One step is all that matters.
I got up this morning, still half asleep. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of trouble waking up. It might have to do with the smaller amount of sleep that I’ve been consuming. Maybe it’s that terrible clicking noise that’s been coming from my window (yes, dad, I’ve told maintenance to come fix it). Maybe it’s the growing sense of anxiety that’s been welling up as the semester has gone on. Either way, sleep is something that hasn’t been my friend as of late.
Upon waking up this morning, I had a long discussion with myself about what I should do. I had planned on getting up late (8:00 to be precise) and going to the gym. Most days lately have been starting closer to 6:30–7, so sleeping in until 8 sounded magical. The first challenge with this plan was that I did not get home last night until 1:30. This is about two and a half hours past my usual bedtime. The next challenge was that the tiredness that I had felt the day before had not gone away with sleep as I hoped it would. Over the course of the next hour I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed in workout clothes, and stood by the door to my room where I messaged my sister about whether I should actually go or not. At this point, it was 10:00.
It took me another half an hour until I left the house (brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom, getting my gym bag ready). When I finally got to the gym, I had 45 minutes. Half the time I would normally dedicate to a workout with weights, not to mention that I showed up without a plan. Either way, I was there. I spent those 45 minutes picking weights up and putting them down, picking myself up and putting myself down, and generally trying to make the most out of it. When I left, my legs felt heavier, my arms felt bigger, and I was another two chapters into my audiobook.
Over the course of December, this is how I’ve been working out. It has generally been running on a treadmill instead of going out to do weights, because that way I really don’t have to think at all about what to do. I have a handy-dandy program that tells me when to start running, when to walk, and when to do knee lifts that make me feel like everyone is judging me for jumping around behind my treadmill. But no matter how much I did or didn’t do that day, the one thing that mattered what’s that I made it to the gym. Over the course of the past three months or so, I have moved to a new country, adapted to a new learning environment, had to manage my own finances, and generally deal with a lot of things that I had never dealt with before. This, along with having to find new friends altogether has put me in a bit of a bind. I have feeling like a chicken with its head cut off nonstop since I began my Masters degree.
I’ve had one emotional breakdown about what I’m doing with my life. I’ve cooked many meals, not all of them healthy. I’ve gone out with new friends. I’ve accidentally gone out on a date. I’ve talked to my parents almost every single day since I said goodbye to them at the airport. My support system has been amazing, but I have still struggled. Taking care of myself has been the hardest thing, even though you would think that it would be the easiest since I’m the only one around.
Due to all of these factors, I decided to take things one step at a time. I want to stay in shape, but I don’t have the motivation to follow a weightlifting program, and most mornings (especially since it’s gotten cold out) I barely have the energy to get out bed. I have stopped looking at whether I have completed a workout, but rather at if I’ve gone to work out at all. Been to the gym and did half the things you planned on doing? Good job! You still went! Planned to do the laundry, cook, clean, do homework, AND go out with friends in the evening? As long as you did at least one of those things, great job!
This does not mean that I only do one thing I day. Quite the opposite, by the end of the day I look at my to-do list, and I have generally gotten quite a bit done. By focusing on doing one thing at a time, at taking the day one step at a time, I manage to calm myself down. I manage to calm the buzzing in my head. My day starts with every single thought that’s been waiting for me to wake up trying to get my attention. I write them all down, and try to cross them off the list one by one. If I don’t get them all done, that’s alright. If I only get one of them done, that’s also alright. If the only thing that I manage to do in a day is go to class and eat food that isn’t ramen and lunch meat, I have succeeded.
The important thing to me is no longer getting everything done at the highest possible quality, but rather getting something done. In order to keep this mindset, I have to plan ahead. Projects due in a week have to be started and thought about now. I know that if I have a class until eight o’clock in the evening, I won’t want to go home and finish a reading that’s due the next day. I will want to watch YouTube videos, change into my pajamas, and go to sleep. With this in mind, I plan accordingly. My days are less of an amorphous blob now. Any break that I have is allotted a certain task, even if that task is “sit on your bed and watch Netflix”.
Welcome to 2018. Don’t end this year the way that I ended 2017, sitting in class thinking about all the things I still need to do that day and saying to myself: “the year is over, shouldn’t I get a break?”
Take breaks when you need to. Break down your projects into smaller tasks, and prioritize your day so that if you only do one or two things in a day you still go to bed happy. It takes practice, it takes work, it takes discipline. But believe me when I tell you that when it works, it’s worth it
One step at a time. It doesn’t matter how big that step is, as long as you take it.