"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
It's an old, old proverb, and unfortunately, it's true. We can't wish our way to thinness, fitness, or a clutter-free home. We can't simply push a button and get a world that provides a decent life for all without fossil fuel consumption or plastic waste. We can't just buy a cure for all diseases or display a bumper sticker that will end all discrimination.
Change is never so easy. It takes time. Motivation. Determination. And hundreds, if not thousands, of small actions, repeated over and over.
I've been working on a counted cross-stitch Christmas stocking for my younger grandson. When my children were very little, I made such stockings for each of them. My daughter Elizabeth was happy to have me unpick the stitches of part of her name and change it to Elliot for my older grandson, so he's been using her vintage stocking (with my initials and the year – 1990 – stitched on the toe). But my son Arthur wants to keep his stocking (created in 1993), so I decided to stitch a new one for Elliot's little brother Damien. I found a pattern and bought the materials, but the design is very intricate, and so far I've put in about 90 hours on the project.
One stitch at a time, stitch after stitch after stitch.
This is my 200th blog post. I've also written and published six books since I started blogging. I can't count how many hours I've spent thinking, planning, researching, writing, rewriting, proofreading, formatting, and more in order to accomplish this.
Idea by idea, word by word, essay by essay.
I've had less success at losing weight. I have many pounds to lose, 30 of which I've lost and regained several times. So I know HOW to lose weight. What I haven't succeeded at is the maintenance required to keep it off. So food and exercise choices have to be made, not once or twice or even 50 or 100 times, but over and over forever.
Maybe you've wanted to declutter, and you've cleaned out a drawer or a closet or a room or more. You've removed bags of stuff from your home. You know HOW to declutter, but maintaining that decluttered state is what gives you problems. You keep buying more clothes or more housewares or more stuff for your collections, and the clutter creeps in once again. Decluttering is an event, but minimalist is a lifestyle you must choose every day.
One of the ways that advertisers keep us buying is by creating the feeling that we could be the people we want to be if only we had a new exercise bike, a sporty car, more stylish clothing, a remodeled home, or an exotic vacation.
How many purchases have we made to fulfill a wish of being different?
- Cookbooks and diet plans we bought to help us lose weight
- Gym memberships and fitness apps we bought to help us get in shape
- Cosmetics we bought to make us look more desirable or more successful
- Home entertainment systems we bought to create more family togetherness
- All those eco-friendly products we bought to save the planet
I'm not saying these things are bad. Some of them could be valuable tools, but only if we actually put them to use.
Change only happens when we figure out the motivations and habits that got us where we are, and create new beliefs and practices that will get us where we want to be. We can't change by wishing for it, and we can't buy change in any store.
The good news is that we can make changes if we choose. I don't need special diet food or a stack of cookbooks to get thinner – I know that eating more fruits and vegetables while cutting out desserts and processed foods will result in weight loss. I don't need more tools. I have the ability within myself to make a change.
There are a million excuses for avoiding change, because change is hard work. Change is all of those stitches and all of those words. Change is me saying no to all of those snacks, and you removing all of those excess items without bringing new clutter in.
Change requires us to leave our comfort zone, and even to risk failure. It's easier to make excuses: "I don't have time to write every day." "Most of my family is obese. It's in my genes." "I'm just a clutterbug." "I can never remember to bring my reusable bags/straw/water bottle."
But if we never try, we've already failed.
Start by establishing a small action to complete every day – something that, over the course of a few weeks, has the potential to become a strong habit.
- Make oatmeal with fruit your regular breakfast and a big green salad or some vegetable soup your go-to lunch.
- Jog in place or do some stretches at the top of every hour.
- Read a book for 20 minutes.
- Declutter for 5 minutes.
- Stop buying bottled water and soda.
- Refuse to bring your phone to the dinner table.
- Pleasantly greet that problematic colleague every morning.
- Spend 10 minutes quietly outside.
- Create one clutter-free area such as a counter or tabletop. Keep it that way.
- Bring your own reusable beverage cup, straw, utensils, to-go food containers, cloth napkins (keep them all together in a reusable tote).
- Set a bedtime that allows you to get 7 to 9 hours sleep every night.
You may think that such a small action won't make much difference. But if you keep taking those tiny steps, you will move closer to your goal. Like thousands of stitches, they add up to something substantial.
"Action is the foundational key to all success."
Photo by K. Trefzger