THE GRACE OF SLOW CHANGE
WORDS: LILY MYERS
IMAGE: KATE WEINER
I walk the same route to work each morning, trailing my boots over the grey sidewalk. I’ve seen this same patch of sidewalk go from sun-lit, to leaf-strewn, to snow-piled, all in the span of several months. Each day I feel pretty much the same as the day before, and yet below my feet the earth demonstrates its ongoing change. Slowly, one day to the next, everything shifts.
Change is on everyone’s mind this time of year. We’ve made resolutions, we’ve opened our fresh planners, we’ve created goals for 2017. That’s the fun part: counting down among fireworks and swearing we’ll be different this year. But now that we’re a few weeks into January, how do we actually enact that change?
Just like the earth does. Slowly.
It often feels like we’re stuck in these dreary winter months: the days of January and February are long, grey, nearly identical. But even when they feel endless, they do somehow end. Somehow we get to the sun-filled days of spring. And how does this happen? Oh-so-slowly, one day at a time.
We get frustrated with ourselves when it feels like we’re not changing fast enough. We haven’t mastered our resolutions. We’ve fallen back into old habits. But look back to two years ago; five years ago; ten. Weren’t you vastly different then? Haven’t you picked up new habits, new routines, new rhythms since then? Huge change did happen. It just happened so slowly that it was nearly imperceptible.In nature, growth is imperceptible.
Each morning you look no different than the morning before, yet somehow you’ve grown from an 8-pound newborn to a full-grown adult. Each day a tree looks no bigger than the day before, yet where did our gigantic oaks and towering cedars come from? Seeds. The tiniest beginnings.
That’s why my motto for 2017 is “direction, not perfection”. I’m not looking to enact all my changes at once. I didn’t begin all my new habits on January 1st. I’ve tried that in previous years, and it only leads to frustration and guilt, because we don’t work that way. We’re animals living on planet Earth, and we grow just like any other animal does. Yeah, you guessed it: slowly.
“Direction, not perfection” means it’s more important where I’m aiming than how fast I’m getting there. It doesn’t sound flashy or exciting, but actually, I take this as very good news. Unlike strict rules and timelines, it allows for spaciousness. It allows time, patience, room to really develop into our new selves. It allows time for strong foundations to be built, time for us to really understand why we’re making this change. And it also allows room for setbacks and mistakes. If we know we’re heading in the right direction, than a hiccup or a tumble doesn’t matter. We still know where we’re going.
Ironically, the resistance to slow change often stops us from moving at all. Often, I’ll put off beginning a project or task because I know it’s going to take soooo long. So I don’t start it at all, and then it ends up taking even longer. But if I take just one step forward in the process, just one tiny micromovement, the process begins to look easier. One micromovement leads to another, and to another, and before you know it you’re six feet tall. Your sapling has grown. We’ve made it to spring.
I employ this micromovement trick with anything I’m resisting. If I don’t want to clean the sinkful of dishes, I’ll just clean the first one. If I don’t want to go on a run, I’ll just put on my running shoes. If I don’t want to start a writing piece, I’ll just open up a blank Word document. The first micromovement has been made; the journey has begun. From there, it becomes manageable to take just one more micromovement. Pick up one more dish. Step outside the front door. Type the first word.
Yeah, but doing it that way will take so long, the complainer in my head says. Yeah, I retort, just as it should. Just as everything here on earth grows. Out of a billion micromovements.
It’s cold here in the middle of January. But I know that each day as I walk the same city block, the air is getting infinitessimally warmer. The days are getting infinitessimally longer. I know that one day, I’ll look down and see cherry blossoms.