The Personalist Project

You won't find a bigger fan of baby steps than me. Want to lose 50 pounds? Start with two! Want to become a saint? Squelch that slightly snarky remark right now! Want to conquer chaos in general? Lay out tomorrow's clothes tonight! This is not lowering your standards; it's raising your chances of getting anywhere at all. It's more authentic evidence of high standards than endless failed attempts to go from zero to sixty.

On the other hand...

Sometimes what's needed is an overhaul. Sometimes you have to take a good, hard, ruthless look at the way you've been eating, or praying, or running your life and admit that you need a brand new beginning, not an adjustment.

For example, my daughter, who has type 1 diabetes, was having a growth spurt, and her glucose levels were out of control. All right, we told ourselves: stay calm; make an adjustment or two, add a half a unit of insulin here and there, and let's see how it goes. Then we went to the endocrinologist, and she advised increasing basal insulin, changing every single carb ratio, and lowering both the target and the constant by which we divide at every single dose. The result was a ton more insulin and a dramatic improvement in control. That was what the situation called for, it turned out. A revolution, not a tweak.

Or the other day I realized I was hardly ever getting around to any afternoon prayer. Should I pick a different time, I wondered? Or cut the length by five minutes for a while? Or set an alarm on my phone? Actually, my spiritual director suggested, why don't you try getting to it in the very early afternoon, smack in the middle of your regular schedule, at an inconvenient time, right after a constant and predictable part of your day? I kicked and screamed a little, but agreed to try it--and it worked.

Don't get me wrong: attempts at dramatic resolutions can lead to burnout and despair when they don't work. Even worse, they can feed pride and self-righteousness when they do. Besides, we're not very good judges of what we need to be working on right now. Sometimes we need to stop assuming we're the expert and ask somebody who is: the endo, the spiritual director, or the dietician, as the case may be.

Another game-changer is reminding yourself that it's OK to keep on reassessing whatever it is you're trying. This holds true whether the change is dramatic or miniscule. When I try tweaking my kids' homeschool routine, for example, I give it six weeks to see whether the tweak is working, and I plan to reassess it then. Inertia is a powerful force, and so is the sloth that keeps people from even establishing a new habit firmly enough to let inertia set in. 

So the moral of the story is--what, exactly? How about: Be realistic, but not "too" realistic. Human persons are just not amenable to a one-size-fits-all kind of self-realization, much as it would simplify life if we were. So Happy New Year, anybody who's still reading! I'm off to lose 50 pounds.

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Comments (2)

Jules van Schaijik

#1, Jan 3, 2017 7:00pm

Are you going to assess and let us know how much you've lost in 6 weeks?

Devra Torres

#2, Jan 5, 2017 1:13pm

Of course! Here's how it works: if I succeed. I'll let you know. If you don't hear anything about it, do not ask.

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