I took this beautiful photo on my walk into work this morning. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?!
As the cold January air brushed against my cheeks, I moved briskly in my snugly winter clothes. I stared in awe at the sky above, amazed by the fiery colours and its sheer vastness. Listening to my favourite podcasts, I breathed in deeply and realised – I was happy. As I’m definitely not someone who’s raring to go on a Monday morning (!), this caught me by surprise.
Particularly as I was forgoing the usual ten-minute (heated) car journey with C to instead take a 350% longer solo trek, in what can be politely described as typically British weather.*
Walking into work a few weeks back while C was away, I noticed that I somehow felt better than usual when I arrived at the office. Physically, my back felt less painful sitting at my desk; my body stayed warmer for longer; and my muscles were satisfyingly stretched from being exercised. Mentally, I felt accomplished and yes, perhaps even a little smug. I’d already done something healthy for and by myself (which is really important to us introverts) before the work day had even begun.
So I’ve decided to make this into a micro-experiment for myself for the next few weeks. A sort of self-science, if you will. I’ll test out walking to work to see what impact it has upon my physical and mental health.
“You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” Tony Robbins
This kind of self-help experiment – where you have an idea (a theory) about something, design a way of testing it out and measuring the outcome – are at the centre of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and pretty much every other kind of therapy or self-help programme out there. It’s basic science and it doesn’t need to be complicated.
Let me show you what I’m doing with my walk to work experiment as an example.
1. What’s my theory?
Walking to work may have a positive impact on how I feel during the day, both physically and mentally.
Spell it out clearly, as you need to know what you think now to be able to test it for yourself.
2. How will I test it out?
I will walk to work at least twice a week. I will then compare how I feel during those days with how I feel on the days I get a ride to work.
Be specific and keep it simple. Specific = what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. Simple = easy to remember (and hard to forget). Write it down.
3. How will I measure it?
I’ll make a note of them in my journal as I go, and at the end of the month, I’ll compare my feelings to see whether walking has made me happier.
Make it measurable, so you’ll know whether or not you’ve achieved whatever it is you set out to investigate. Record it at the time, and make it accurate. You can then look back later and make an objective decision as to the results of your experiments.
For change to happen, you need to change something – anything – and you need to do it now. Whether that’s what’s going on inside your head (the internal stuff) or what you’re doing out there in the world (the external stuff), testing things out for yourself is addressing the B in CBT. It’s taking action, which ultimately is what you need to do to move you forward.
In Tony Robbins’ 2001 bestseller Awaken the Giant Within, he talks a lot about taking “massive action”. Okay, so walking to work a few times a week isn’t particularly massive, but what it is achieving is getting me past the theory of self-help and into the practise.
Taking incremental action – even on a relatively micro scale – is a brilliant way to instantly implement any suggestions you get from the self-help genre. It’s easy to feel all fired up when you first read or hear about something, but then you quickly lose momentum to actually do anything about it by the time you get to the end. This way, you’re using the motivation you feel in the moment to see if what you’re learning is actually useful and practically applicable to your life now.
So this is how I created this step-by-step (!) action plan for the month of February, and why I think you might also benefit from designing your own mini self-help experiments. Let me know what you’re doing in the comments below. I’ll be updating you on my progress as the month goes on.
*Read: a shower of shite. AKA snow, sleet, hail and that weird sideways rain that somehow manages to get round and inside your coat hood, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.