Wiley Wednesday: Sustainable Change

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?

4 Replies to “Wiley Wednesday: Sustainable Change”

  1. Wonderful commentary! I wish your friend all the best. For me, moving back in with my parents would be a terrible move to lose weight. 🙂 Seriously, though, I agree wholeheartedly with what you say. Perseverance is the key. Otherwise, I would've given up on many things by this time, like learning Japanese and endeavoring to write worthwhile fiction.

  2. Cramming is never good for the long run, no. Sometimes it needs to be done, to keep sane the rest of the time, but it's no way to form sustainable knowledge. I can understand his point of view, though. As you've said before, big steps are sexy. But that doesn't make them helpful or right to take.

  3. When I joined a gym several years ago they made several attempts to get my to buy their shake thing that would help me lose weight even faster. I opted not to do it, because I felt strongly at the time (and still do) that no change I was making was worth anything if I wasn't willing to do it long term. I had worked up to the gym membership after starting out doing crunches for ten minutes in the morning, then 15 minutes on the treadmill, then 30…. I got under 200 lbs for the first time since high school and kept it off for a long time – until I transferred to Gresham full time the first time around, actually, and my new schedule shifted me out of my routine. I haven't made the decision to go all the way back to those baby steps again, but I absolutely agree that it's those kinds of moves that give us the greatest chance of reaching our goals.

    Thanks for a great reminder, Noony!

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