How to break through your own barriers:
Most bodies, especially when young, seem to maintain their core strength and agility, even if we don’t practice exercise daily. It’s just a given.
For me, this is different.
Six years ago, I survived a high-level spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed without sensation or motor function from the neck down. Luckily, the injury was not a complete sever of the cord. So when I was rushed through emergency surgery to have a discectomy and spinal fusion, my cord was able to slowly repair itself.
Within days my feet were moving. Within a week, I was practicing walking again with support. And within about a month, I had regained about 80 percent function of my hands. This all happened with extreme difficulty and effort. I would look at my fingers and my brain would be telling them to move, and they just simply wouldn’t. Not because the muscle was weak. Because the connection between the muscle and the nerve had been broken. I had to visualize it and imagine the possibility of moving. I had to try even though I didn’t see anything happening.
I had to practice, every day.
The initial recovery period was set for two years. I thought that meant I would be back to “normal” after those two years. That my body would work like it used to—muscles would contract and signals would fire like normal. That did not happen.
What has been a trip for me to try to understand is that without daily practice toning and strengthening the muscles in my core, they very quickly lose their connection and communication with the nerves. If I don’t practice, my body becomes weak, uncoordinated, and out of control.
It’s been a huge challenge for me to understand because my brain likes to believe that strength builds on itself and our bodies just work. Especially those deep core functions that we usually take for granted. But it’s not actually the muscles that I am practicing with every day. It’s the synapse—the connection and communication between the muscles and the nerves.
I have to remind my brain and nerves of the connection that I’d like them to make with my body daily. And if I don’t, my nerves default to the path of least resistance quickly.
My situation is just a visual display of what happens within our minds when we don’t practice that new habit or the way we want to be in our lives.
Our minds are made up of tons of synapses and neuropathways, and they—just like my nerve/muscle connections—take the path of least resistance. They do whatever is easiest. Whatever is most habituated. Which is likely the way you’ve thought and been your entire life. If we aren’t intentional and if we don’t practice the way we want to think and be, our minds will lose the connection to any kind of new learning, new thought pattern, new belief, or new habit. If we don’t practice, why would we ever think anything will magically change in our lives?
“Today is the only day change exists. Change today and your entire life will be altered. Don’t change today, and tomorrow will be exactly like today, forever.” ~ Ariel Banayan
We have to practice every day and turn that into an everyday practice. Not just something we do every once in a while and feel good about and hope for some great sweeping change to occur—only to then use the lack of change as proof that we can’t do it. Sound familiar? It’s tough. We have to be disciplined with ourselves and remember why we want to change in the first place.
Just like the muscles in my core, we have to remind the neuropathways in our brain and the feeling states in our body of the change we are seeking—the new way of being, the new belief, the new possibility. We have to do this every day, or chances are our brains and bodies will follow the path of least resistance and do what they’ve always done.
And that is no problem whatsoever…if you don’t want to change.
But if you do want more, if you do want to see what’s possible in your life, you’ve got to practice. Every day.
So, how do we begin?
First of all, take a deep breath. Be gentle on yourself. Maybe you’ve tried to make a change or establish a routine a ton of times already and you’re feeling somewhat defeated. Okay, I get it! I’ve certainly been there. And today is a new day. And today, right now, is the only time where change happens. So, we try again. And if we fail, we get up and try again. Remember to breathe.
Now, let’s dive in.
Get clear about the change you are seeking. What is it that you want? What does it look like, feel like, smell like? How would you think different, feel different, stand different if you were to attain what you want?
Clarify why this is so important to you. What would it look like if what you wanted was possible and you stayed committed to yourself? What sort of ripple effect would this have on other areas of your life? On other people’s lives around you? What might happen if you do not make a change? What would you be missing out on?
Go a bit deeper. Now, what is it that you really want? How do you need to be in order to get that in your life? What do you need to believe?
Curate and cultivate your everyday practice.
Plan out a ritual that you will do at the same time every day. Make it special. Make it something that you get excited about doing. The more we create ritual in our lives, the more our brains and bodies begin to seek the benefit we experience when we enter that ritual space. The thought shifts from, “Oh, I have to meditate ‘cause I said I would stick to this” to “Ooooh, I get to do the thing that makes me feel grounded and grateful.” Light a candle, put on that special pair of socks, play that song that gets you stoked—whatever! Just ritualize it in some way.
Remember Your Why
Take a moment to jot down the answer to those questions above on a note card and put it somewhere you can see every day. In order to make set up an everyday practice, we have to stay connected to our why for doing it. That provides the extra boost in motivation when we might be trending toward letting the path of least resistance win. Remember why you want to do this in the first place.
Stick With It
It generally takes three to four weeks of sticking with something to fully incorporate it into a new way of being. Stick with it! The first week can be challenging. Remembering your why is critical during this time. The second week tends to be sort of an endurance test. Your brain and body are getting hooked on the new ritual, but those old grooves in your brain are still much deeper than the new. It would be quite easy to take the path of least resistance and do what you’ve always done. Stick with your new practice. In week three you are beginning to see some real benefits of sticking with your practice, and in week four you can now feel how this is a new habit ingrained into your way of being.
Stick with it. Just try for a month. What have you got to lose?
Remember, It’s A Practice
For you perfectionists out there (myself included) remember, it’s a practice. We practice the way we want to be. It’s not striving toward perfection. We practice every day as an exploration and a discovery of ourselves that day. We try, and we fail, and we get up and try again. And always, we’re just practicing.
Whether you are cultivating a practice of morning exercise, meditation, journaling, drinking tea mindfully, prayer, connecting with nature, or whatever else feels important to you—you are carving out time for yourself. Time for the self that you value and honor, for the self you’d like to be more of in the world.
To really step into the changes we want to see in ourselves and in our lives, we have got to practice every day for long enough that it just becomes our everyday practice.