I strained my right hamstring back in April playing squash. It wasn’t too bad at first, and I figured I’d be back to 100% in six to eight weeks’ time.
I spent the subsequent four months trying, unsuccessfully, to fix my hamstring myself.
My approach, as always, was to barrel straight at the problem: intense stretching or strengthening workouts focused directly on the area that hurt.
Four months later, in early August, I had to accept the obvious: my hamstring was no better; if anything, it hurt more.
Chastened, I resigned myself to stopping most of my regular activity and starting physical therapy.
Happily, two months later, I’m finally seeing good progress. And, as I watch how PT works, it’s easy to see how different its approach is than what I’d been doing.
Everything we do in PT feels more moderate and measured than what I would do. Very little strain, absolutely no pain.
But, miraculously, real gains over time thanks, no doubt, to the consistency of the effort. Week in, week out, whether convenient or not, I’ve been putting in the time, even in the absence of obvious improvement. I’m finally getting somewhere.
It’s easy to make the mistake I made with any new thing we’re trying to learn: we get inspired, decide to “go for it,” and put in a bunch of effort for a few weeks, expecting results. When we don’t see them, or when the novelty quickly wears off, we give up. As in:
- Vowing to get more organized, finding a new To Do list software, filling the list, and feeling super-accomplished in week 1…and then giving up when the list gets too full to manage
- Reading a great article about setting aside quiet time in our schedule, crushing it in the first week or two but then schedule a “really important” meeting during that time, and then another, and another…
- Going to a training about the value of professional feedback, studiously setting up three formal feedback sessions with peers per the facilitator’s instructions, and then snapping back to the old way of doing things
- Dreaming of becoming a better writer, writing for an hour a day for a week and then being so terrified of the blank page that we close Word, convinced that we tried and we failed.
The too-large dosage, the version of the story where we dive in with massive commitment and enthusiasm, can be part of the problem. This is because big, symbolic shifts start with fanfare but are often hard to sustain. Worse, when our “new thing” requires a lot of effort, we invariably look too soon for results and, when they don’t materialize, we take that to mean something about our ability to learn or do this new thing, and we desist.
The reality of most change is that it is much slower than we expect or hope it will be.
So, in planning to make change, we must ask not only “what is the new habit I would like to nurture” but also “what is the new practice I believe I can sustain, not for a week or two, but for a few months until it becomes ‘the way I do things?’”
Drip, drip, drip.
Changes that become part of who we are happen because we make them part of our lives over a long period of time.
Small, consistent doses make that kind of sustained change possible.