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  • Writer's pictureSteph

How I dug myself out of a hole in 9 steps

Updated: Mar 5

A person surrounded by mountains, looking very small and insignificant in comparison.

In the last post, I talked about my journey towards better health, a path built on overcoming procrastination, building good habits, and pushing for the next incremental improvement. But how did I manage to do that when the option of rotting in bed with a tub of ice cream and a fantasy novel remained readily available and, truth be told, rather tempting?

  1. I had reached a tipping point. Or rather it reached me, because I literally wasn’t going anywhere. It’s amazing to what an extent one can avoid being confronted with reality. Exercise proves strenuous? Don’t try any. Easily out of breath? Don’t move. Feeling fat and ugly? Get rid of those mirrors. But at some point, I had shrunk my world to such a small space that I became bored and seriously fed up. While there was no hardship, there was also no genuine pleasure and sure as heck no sense of achievement. You might call this the rock bottom that I have subsequently built on.

  2. It felt incongruous to coach people while I was not improving. Whenever I had online coaching sessions, I would listen to these brilliant, generous, kind individuals and I would offer questions, reflections, point out patterns, provide space for them to think. Afterwards, when I reflected on the session, I would ask myself who I was to ask all these questions and sometimes gently challenge someone’s beliefs when I myself felt overall like a pretty flimsy excuse for a human being. I realised that if I really wanted to show up for other people, I would need to show up for myself first.

  3. I started small. By making my bed and spending at least a part of the day in another room, even if I wasn’t doing anything super productive. By getting changed into workout clothes, even if it took me hours to muster the energy to actually get onto the rowing machine afterwards. By spending only twenty minutes exercising, but doing so consistently. Until I did not think about whether I wanted to do this or not. 3pm would come around and I would get on with it. Before I knew it, I was doing thirty, forty minutes because I kept going for the duration of a podcast episode.

  4. I learnt from the setbacks. They say you win or you learn and while it’s a super frustrating thing to concede for a recovering perfectionist, mistakes and failures can indeed teach you more than things going to plan. When I fell off the wagon, I paid very close attention to how my body felt after consuming too much sugar and how my mood would be super volatile, too. I really focused on the discomfort of being too full, of my breathing being more difficult, of everything being harder. The next time I was tempted to binge, I recalled more clearly that this was not the path to happiness, but more misery.

  5. Through action, my mindset shifted. For a long time, I tried to work on my mindset in order to make changes to my routine. You would not believe how many life audits one can do without any tangible progress to show for it at all. That was like willing a stone to move by staring at it really hard. I did not blink. Yet nothing happened. I had it backwards. Once I had started to do something useful like working out regularly and eating sensibly, I realised that I could in fact do hard things. And if I could go from no exercise to racking up more than 100,000 steps in a week, what else might I be able to do?

  6. I became honest with myself. The initial motivation that improving my fitness levels gave me did not magically spark progress in other areas and I still did not feel a sense of purpose, which led to a lot of pretend activity. I had really long to-do lists every week, but they merely featured what I like to call bullshit productivity items. You read relevant articles and watch a TED talk and tell yourself it’s all CPD, but you don’t apply the lessons and you get no closer to your goal because you aren’t actually doing anything concrete. So I started calling myself out on this elaborate avoidance technique and…

  7. I put things in writing. I won’t pretend to know why putting pen to paper leads to more accountability for me, but I tend to lie less to myself when I am journaling. So I started writing down the top three tasks I needed to tackle to get my life in order. At the end of the first day, I was two tasks down and super tempted to scroll through Pinterest. But I could not bring myself to just check the box in my  journal without doing the work and I did not want to confess at the end of the day that I had flaked out on myself again. So I did tackle the task, which did not even take all that long. And it felt G O O D.

  8. Momentum built and I got addicted to commitment. Already in the first week of focusing on the top three tasks, I felt a complete shift. I always got the tasks done and it took less and less effort to bring myself to sit down and do the work. On day one, I still picked up my phone every time things got tricky. By day four, I did not. There were moments of flow when I was completely immersed in the work. I started earlier and earlier in the mornings and could enjoy my downtime in the evenings without feelings of guilt. I slept better and lots of symptoms of my avoidant tendencies, like hitting snooze 145 times, disappeared.

  9. I found respect for myself. After months and months of not doing anything much, I kept tackling the work, kept leaning into discomfort, kept doing what I had told myself I would do. I honoured my commitments to myself. And as a consequence, I started trusting myself. One task at a time, I had started to become the person I wanted to be. I felt grounded and content in a way I might never have felt before. There is still a lot more that I need to do, but I am getting there. I know that consistent effort will see to that.

Have you worked your way back from a bleak place? Or are you trying to do so? What is one tiny step in the right direction that you could take right now?


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