I am in a period of transition, a big one. That means it gets messy and foggy at times. We often watch, read, hear about stories in a very linear way. Stories are often polished and it sounds like every little detail fit beautifully in a magnificent structure.
That’s not very life-like though. At least not what my life looks like, or the ones of anyone I know.
Life is all tangly and full of WTF moments. Of moments where we feel everything is terrible, only to realize, months later, that we were growing and experiencing some pain growths. Pain growths hurt, and often suck.
Naturally, we all resist change. Humans tend to have that weird love-hate relationship with change.
On one hand, change is the only constant of any life in the Universe. Nothing ever stays the same, and we crave change, most of us enjoy evolving, even the more stagnants or control freaks among us rarely aspire to a life where EVERYTHING stays the same all the time.
On the other hand, change goes against our primal need for homeostasis. This is a barbaric word used to describe the fact that our entire biology looks like for equilibrium, because equilibrium is easy to maintain, economic. If everything would be the same, our bodies and brains would have a much more predictable, therefore simpler job. So we have inner alarms to warn us when something goes out of equilibrium, to inform the brain.
Part of us actually thinks change is dangerous, that’s why any kind of change is stressful for our nervous system.
I love that shocking and sad study described in the very beginning of “Immunity to change”, a brilliant book from the Harvard labs, by Kegan and Lahey, about our innate resistance to change. Some scientists studied people going through life changes after a heart surgery. To those people the choice was made very clear : either you change your habits, or you die. One might safely assume that most people would rather live. And yet, only one in seven were actually able to make the changes. One in seven!
This is how “easy" it is to change for people. So let’s drop the myth that change is simple to implement, even when it feels urgent and important. I see it in my office every week. Some people are desperate to change, I offer them support, good tools, we talk very clearly about how it’s going to be difficult.
And yet, they keep coming back, disappointed in themselves for not being able to perfectly, smoothly and linearly make it happen. For some, it feels like having the same conversation over and over for years. Which usually isn’t accurate, but also very much part of the problem : if you believe or are very much afraid that you'll never change, it’s going to be very difficult.
Your brain keeps looking for clues that your beliefs are true, no matter how bad for us they are, it will, that’s part of its job. Frustratingly, our job is to keep experimenting what happens if we act as if those beliefs aren’t true, so basically in a counter-intuitive way. This is even more true in recovery of mental illnesses or after trauma (no matter which kind), because those involved a state of mental rigidity. Beliefs then feel like facts.
For me, a lot of those beliefs still very much ingrained are about physical activity.
Part of me thinks I’m not cut out for it. You know? It’s not my thing, I’m a book and idea person. We live in our head or snuggled up in a cosy bed, with a warm cup of tea and a cat curled up by our side.
Another part doesn’t even like very active people, the kind who runs around everywhere, always looking for a new challenge (aka a way to feel strong and in control), acting like everything can be resolved through physical activity, usually deeply disconnected from their feelings.
"Depressed? Just get our of bed, go for a run, you’ll feel better".
Or you’ll just feel sweaty, tired and still depressed.
I don’t want to be associated with those people, my body is not made to be bustled up like this, and my heart too squishy and full of feelings and my head too full of thoughts to be like this, AND MY BRAIN KNOWS THIS.
So, to not challenge too hard those beliefs (it doesn’t want change, remember?), my head keeps feeding me with very smart excuses not to exercise. Everything goes.
Begrudgingly, I then have to challenge those beliefs. Because well, I’d like to live in good conditions if possible : life is beautiful, but also painful and frustrating enough as it is, I don’t need to add unnecessary pain and suffering by having the body of a senior at 36. 4/100 will explain to you why I kind was obligated to start this.
Fortunately, because change is part of my job, it became a big part of my life too. So I went through tons of other challenges and change way less difficult than this one, to learn about how much I can change. I trained for change. Change is a skill, Love.
By now, I’m used to go against my own grain like this, it kind of became second nature. So I can recognise my own resistance. The sound and fakeness of my excuses, how convenient they are. I learnt to track myself on things hard to sustain like this. On paper, but also physically : I learnt to spot how my body feels when it’s lacking physical activity and feels rusty and sad (yes, our body “feels” too if you pay a lot of attention).
So a couple of weeks, when I started to avoid yoga, the only physical activity I sustain (I don’t even walk everyday, that’s how much I dislike exercise), I became suspicious and kept an eye on my daily life. Realized I haven’t gone outside as much. I became tired, which fed my suspicion : physical exercise is actually energizing us, what a tricky jerk, being so annoying to get more energy while making us all tired when we don’t…
I kept making excuses about not being able to go swimming because of my runny nose, and not being able to cycle because I was too tired, even if I wouldn’t go to bed until the wee hours, finding other excuses not to go to bed (my insomnia is a lying jerk too). More excuses about not being able to walk outside, even for just a few minutes, I knew something was up. I am resisting movement.
My whole life is moving, and the last resort of my brain to keep change from happening is to physically immobilise me.
This is not the first time, and I assume not the last : it’s such an easy one in my case. So this week, I took the matters into my hands. I started somewhere safe and joyful : I decided I would dance recklessly in my underwear once a day, no matter what. My Panties dancing parties playlist would decide which song so I can’t overthink it (I gave myself one veto to bribe my inner rebel into not complain too much). That feels too much like playing to sabotage myself too hard (doesn't mean my brain won't try though).
Today, on day 2, I already journaled about wanting to cycle, so I went to my partner and told him, not really convinced and not really wanting it, but knowing it would make myself accountable, that I wanted to cycle and asked if he’d like to run alongside me. He’s usually the first to go out and exercise, so of course he agreed.
And I must say : I hated a lot of it, the pain, the fatigue, the sweat. And yet, and boy does a part of me still hates to say this : as always, I was feeling slightly better about it. And my body much happier.
I "let" my inner Rebel sulk and gets her way on making us lose time and find excuses about other things for balance. There was much procrastination on social media today. And we painted for play too. But once again, I experimented against my belief exercise is not my cup of tea, and lost, again. Tentatively, I’m even going to admit I’m kind of glad I did, at least the parts that enjoy change and feeling good in our body do.
Is there anything like this in your life my dear hummingbird? Something worth dueling your old self about? What kind of certainty could you transform into a “What if I did it anyway?” kind of experiment, for your own good?