I am fascinated by transformation, and how it happens.
One of my most-loved loved ones has made a transformation. She has been sober for over 20 years. In the years before her sobriety, she was radically different in a number of ways – in appearance, in behavior, and in spirit. She tells me often that I would not have recognized her then, nor would I have liked her very much. She tells me often because I am constantly asking her questions to dig into the story of who she was back then, and how and why she changed … I told you, I’m enthralled.
It’s amazing to me how many different stories we can write with the one lifetime we are given.
The people I try to help with my work are also working on their own transformations in one way or another, but it typically starts with the desire for a physical transformation. People want to lose weight (sometimes a lot of weight) or build muscle or to alter their physical state in some other way (and – surprise – you can’t really make any lasting physical transformations without also transforming your insides, too). I get that. I’ve done that. So, I like to think that I’m in a pretty good position to help other people do it, too. As one of my favorites says, someone can tell you how to walk from New York to Los Angeles just by looking at a map, even if they’ve never done it … but you’d much rather get the story from someone who’s actually made the journey.
And the question I hear the most often is this, or some version of it: But how did you even begin? What was it that finally motivated you to make the change once and for all?
If I had the answer for that, well … I don’t have the answer for that. But I can absolutely promise you that it wasn’t a “once-and-for-all” type of deal. It wasn’t once – it was thousands and thousands of times. It wasn’t for all – it was for a day or an hour or a minute.
Some people who are trying to quit alcohol join the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which one of the ubiquitous mottos is “One Day at a Time,” meaning that members don’t need to worry about how the hell they’re ever going to give up alcohol for the rest of their lives – they simply decide not to drink for that one day. Looking back, this is the approach I used to transform without being consciously aware of it, and it’s the approach I still use today … not only for health and fitness, but for pretty much ANYTHING in my life I’m deliberately trying to transform. (These days, it’s typically my mindset.)
In “A Course in Miracles,” a miracle is defined as simply a shift in perception. When I was first trying to lose weight, I went in with the mindset that it would have to take a fucking miracle in order to me to somehow lose 200 pounds and change my entire life – I mean an Earth-shaking, God-riding-down-from-the-heavens-on-a-unicorn-with-a-lightening-bolt-magic-wand type of miracle. Especially since I had failed so many times before. Especially since I had no idea what I was doing, and was at the lowest and most depressed point in my life, with virtually no tools to cope and no support system. Especially since – if I’m being honest with myself – I didn’t actually believe that I was capable of creating or even deserved a better life than the one I was living.
That was the first transformation I needed to make, and I can’t define exactly how it happened except to say that it happened in a series of small, quiet moments after I started to take action. It was looking in the mirror after my first day of exercise – exactly 10 minutes on the treadmill – and, for the first time in my life, feeling proud of the sweaty, red-faced girl reflected back at me. It was the ability to accept a compliment without refuting it. It was the odd sense of confidence that helped me leave a relationship and a home that was no longer serving me, because I felt as though I actually deserved more than that, and better than that. It was the growing belief that – even if I found myself struggling or slipping up (which I did, often) – that I was worth fighting for, no matter what.
So every day was a recommitment to the fight – to taking care of my body and to moving it and to feeding it well and essentially acting as though I was a valuable being worthy of the very highest amounts of love and care. (Spoiler: I am. You are. We are.) And yeah, it was pretty basic stuff at first, a day at a time: I’m going to go to the gym today. I’m not going to go to McDonald’s today. I’m not going to skip my class and stay home and sleep late and watch bad TV in my pajamas all day. I didn’t have to worry about what happened beyond that, so I didn’t feel terribly overwhelmed. And I stopped looking at the OMG-SO-HUGE number of pounds I wanted to lose and started to view it in smaller pieces. Ok, the next 20 pounds. 10 pounds. Five pounds. That’s it. A transformation in increments – one pound at a time.
Over time, parts of this get much easier. I promise. My most-loved loved one doesn’t need to consciously make the decision not to drink every day, simply because alcohol hasn’t been part of her life for so long that it wouldn’t even occur to her to drink. Similarly, I don’t have to deliberately commit to working out or to skipping the fast-food drive-thru every day because now my brain is wired to make better choices without much conscious effort on my part. But the “I’m valuable and worth fighting for” part? That transformation is still a-day-at-a-time process for me, and for her, and for so many of us who have spent time in the darkness, at or hovering just above rock-bottom, never actually believing we were capable of turning things around. Knowing we couldn’t.
The shift in perception is this: We were wrong.
Maybe that’s a God-riding-down-from-the-heavens-on-a-unicorn-with-a-lightening-bolt-magic-wand type of miracle after all.