Incrementalism: Making Habits Stick

My home “studio”

Incrementalism: A totally made up word that means introducing new habits in tiny increments to increase the likelihood of effecting permanent change.

Sounds like a pretty good idea, right? I made “incrementalism” up a few weeks ago as I was trying to explain my new approach to exercise to my befuddled husband.

You see, I have two speeds, on or off. I loathe moderation; I want to be all in or all out. The thing is, with babies, and with adult life in general, the only way anything ever gets done is a little bit at a time. A load of laundry here, a wipe-down of the floors after dinner, or a quick five minutes in prayer.

If I don’t make peace with accomplishing life in smaller, more manageable chunks, I will find myself perpetually frustrated and increasingly ineffectual. Hence, incrementalism.

For many months, I couldn’t seem to balance my tendency toward all or nothing with my desire to workout regularly. The lovely ladies who take my Tuesday morning barre class might be surprised by this fact, considering I spend an hour walking around the room authoritatively commanding, “Pulse, tuck, another inch lower, you can do this! Give me ten more!”

What my Tuesday morning ladies don’t know is that for the last several months, I’ve been a big ‘ole exercise faker. I get all jazzed up for teaching one class a week, but then disdain exercise the rest of the time due to myriad excuses including my daughter wakes up too early, my husband works too late, or I can’t get to the studio, etc., etc.

Since becoming a mother, I find I lack the time and energy to be committed to working out as much as I’d like to, so I switch over to my other default setting, and end up sitting on my tush. I either want to be getting up at 5 AM four days a week for spin class or I don’t want to do anything at all.

But it’s time for a new approach. For me, incrementalism is about making peace with the small snippets of time I’m given throughout the day. It’s about accepting the fact that a little is better than nothing.

My realistic, more likely than not goal, is working out three times a week. I get to count teaching class on Tuesday as one time (woo hoo!), so throughout the week, my goal is to find two other times to do a 30 minute workout DVD, or a series of arm videos on YouTube. I’m in a wedding this summer with all of my astoundingly fit, incredibly glamorous college roommates, so I’ve got a little something to motivate me.

If I finish three workouts in a week, that’s awesome. If my daughter wakes up in the middle of a workout and I never finish, that’s ok too. Each week is a new opportunity to say yes and to capitalize on small windows of time.

See ya later, scale!

In addition to strengthening my body, I’m also cleaning out some mental roadblocks. Sayonara, ill-fitting jeans, unflattering tops, and uncomfortable dresses. Let’s be honest, I wear real clothes twice a week, to church and maybe one other place. Because they so rarely make an appearance (like my hair, which is often under a baseball cap) I should love my clothes and they should fit me well.

Cleaning house also means it’s time to ditch the scale. For many years, I didn’t own a scale, and I’m not even sure why I ended up with one again, but owning a scale is not good for my soul. Even though the scale lives in the basement, it beckons me down for sneaky check-ins every once in a while, producing misplaced elation or crippling dismay. Time for the scale to go.

Metal squares don’t have a say in my feelings about my body or my worth. I’m tired of worrying about how much space I take up in this world or caring about the number signifying earth’s gravitational pull on me.

Instead, I’m thanking God for my health and for the extraordinary feats my body has been through the past two years (growing a human, birthing a human, feeding a human). I’m working out because it feels good to be strong and because the aches and pains accompanying motherhood diminish when I stretch and move my body. Plus, the happy endorphins are pretty great.

What could incrementalism look like for you? Could you apply it to the piles of paperwork staring you in the face? Or to cooking more at home? Or to your quiet times with the Lord? Give incrementalism a try and let me know how it works for you. I think we’ll all find that we can do a lot with our little bits of time.


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