Ringing the Changes

“Change one thing at a time.”

This is an eternal verity with my current health care provider. I trust her because a) she listens, and b) she has been through some health care ordeals herself–like losing 100 pounds and keeping it off, for starts. So when I rolled through her door a few years ago, singing the battle cry of the older woman–“I am tired of being tired (and fat)!”–her preferred approach was frustrating.

I wanted to throw everything at the problem at once–supplements, lifestyle changes, meditation, acupuncture, bring it all (except for a gym membership, giving up all chocolate, or going to pep rallies, and I’m skeptical of a lot of meds). I had just quit the lawyer job, and I was ready to Get Better.

Except that a blitz rarely leads to sustained change, which is why the “rehab racket” does such disgustingly reliable repeat business. In conflict resolution classes, we’re told to “make haste slowly.” Focus long and hard on developing an inclusive, respectful process for neutrally defining the issue. Go to great lengths in the information-gathering phase to uncover every relevant fact bearing on the situation. Take a good, long while to consider potential solutions, and only when all that hard, tedious, collaborative work is done do you turn your focus to choosing a solution.

The pay-off to the tortoise approach is that problems a) tend to stay solved, and b) can be the basis for strengthening relationships, so that even bigger problems can be solved. Mediation has a good reputation in domestic law arenas not because the agreements devised are brilliant and innovative (some of them may be), but because they are arrived at collaboratively, in a respectful, inclusive process, that allows the participants time to ponder, fact-find, and re-adjust their thinking.

If we have a meaningful hand in how a problem is solved, the solution is more likely to work. The “change one thing” approach to improving health (or environment, finances, job stress…) puts the choice of where to start in my hands. That means I have to think about the whole situation: What changes are possible? Which one am I most likely to stick with? What shift am I most interested in bringing about? How long do I run the experiment before deciding whether it’s a success or a failure?

“Change one thing at a time,” works for the deep-seated part of me that loves being the boss of me. To tackle anxiety, I started with, “Social media only between the hours of 2 pm and 9 pm.” That helped. To address post-menopausal muscle loss, I put a set of hand weights beside the microwave. That helped. To push back against poor sleep, I set the alarm at 7 am five days a week. That helped.To start on the whole death-cleaning thing, I hired the junk haulers to empty out the summer kitchen. That helped.

Change one thing at a time isn’t a good fit for every situation or person, but I’m finding value in it… though it took me a while.

Have you tackled any micro-changes lately? Has a blitz stood you in good stead? Just how do you move the needle closer to where you want it to be? To three commenters, I’ll send ARCs of Miss Desirable, who has gone off to the final proofreader!

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31 comments on “Ringing the Changes

  1. One of my sons has migraine related headaches. It doesn’t help that he also has autism and is non-verbal. Which means when he’s got a migraine he SCREAMS his lungs out or lashes out or flaps his hands or slef-harms–a whole huge array of awful behavior reactions. It doesn’t matter how we discovered that migraines were causing those behaviors but his treatment is relevant here.

    Most of his migraines are food triggered and it’s been since he’s been on an anti- migraine diet that his behavior have changed–and his life–for the better. Anyway, when he was put on the diet, it was very, very, VERY strict to begin with. And after, so his diet could expand, items were added back only one at a time and we had to note his behavior for several days after. Then we waited for at least a month before adding another food. Our instructions were very clear–only one item at a time could be added. We had some success with foods he loved but several had to be taken out. The whole experience taught me that slowly but surely is the way to go and one change at a time can make a HUGE difference! 🙂

    Hope your Easter is lovely, Grace!

  2. I have not been consistent, but I read in an AARP article (based on a book the name of which escapes me… it isn’t in my house to look at and remind me), that women should eat 25g of protein in the morning to not lose muscle mass. The weight gain at around 50 isn’t because the metabolism decreases, but that the thing that kick starts it needs more protein. Muscle mass eats more energy and so is important to keep. Going from not eating at all to eating 25g of protein has been hard, but, when I do remember to eat, I do well.
    So, as I slowly take on 25g of protein in the morning, I will look forward to losing some weight!!
    I have also been doing a little “death cleaning”! I can’t believe how many books I have! =:o lol This is also a little bit at a time project. Now as I find books tucked in corners that I’ve forgotten about, I can pull it out and put it in a box with its friends! ;p

    • I thought I was doing well because I made an effort to get enough protein (a protein shake a day), but one day thought about iron, since I don’t eat a lot of iron rich foods. It turns out that I already had a box of shredded wheat that supplies 90% of the recommended amount of iron.

  3. When I moved to my current home six years ago I thought it would be my last home.I planned to stay and live out my remaining years here.It was perfect for me.Living by the sea,lovely walks near transport links and in the village various independent shops and cafes/pubs.Also a good community library.But change came and upset my ideal life plan.The block where I live (28 flats)have a agent to look after the maintenance and budgets had disclosed a serious lack of money to repair our building due to money being paid out on poor decisions going back twelve years.We have and will have to pay out four times as much for the next three years.My family want me to move now and put my flat on the market.Staying here has meant my savings have been stretched but want more time to think about it.The legal side is still going on and the building work being done and something inside of me tells me everything will turn out fine.The thought of moving again and all it involves does not fill me with joy.Let’s wait and see,perhaps give myself a timetable and then act.Maybe I will maybe I won’t but I will not be rushed so until then I’ll just enjoy my beautiful surrounds and read Sirens retreat books.

  4. I am introverted and a bit shy, even when it comes to interacting with others online. Isolation because of the pandemic has not helped in this regard. Pushing myself to interact in small ways (by doing things like leaving a comment on a blog) is helping me connect with others in a positive way :).

  5. Yep, I am also one who wants to jump in with both feet to make instant changes, even knowing that slow and steady has a better chance of ticking. Isn’t that annoying of our brains?! Slow and steady eating changes are difficult to start and difficult to keep up for me, unfortunately. But I keep plugging away!

  6. One at a time is my only way of navigating through the issues in my life. I call it the Power of One. What One thing can I do today and finish? What one change can I make that will help me the most long term? One is a powerful number and I live by it. I don’t worry about Two. Two will happen once One is consistent.

    • And when that one thing isn’t done, or worse twists into unmitigated disaster, to forgive yourself (and anybody else involved) and try again? I went to WalMart the day before Easter.

  7. My weight has been my biggest nemesis for most of my life. When I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college and in my first job, I was surrounded by a number of young women who always compared notes about how little they ate, fostering a competition as to who was depriving themselves the most. (Strangely, none of these women ever seemed to lose weight, so they talked more than they acted.) Being me, a low self esteem daughter of an alcoholic and a strict disciplinarian, I was determined to diet better than everyone around me and became anorexic, counting the calories I consumed every day and keeping to ridiculously low numbers. Fortunately I left that job and that unhealthy environment before I did serious damage to my health. Many years later Covid isolation encouraged my love of cooking and the pandemic pounds followed. Older and wiser, I approached dieting in a much healthier fashion. I still count calories, but I make sure that everything I eat is healthy and nutritious so that the calories contribute to my overall health rather than detract from it. I also allow myself a “free” day once a week, when, while I don’t eat everything in sight, I do allow myself a couple of pieces of chocolate in the evening, or a dinner out where I make careful, but still delicious, choices and bring at least half of every course home. After 15 months of reasonable food choices, I have reached my goal weight (a mere three pounds over what I weighed 44 years ago when I married). Having made these subtle changes, I feel I will be able to sustain this lifestyle for the rest of my life. Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  8. My current micro habit is putting in a garden. I get between 1&3 plants at the grocery store produce section depending on what’s available. Then I come home & get them in the ground with a couple cups of potting soil to give them a start in the nasty fill dirt my house sits on.

    They’re growing at different rates, but that’s a subtle fix for my perfectionism that used to have me killing myself with massive binge projects.

  9. I finally got a smart phone after avoiding one for a decade. I use for necessary things, but haven’t graduated to keeping it on all the time. Baby steps

  10. My youngest was recently diagnosed with autism and there are many specialists I am working with but even more I’m supposed to be. But this kiddo shouldn’t have to do everything at once (any more than I should have to coordinate everything all at once) so I am introducing one new thing a month at most (some things are just an appointment or two, some things will become ongoing) and I am getting a lot of side eye as well as more explicit criticism for it. But how do you diagnose a kid with autism then say change all these things, add some, subtract some, have all these new people, upset your routine and school day and expect it to go well? All while coming out of a suicidal depression? Slow is fine, we will eventually get there and hopefully in the process have a new routine and trusted providers done at a non-traumatizing pace.

    For myself, feeling overwhelmed, on a whim I tried a breathing app. It prompts an appropriate breathing exercise at different times of day and it has been great. I don’t have to gain and use the knowledge of what breathing does what, I don’t have to create a schedule or remember, it just walks me through a couple of minutes of breathing a few times a day and it has made a huge difference. If only the rest of the changes I would like to make were that easy.

    • Your instincts are spot on, don’t let anyone, including the *experts* tell you differently. Kids with autism don’t do well with change–and I speak as the Mom of a 42 year old person with autism–and sometimes you just have to do what you have to do!

      Happy Autism Acceptance (Awareness) Month and do what makes sense for you kid and your family!

      • Thank you for the encouragement! There is a steep learning curve I am trying to scale right now and sometimes it is hard to step back and just look at my kid and ask what is the top one thing to do right now that will be the most helpful. With waitlists everywhere, I suppose adding everything at once is not even an option, but there is definitely the judgment by the specialists that on hard days can really feel tough to take.

      • BI send you love and gratitude for prioritizing your child’s humanity. I worked with autistic children most of my pro!fessional life (retired OT). I loved them for their unfiltered responses and their quirky world view.

        The universal truth in my opinion is “the best way to take good care of a child is to take good care of their mom.”

      • Sarah, you are such an intelligent, caring woman to put your baby’s needs first and not just do what the ‘experts’ recommend – and for taking care of yourself too. It sounds like you are on the right path.

  11. Very timely question! I have been focusing on the eating and moving more thing but avoiding the “death cleanup” like the plague. Last week I wound up in the hospital with a Covid related pneumothorax (avoid this experience if possible) that could have turned out deadly. There was my wake-up call! So now with my daughter here to look after me & help I am tackling the clean-up thing. Lots of intense anxiety but I feel strongly that I need darling daughter’s support, so I intended to plow forward while she is here. I hope to get far enough to be able to keep the momentum after she leaves & until completion. I fantasize that looking around and having all that stuff gone will be a taste of Nirvana.

  12. “Change one thing at a time” was the best way when I was doing programming since I learned the hard way that if you change 20 things and then something goes wrong (as it inevitably does), it’s really difficult to determine which thing(s) caused the problem. I do it in life also, but I’ve always thought that was mostly because I don’t like most change if I’m currently comfortable so changing one little thing is easier to deal with. For instance, I really hate to exercise but I know I need to (to help keep some muscle mass as I age at least) so I started just doing one. Then when I felt like it, I added another one. I’m up to half a dozen per session and considering adding another one to my routine. I’m still not fond of doing it but I get it done and that’s what counts! I always hated the thought of facing 30 minutes of exercise, but I started with 5 minutes and “snuck” the extra time in slowly and it works for me (I still pretend to myself that it’s only a few minutes and I can do that much). I’m also starting to get rid of stuff slowly since I’m in the age range for death-cleaning, too.

  13. One small change in routine, hopefully tied in time to something you already do, is also a helpful concept. Making sure your kitchen counter is clear while brewing your morning coffee is a good example of a small new, easily done routine which has benefits throughout the day

    Nice musings! I’ve also hired an organizer and suggest, if you go that route, start on a small project to make sure you like working with the person and that their revisions suit your way of doing things.

  14. I’m *considering* micro-changes, which is at least something. I’m having some repairs made to the house. Getting rid of some clutter.

    Not so micro, is that I have finally made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor to see what is going on with some important joints, and see what my options are. I’ve been putting that off for years. I had one shot in my knee and that was enough for me.

  15. I have a pinched nerve in my neck that causes chronic pain – even with multiple medications. Once of the ways to tap down the pain is periodic steroid injections into the offending area. The shots are not enjoyable, but the lowering of pain is ultimately worth it. The pain got more bearable after I quit my job a couple years ago – micro step. A few month ago I started taking pilates classes twice a week one on one with a teacher who has extensive experience working with people with a variety of chronic pain and injuries.

    The classes have helped. I’m still in pain, however I am already able to go longer between the injections than before. I should have been in a month ago and am still able to wait a while longer. I am hopeful this isn’t an unusual situation and I can wait longer.

    • I don’t know if this is of interest to you, but I am reading The Way Out by Alan Gordon after learning some of the techniques he uses to reframe and reduce chronic pain. It is helping me so I thought I’d recommend it. It sounds like you are making progress! I haven’t made it to pilates yet but it has been recommended, maybe you will inspire me!

  16. “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:… ‭Isaiah‬ ‭28:10‬ ‭KJV‬‬

    Problem is, I don’t currently know which way I’m moving.

  17. I am trying to eat more veggies, drink water and exercise. Sounds easy? Sometimes I can follow the eating plan successfully for weeks at a time- and sometimes that cookie looks too good to resist!
    I need to walk at least 4 times a week- the weather is helping me with that goal the past few weeks.
    I have to prep my meals & give myself permission to leave my desk to get out & walk.

    I have learned to be happy with small changes- I feel better too.

    • When I want a cookie, I eat a sandwich with extra protein (cheese, meat, peanut butter). And sometimes I just eat the cookie and be done with it (teehee). Diabetic for 45 years.

  18. Dear Grace,
    This is a real problem, trying to make changes. Last year with the pandemic, I lost 50 pounds. It turns out 75 year old ladies need very little to eat. I’ve gained back half of it returning to my regular life. Each year it seems like I loose energy and cannot do as much. This Easter break, I have my son visiting and my daughter ‘s two girls who are seven and twelve. Cleaning and decorating the house for company, cooking all thee food and keeping the granddaughters entertained and fed is almost beyond me right now. Thanks to my son stepping in and doing a lot to entertain them we are managing. I’m having to accept that each year I get older, I have less energy.

  19. I am doing Noom and it has helped my with a lot of those slow changes. Covid lockdown forced me to reorganize everything including my exercise habits. But I also found a new hobby, quilting, so I am forced to temper my reading addiction with something else!