I’ve seen this time and again in my practice, as well as myself.
Folks are doing great, steady state cooking with gas. Then after a few months, something is off. They’ve gained major weight, or their blood pressure has gone up 30 points, or they’ve suddenly become pre-diabetic.
Getting back on track can be surprisingly hard. For some, the weight gain, BP bump, or sugar/cholesterol rise becomes the new “normal.”
Our bodies change, and what used to fix problems doesn’t work anymore. The days of dropping 5 pounds by skipping fries for a week are a distant college memory.
But sometimes, we know exactly what we need to do
Sometimes, our bodies are working just fine, thanks.
Sometimes, it’s not our physiology that’s changed, it’s our habits. The car is slowing down, not because there’s something wrong with the engine, but because we’ve backed off the gas.
We’ve gained weight because for several weeks, we stress ate more comfort food and substituted cable TV for regular exercise.
Our blood pressure has gone up because we gained weight, stopped doing long duration cardio, and started arguing with newscasters on our widescreen TVs.
Our blood sugar and cholesterol have risen because, well, we ate more processed sweets and grain-based carbs, stopped exercising while juggling multiple stressors, and…you get the idea.
Going sideways can be a mystery, but sometimes, not so much.
Is that really how I got here?
I remember an excerpt from a book on ice climbing.
When you start to slide off an ice face, the most important thing is to jam your axe as HARD AND FAST into the ice as possible, to immediately arrest your slide. More critical than perfect technique is getting that axe head deep into the ice before you pick up speed. Because once you pick up enough speed, not even perfect technique is going to save you.
Snowballing momentum can be a b$tch.
You start here, with seemingly inconsequential changes — it’s just half a cookie, right? — but as they accumulate, you end up over there, airborne off the edge of the glacier, 2 pant sizes bigger and numerous lab values higher.
Can you stop your slide? You bet. If you’re paying attention, you can stomp your proverbial foot before you pick up any more momentum. Hack that axe into the ice!
What if you’re mid-slide?
Snowballing momentum can be your friend. You can work the process in reverse for your benefit, and start your own avalanche.
Remember: if you did it once before, your success is 100% guaranteed, you’ve already done it. And if you haven’t yet “done it,” you can start just like the restarters do.
1. Start with a small, desirable thing. Sort of the anti-cookie: something easy to do, that with momentum will become something positive. And to get a multiplying benefit, a thing that really inspires you.
Would getting physical again make you feel part of the buff n’ tough club that you’ve always admired? Begin with 10 minutes walking on the treadmill, or stationary biking at low intensity, or moving through a handful of stretches or yoga poses.
Would dialing-in your nutrition make you feel like Rocky Balboa at the top of the stairs? Make 5 ziplock bags full of salads for one solid meal a day, or a pill organizer with a week’s worth of probiotics, omega-3s, and immunosupporting minerals.
Would meditating make you feel like a Jedi? Do 5 or 10 cycles of breath counting, or 4-5-7 breathing, or 5 minutes of mantra repeating (a set of nonsense syllables, or something profound like “The Sandman is a phenomenal Netflix series”).
2. Pick a starter version of something that would secretly impress the hell out of future you. Make sure it’s a starter version: easy to do at your current stage. If 10 minutes is too long, make it 5. If a full meal prep is too much, prep a salad, healthy smoothie, or a bag of nuts.
The idea is to start small and easy, just like it was easy to start snacking or lounging in front of the TV. Because small and easy makes it easy to do repeatedly.
3. Then, repeat the easy-peasy thing daily. The more lemon squeezy, the more you can do it one or even more times each day.
10 minutes of walking may not seem like much, if you’ve got pounds and points to shed. But neither did a few handfuls of potato chips, a bowl of ice cream, or an extra scoop of white rice, and look where those got you. With time and repetition, more of the same becomes easier to accumulate.
4. At some point, it suddenly feels like time to get a little fancy.
10 minutes become 15. Walking becomes walking plus some strength work. Intermittent fasting becomes intermittent fasting plus a heap of vegetables daily. Bedtime breath work becomes breath work plus deeper restorative sleep.
At the beginning, it helps to stay focused on the daily repetition of your little thing. But keep an ear out for that little whisper that says, Good to go, that next step looks kinda fun, how about some more?
Add a little snow to your snowball. Keep it rolling.
Where you start is not where you end up. But to get there, you have to build momentum, and for that, you need to start small and repeat.