Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the best of servants

“A habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” — Nathaniel Emmons

Thanks to simple mom (over at simplemom.net), I've been thinking about my habits. Can we ever put the notion of a habit to good use? You know, the act of doing something so mindlessly that we don't even realize we are doing it. Can we really learn new habits? Simple Mom posed this same sort of question on her blog post. She writes:

"Kaizen is a Japanese word that basically means continuous but very small change. This idea can really increase the momentum needed for habit change, because it works up to change gradually - kinda like baby steps.

I’m not into zen at all, but I don’t think this is necessarily a spiritual concept. The truth found in the Bible - “you reap what you sow” - can actually be applied here as well. If you choose to continually cultivate soil and plant good seeds, your reward is a good crop.

And how this Japanese word applies to the analogy is this - a farmer doesn’t fertilize the soil, prepare the land for planting, plant the seeds, water the soil, and continue nursing his crop until it’s ready for harvest all in one day. He does these things a bit at a time, and after patience, work, and forbearance, he is rewarded with a bountiful crop."

I've been mulling over this little thing called kaizen because I have been thinking about making some changes in my eating habits. A few years ago I stopped eating sugar and using kaizen is how I did it. I didn't give everything up overnight but little by little I made changes...changes that lead to a 25 lb. weight loss over several weeks. I have always battled with my weight (really, always, since my earliest memory) and I cannot be sure how many times I have lost 25, 40 or even more lbs. only to gain it back again.

In addition to eliminating sugar, I also began to plan my food everyday. It is a simple concept but one that never occurred to me before I started doing it. I have kept food journals several times in my life and they always felt like a burden…a big ball and chain to carry around. It was like someone was lurking over my shoulder watching every bite because I knew if I ate it I had to write it down. I would even resort to lying and cheating on my own journal! I always felt so guilty when I ate something I shouldn't have. This dysfunctional relationship never lasted long and sooner rather than later, I would give up the journal and the diet.

When I was writing a food plan everyday, I always wrote the plan BEFORE I ever ate a single thing. Usually I wrote the plan before I went to bed so I was ready for the next day. I tried to choose things that I knew I had on hand. Finally there was no more guilt for eating things I shouldn't and after doing it for 6 months, writing my daily food plan became a habit. Or so I thought.

Somehow, some way I fell off the perverbial wagon. And it happened in the same way it started...little by little. I let in a little sugar here and a little sugar there. I got too busy and didn't write my food plan for a day or two and then it was over. My success was replaced by that slow moving tortoise called failure. It didn't happen overnight but at some point it was obvious...it wasn't a habit anymore and the old behaviors were back in my life.

I'm not sure why I have had this same pattern of failure in all periods of my life but I sure would like to break the cycle. To find freedom in doing something that works and then making it a habit. A habit that sticks around longer than six months and proves to be the best of servants rather than the worst of masters.

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