If you are anything like me, you likely resist the whole concept of taking turtle steps towards change. It should be faster, right? You should be doing more! If you take a tiny step, it will take FOREVER to change, and you need to change NOW! Sound familiar?
I hate turtle steps, and always have. I resist them consistently, even after spending one and a half years immersed in two different coaching philosophies that favor turtle steps as the backbone of change. Take, for example, my own first four day win from the last post – reducing smoking from once every one and a half hours to once every two. I hope that when you read that, you thought, “FOOL! That is NOT a turtle step!”, and if you did, I suggest you stop reading now. You already get this concept. For everyone who found that reasonable, or possibly even not that challenging, read on. If I can be converted, so can you.
Part of our required reading for Kaizen-Muse coach training was “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way” by Robert Maurer. I didn’t love the book, though I would definitely recommend it if you are someone who loves lots of background information and examples. What I did love was the explanation of why huge, pressured, all-or-nothing type change attempts usually fail: they trigger our brain’s fight or flight response. It seems a little radical to think that our own decision to change would trigger this (shouldn’t it be within our control? After all, it is our own decision!) – so let’s take some examples from my own life and from previous comments to see how this might be true.
Conscious 20-something Liz: “Yes! I am going to stop bingeing on jalapeño poppers and eat only fruits and vegetables while drastically increasing my daily exercise!”
Amygdala: “War-time conditions detected! Starvation imminent!!! THREAT! THREAT!”
Conscious 30-something Liz: “Smoking is shameful and deadly! I am going to quit NOW!”
Amygdala: “Drug that I’ve been conditioned to expect over the last nine months threatened. Danger imminent! THREAT! THREAT!”
Conscious Commenter: “I think I should drink more water! I will carry water with me at all times and drink it often!”
Amygdala: “Large influx of water detected. Body chemistry out of balance! THREAT! THREAT!”
This is where I can become a fan of turtle steps, knowing that by taking them, I’m actually performing a kind of stealth move on my own brain. That, to me, has an element of fun to it, and leads to all types of fun experiments. How small does this move need to be in order for it to pass under the radar? How can I use the ‘more evolved’ portion of my brain to trick the more reptilian part? Even better than being stealthy and fun, it feels kind. It is serving not only my higher self – who desperately wants to quit smoking – but also my instinctive self – who fears any kind of change, and just wants to feel safe. When I think about it that way, it’s a lot easier to choose to smoke one less puff per cigarette for four days, even though it feels like it’s too small to matter.
To give you some idea of how the small steps can add up through linked four day wins, consider this: when I began this, I was smoking 10-15 long cigarettes per day (100’s, to anyone who knows. If you’ve never smoked, just know there are a couple sizes). Now, four weeks later, I’m smoking 7-8 short cigarettes per day. It’s not perfection, but it is slow, gradual improvement. Most importantly, the process itself is kind.
I’m inviting you to pick a turtle step now – take something that feels doable, then cut it in half at least once. My real goal here would be to have you choose a step that seems laughably easy, where the thought of you not being able to achieve it is ludicrous. If you’re feeling willing, please share it here, and try it out for a four day win. I would love to hear how the tools are working for you.