richness that comes from overcoming struggle and being imperfect.
Perfection is not the goal, forward momentum is.
What are your ideas for realistic and sustainable change? How do you introduce new habits? What are some things you hope to slowly add in, and slowly phase out this year?
Lindsay Considine lives with her husband, two children, and dog in Milwaukee, WI. She spends her time caring for her toddler son and baby daughter. She is passionate about simplicity, minimalism, ethical and socially responsible consumerism, positive/unconditional parenting, holistic health and providing nourishing, traditional food for her family. A good portion of her mental capacity is taken up by trying to figure out how to fit these things into life with two young children (and she has a long way to go). When she has free time she enjoys going on outdoor adventures, experimenting with elaborate recipes, reading, gardening, and spending time with friends.