I’m reminded recently of how change becomes sustainable, and how to set oneself up for failure. I thought I’d talk about that a little here, in the context of writing, but it applies to any changes one wishes to make in one’s daily round.
A young colleague of mine recently decided to chuck it all, move home to another state and live with his mother, and “get in shape.” Then , once he’s down below the weight requirements, he plans to apply to Officer Candidate School of whatever branch “will accept him.”
He had a lot to say about patriotism, and hypocrisy of those who sit on the sidelines during war and refuse to participate. On the other hand, he’s a brilliant young mathematician with a shot at contributing to the field of economics or finance.
But all of that aside, all the question ns of whether t his is the “right” choice at the “right” time during a two-front war that shows every sign of being a generational problem, let’s focus on the most critical part of his statements as they relate to us as writers: he’s going to move home, “get disciplined,” lose the weight, and apply to OCS.
As any of us who have attempted any long-term marathon change, such as weight loss or writing a large project, or even writing small projects consistently, we know that it’s little increments that add up to a larger whole. It’s rarely the grandiose gestures that make success, it’s the small accumulation of baby steps toward a goal that create the foundation for sustainable change. After all, one cannot cram for weight loss the way one crams for a test.
Which makes a side point – education in the institutional model does not prepare us for reality, because we believe that cramming and writing papers the night before can lead us to success long term. Really, that’s a way for short-term success, but how much to we really remember of the test we crammed? How deeply did we mine our acre of diamond to come up with a paper we wrote in one night?
Sustainable change must be perpetual, hence the word sustainable.
From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, page 1189, “sustain: 1. To give support or relief to; 2. To supply with sustenance; nourish; 3. Keep up, prolong; 4. To support the weight of; prop, also: to carry or withstand (a weight or pressure)” etc.
None of those definitions describes something immediate or transitory. None is ephemeral; one is rather minded of bricks or a scaffold, something with permanency or providing support in order to build that which is permanent. Long-term.
We need to set up a sort of perpetual motion machine that feeds itself over time – but this is not something that can be done overnight. It is said that a habit is formed over 21 days, which is hardly an overnight cram session, wouldn’t you say? That’s three whole weeks of sustained effort. Steven Covey talks about escape velocity, and I think that applies in this case – but after escape velocity is produced, what then? After we’re in orbit of our new plan, what then? How have you changed, and how have you set up scaffolding to support your new self?