This time last year, I was prepping for a new eating routine called Whole30. In a nutshell, for 30 days you take on a paleo diet – sans the paleo dessert substitutes – and it makes you feel awesome. I convinced my partner to do it with me (he reluctantly agreed) and told everyone around me what I was doing. I figured my need to please everyone would kick in if I ever felt like cheating.

Well, it sucked, and I was a horrible person to be around (Carla can confirm). I missed bread and cheese. We made it 26 days, before giving in at one of Austin’s best pizza restaurants with our close friends. We got what we needed out of it – for me, an obsessive love affair with sparking water – and now we needed bread. And cheese. And freedom.

Don’t get me wrong, W30 works for some people and if you’re one of those people: congrats! Don’t you miss cheese? But lifestyle programs like this are difficult (rightly so), and they might not be where you want to focus your willpower, which doesn’t leave room for you to be successful.

So, I’ve been thinking about what I should have done differently and what I will do for 2016. I’m calling it the Graceless Progress Process. This timeline is merely a guide – you are the creator of your own destiny. Do whatever works. You could theoretically use this template for any span of time, but for this we’ll use 12 months.

If you decide to take my completely made-up challenge, let me know and we can keep each other motivated with .gifs and high fives. #GracelessProgress

January: Observe & Assess

January 1 is probably the worst day to decide to make huge life overhauls. You’ve spent November and December eating and drinking too much, probably on some sort of vacation or time-off. You haven’t been thinking about what day of the week it is, or when you last washed your favorite yoga pants. Suddenly jumping out of the holiday delirium to become the “new you” is not happening.

So I propose that we take January as a month of observation and reflection. As you re-enter the real world and go back to work or school, you’ll fall back into your normal routine, and you can ask yourself what you’d like to change about it.

Keep a piece of paper with you throughout the month that’s reserved for notes about what you’d like to see change. Sure, there are apps you can use to take notes and track your heart rate and glasses of water but we’re doing this the old school way. Whatever comes to mind just write it down. You’ll work on paring it down later. Eating habits, spending habits, swearing less (or more), learning new hobbies, spending more time with friends, working less, working better: anything that makes you think, “I want this to be different.”

The most important part of this process: at the end of the month, figure out which of the things on the list are for YOU and which ones are for NOT YOU. If you don’t know how to knit, but some rando at your workplace does and you think it will make you seem cool if you also know how to knit, guess what? You don’t want to knit. You want to look like you know how to knit. Only leave the things on the list that are without a doubt things you’d like to do. This includes things that your partner or parents or best friends want. Maybe there are things that overlap, but if they are only on someone else’s side of Life’s Venn Diagram (below), cross that shit out.

youdoyou

February: Talk to your people and make a plan

If you’re going to start making changes of the physical and/or mental health variety, talk to your doctors, herbalists, therapists; whoever you take your health needs to. Yes, it will mean making a phone call or an extra appointment to talk in person – but if you haven’t run a mile in 10 years your body is definitely not going to be cool with you starting to do it immediately. A professional can help you make sure you’re approaching things in a safe and productive way*.

Maybe your goals are a little more socially or personally geared. Find that friend – the one who probably can’t post your bail because they’re in the cell next to you. The one who will tell you that your new all-natural deodorant isn’t working like you think it is (thanks for nothing, Tom’s). This friend will know if your goals are totally whackadoodle or not, because they know you pretty damn well. And, they’ll know how important it is for you to make whatever change it is. When that doubt creeps in and you want to give up, they’ll be there.

And now the fun part for you planners out there: make a plan! The name of the game is incremental changes. Some examples:

  • Put away a dollar each week into your savings account. Raise that amount every two weeks.
  • Replace one cup of coffee a day with herbal tea.
  • Sit quietly for 2 minutes a day. Increase that amount each week. Welcome to meditation.
  • Carry a water bottle, and actually put water in it. Drink that water.
  • Make plans to have an old (or new) friend over for dinner. Try for 2 friends next month.
  • Leave work at work — stop checking your email after 10…9…8… You get the idea.
  • Put your phone in a drawer for half an hour a day. Increase that amount. (We did just fine without smartphones for a long time. You can do it!)

These seem obvious because they are; our brains like obviousness. By focusing on small milestones instead of “Lose 20 pounds by summer,” you’re keeping things within the realm of possibility. If you make these small changes, they start to add up and will bring on the larger advances you’re looking for. Whatever your plan is, take some time to set alarms and reminders in your phone or calendar so you can keep track of things for the rest of the year.

Don’t forget to build in some rewards for yourself when you hit milestones. Maybe after you graduate to only one cup of coffee a day, you spend some money on a pound of awesome coffee, giving your one cup a tinge of luxury for you to savor even more. Or after you’ve successfully spent a week clocking in at 9 and clocking out at 5, you treat yourself to a nice weekend trip. You, creator, destiny, etc.

*If you are looking to change more serious issues relating to mental health or substance abuse, there are some resources to get you started. We can’t stress enough how important it is to reach out to professionals if you need help. 

March – December: DO IT

So now you’ve picked what you want to change, you’ve talked to your people and made a plan. Go you! Now, Go and Do, as my mother would say.

Your plan will probably change a little over time. Maybe you want to make your incremental changes faster than bi-weekly or whatever you chose at the beginning. Maybe you get another job and move to Japan in three months, and your goals change (congrats on the job!). Maybe something else unexpected happens  Something unexpected will happen in 2016, so just buckle up and be ready.

No matter how long you decide to implement this process, build in some time at the half and endpoints to assess where you’re at. This is less of a line and more of a circle: Assess, Plan, Practice, Reassess, Practice. Here’s a VERY pretty graphic to demonstrate:

cycle

Don’t beat yourself up

You are a human person, reading this while you sit on a giant rock that’s hurtling around the sun. In 100 years, there will be all new people on this rock – and no one will be talking about how you ate more ice cream than you should have one night in 2016 when you decided you were going to eat less ice cream. I promise. And if they are talking about it, remember that future people are weird, and won’t get Social Security, and will probably have to wear masks to allow them to breathe in the totally polluted earth air, so, who cares about them.

If you do slip up, call the aforementioned friend, talk it out, and keep moving forward. To err is human, or whatever. And if you need some perspective, might I suggest some sites I keep bookmarked for such occasions:

Be awesome

So there you have it. Whether you stick to your plan and become your “new” awesome self in 12 months or if your plan evolves into something else entirely, the important thing is that you are proactive and aware of your own goals and limitations.

If you spend all your time trying to be some weird version of perfection you have in your mind, you’ll miss out on the part where you actually live your life. Perfect is boring – being Graceless is way more fun.