As I’m sitting in our new extra fluffy terrace chairs (which Vega believes were bought for her to choose and then you could have what’s left over), I wanted us to have a little talk about little victories and how often we’re oblivious to the small little things that scream “progress” but seem to fall on deaf ears. In last week’s episode and post we talked about little magic lessons bread and cheese making has taught me when it comes to making any new changes in our lifestyle. We talked about patience and the waiting game, how you can’t rush what can’t be rushed. We talked about the importance of repetition, planning, breathing room, and this all left me thinking that so often when we’re on this journey to change some of our habits, and especially when it comes to our relationship with food and our bodies, we expect a mountain to be climbed with no notice paid to the little rocks we managed to step over along the way.
Some old childish beliefs
Any big change like making more vegan choices, going vegan, leaving restriction behind, finding a way to love the body that you have, improving the way you relate to food, etc., can feel like Mount Everest. I remember looking at mountains as a kid and imagining that when they were covered in a lush green color it was a smooth coating that covered the rock almost like the grass in a golf course. Then, as I approached it or hiked through it, I would notice that when you stared at it from up close there was far more to it than just a magical green carpet. A mountain could have streams, little trees, big trees, and even no grass at all, with the canopy of trees playing a trick on you from afar.
Climbing a mountain also didn’t mean you were on the little edge of a standing triangle like when a child draws a mountain on a piece of paper. In fact, it’s hardly ever smooth or straight, there are hills, valleys, steep peaks and deep ravines. When we focus on a change in habits we tend to forget this. We have an idea of what the goal should look like, for example, a day in which we open our eyes and feel 100% joyous and in love with our bodies from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. We have an idea of a day in which we feel perfectly attuned to our hunger and fullness cues, and either we never overeat or we never feel guilty over a food choice, or restrict afterwards, and that then the same thing is going to happen the next day, and the next day.
In reality, our lives are far more nuanced than that, and after many years down this path I can tell you that I’m not sure if there is such a thing as some of our issues with body and food being cured forever with no doubts or issues down the road. It’s always something we have to look after and remind ourselves of the tools we already have.
What I can tell you -and I see this time and time again in the letters you send me- is that we have so many of those childlike expectations of “if I can just reach the top and do it in a straight line…” beliefs.
We’re so focused on the idea we have of how the tippy top should look like, that not only are we being mindless of the journey, but we also never see the progress that we’ve made.
A little on body image (aka I don’t have it all together all the time)
The other day I was having a particularly hard day when it came to my body image, as usual, brought on by something else that was creating these uncomfortable feelings which I didn’t want to look at. This worry about something else that was going on, of course made me turn to some habitual old friends: body issues, body worry and “what can I do to fix it?” mode. This was all happening while I was cooking, and this huge inner banter, very negative and uncomfortable began to come up to the surface. Many years ago that would have sent me straight into restrictive mode, overexercising mode, or at least a very anxious state until something else grabbed my attention away. This time something very different happened, and perhaps thanks to my mindfulness practice I was able to fully notice it.
In a second I could see two different sides of myself, one that was falling into that hole of negative body image, self doubt and criticism, and then one that seemed to appear out of nowhere, one that reminded me of this: “would you speak like that to yourself when you were a little girl"?”, “would you speak like this to a friend?”.
Immediate answers: no, and no.
Almost as if it were magic, I was able to pull myself out of a hole that would have taken me weeks and a few diets and exercise plans a few years ago. This time, it was right there. I didn’t need a reminder, I didn’t need to go outside for help, this tool, which I’ve taught you many times, was right there for a part of me to grab and use.
It worked almost instantly
This was the smallest victory, and it made the biggest change.
A little on your relationship with food
Is it not a little victory when we find ourselves, even after weeks of not paying attention while we eat, noticing how delicious something is, and we have that moment of noticing that we’re starting to feel comfortably full?
Is it not a little victory when we find ourselves allowing foods that were previously forbidden, and we find a voice within us that says: this food is neutral and you can feel free to enjoy it along with all the other delicious, fun and healthy foods you enjoy?
Is it not a little victory when you find yourself enjoying a delicious food and notice afterwards that there’s no need to feel guilty for having it?
Is it not a little victory when we notice that the impulse we’re having towards eating something is truly about something else that needs to be soothed? Is it not a little victory if we’re nearly aware of this and we went to eat it anyway?
All of these little steps are progress.
A little on being vegan
Is it not a little victory when we managed to order something in a restaurant and didn’t felt ashamed of asking them to leave out the chicken or the cheese?
Is it not a little victory when we don’t attach judgement to ourselves when we answered a question in a way we felt wasn’t ideal, or we got emotional when someone criticised us or made a joke?
Is it not a little victory when we read about the countless wonderful changes that are taking place around the world to help animals, our environment and our fellow humans, even if that change right now is one vegan option at your local Starbucks?
Is it not a little victory to decide that you can try again no matter how many times you’ve fallen of track or you’ve eaten something that wasn’t vegan at a party?
Is it not a little victory when you find yourself making something yummy even in the midst of a few burnt tries?
When we miss the little victories, the road becomes exponentially steeper and harder. It’s like a goal that is somewhere behind the horizon and no matter how much we walk we can’t seem to get closer, and yet we are getting closer with every little step.
When that little voice reminded me that I had vowed never to talk to myself that way again, when I pictured myself as a little girl with golden curly hair being told the things that were rolling around in my head, or I pictured one of my darling, innocent, sweet students being at the end of that conversation, the path seemed so easy and clear. It stopped me right in my tracks and turned that critical voice into a caring and kinder one. In two seconds I had done what it would have taken me weeks to do before. This wasn’t a little victory, it was actually a huge one! The little victory was the actual awareness, how quickly and automatically this soothing voice came to my mind this time. It’s of course been placed there by all the hard work I’ve done and all the things I also help you with in this space, but for the first time I noticed. For the first time I found the wisdom quickly and within myself and I moved on with my day much happier than I had started it.
Take this little post and episode as a reminder that the small victories are just as important if not more so than the idea we have of what we’ll see when we reach the finish line. In the areas of body image, of losing our fear of foods, of losing our automatic impulse to eat to self soothe or restrict to distract ourselves, there are so many messages within our culture that go against actual self care that perhaps it will always be about the small little victories. Perhaps there will never be a clear and forever finish line. That’s why I’ve been training myself to notice them and celebrate them, to indulge in them like you indulge and savour that last spoonful of ice cream. Those are the little things that take us up the mountain, and that inspire us to walk up another one when we’re back down at ground level.
The next time you notice one, relish it, savour it, pat yourself on the back and acknowledge it so that you notice it again when it happens again, this is one of the best ways for great habits to grow stronger, without going to extremes or bulldozing ourselves but by doing this entire process with kindness and making it last.
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