Chapter 29: Progress gradually, change normal

When I first started trying to eat healthier, about nine years ago, I hated the taste of kale. I read that kale was very healthy, so I excitedly went to the grocery store and bought some, fantasizing about how this vegetable was going to change my body into a health machine.

Then I put some in a salad, and made a face. It was bitter! It was way stronger -tasting than the lettuce I was used to, so I didn’t like it. And I didn’t go back to kale for several months, the memory of my first kale experience leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

A funny thing happened, though … I gave kale another chance, and just added a little to the stir-fry dish I was making. It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t too bad. A little at a time, I kept adding kale to various dishes, and I gradually came to think of it as normal, even tasting good. Now it’s one of my favorite vegetables, and I eat it almost every day.

How does this change in my taste buds happen? Some new changes are so drastic that they create a shock in our brains, but smaller changes are more palatable. And eventually, over time, our minds adjust so that this new change becomes not different, but normal.

This happened to me so many times I lost count: I learned to like quinoa, brown rice, tofu, soymilk, tempeh, and so many vegetables. I learned to enjoy running, meditation, decluttering. All by making a small change, and then adjusting to it, then making another small change and adjusting to that, and so on.

This is the process of gradual change, and it’s powerful. Our minds reject large changes when we try to undergo them, and yet we often take on big changes with enthusiasm only to fail after a few days or a week. Our minds are OK with small changes, and soon those changes become the new normal.

Think of it like this: if you plunge into really cold water, you’ll be shocked, and you’ll hate it. But if you go into water that’s only a little colder than room temperature, it won’t seem too bad. After awhile, it’ll feel pretty normal. Then if the water’s temperature drops a little more, it won’t seem too bad, and soon that will become normal. You adjust.

When it comes to changing your life, don’t plunge into the freezing water. You’ll soon get out of the water and be afraid of going in again.

Instead, take a dip in slightly cool water. Make a very small change. Adapt to that, then make another. Gradually, through a series of small changes, you’ll see amazing progress.

When I started running, I couldn’t run for 10 minutes, so I ran for five. Then that became easy and I ran for seven. Through gradual improvement, I eventually ran a 5K race, then a half marathon, then several marathons. Last year, I ran a 50-mile ultramarathon. To me, that was amazing, but I would have failed miserably if I’d tried to do that from the beginning. I’d come a long way, through gradual progression.

Mission: Take another small step

If you’ve been doing your habit for a few weeks, you’ll be pretty used to it by now. See if you can make a small increase in how long you do the habit today. Nothing too much, just a barely noticeable increase. Let yourself adjust to that for a week, then increase a small bit again. Gradually adapt and create a new normal, then gradually add a little more.

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