This micro change started out the best of them all! Because when I began — so casually it could easily have been missed — it was unplanned.
Week 7 of My Year of Micro Experiments began with a comment from my friend Mike Cohen — founder of the neurofeedback Center For Brain Training.
We go to breakfast once or twice a week. This time Mike had to leave early after a fast meal to go save another brain. Just before he departed, he saw me loading up on artificial sweetener again, as is my wont with my ice tea in the mornings.
And do I ever like my ice tea — two to three glasses. Meaning two to three packets of this chemical compound straight not out of nature.
Mike: “I hope you switch to stevia someday. It’s so much better for your brain — and your gut biome.”
Me: “Yeah, I know, but I’ve tried it and didn’t like the taste. Especially the aftertaste.”
Mike: “There are a number of varieties, why don’t you try some others?”
That was it. An expression of concern for my health — my mental health! — from someone in the mental health field.
After he left I glanced over at the sweetener tray — Stevia In The Raw — couldn’t believe it was there — hadn’t noticed stevia as an option in the diners and breakfast places I frequented.
So I tried it.
It wasn’t so bad. Less sweet than the artificial sweeteners, which I had to carefully aportion to not over sweeten. FAR less sweet than sweet tea, which, God, how did I ever drink that dreck in my overspent youth–
Here’s the thing about micro experiments. Once you get on this path, your mind opens up to micro change.
Knowing you can ditch it after a short while let’s you off the hook — the main obstacle to so much we wish to change is the heavy thought, “For the rest of my life?! For eternity??”
Why even try?
But for a week? That seems so inconsequential. So little effort. Especially after engaging weeks of sequential small changes.
In this case with stevia, I wasn’t even thinking a few days, I was thinking, I’ll try this now, the packet is here.
Later at home I mentioned to Ann the stevia I’d tried didn’t really suck. She opened a cabinet and pulled out some packets of Truvia, another stevia variant.
Ann: “Why not try these?”
Me: “Whoa. How did you happen to have these here?”
Ann, sly smile: “I’ve been hoping for a couple of years you might try these at some point.”
She too had hoped to quell my artificial sweetener jones….
In my backpack they went — it’s my mobile office, going with me everywhere I go.
Next day, tried ‘em and haven’t gone back. There’s a slight taste adjustment, but not like when I gave up Mountain Dew almost two years prior.
Even still, I wasn’t imagining that switching to stevia would become a tweak of the week, not till Day 3. Then it was, why not?
Writing this many weeks later affords some powerful hindsight. In this case stevia has become part of my life. Once or twice in the intervening weeks I ran out of the stevia packets in my backpack — and found myself pining for it when sugar and artificial sweeteners were the only items at hand.
When I committed to a year of micro experiments I didn’t realize how much it would loosen up strongly-held patterns. Everything was on the table. If it was a small change, why not?
My routines became more malleable in the light of micro experiments. Never would I be attempting something dramatic — to the contrary, because each change by definition had to be small scale, it became playful.
And once playing this weekly micro-change game, my mind scanned for opportunities for incremental betterment.
The upside has been a surprising willingness to let my curiosity take me where it wants.
Sometimes failure is just failure. You miss the mark by miles and move on. Sometimes, however, failure prompts a better effort.
Sometimes failure begets more failure … that then … eventually … forces a turnabout.
That last sentiment reflects how Week 6 of My Year of Micro Experiments went.
The goal of Week 6 was simple: No sodas.
Not for any days of the week. No cheat days allowed. Splurge days I call ’em. Makes it sound more like release than sin.
I made it 5 days. That weekend I went off program and didn’t come back. Which in this case was unacceptable.
I know me — Soda Me will take a splurge day and turn it into a splurge year.
So I re-upped for another week. At first I thought, What about at least 6 days in a row, maybe one splurgey day?
No no no, let’s go for 7 . . . see if you can give the crap up!
I used cokes as backup when I gave up Mountain Dew almost two years ago — because I don’t like it that much. But a couple days a week turned into many. For months on end. Not cool.
Especially when I began adding other sugary confections into the mix. Which added waistline. In a carb-heavy diet, girth happens.
More failure then abrupt success
This is the point in the Year of Micro Experiments where — at times — I embarked on two concurrent tweaks in the same week. Which later led to something similar though not identical: Running two overlapping experiments that started on different days.
You get one running and then add another. When timeframes and context were different, this went smoothly.
For example: One micro change in the morning, another in the evening.
Or, one at work, one for home.
The second week repeating the No Soda micro experiment I failed even worser. It was 3 or 4 days of sodas.
I went for it again — the third week of the same micro experiment.
This time it was laughable. I made it a day. I think. I was no longer recording successes or failure. After that I sloshed in sodas. I was awash in soda. I glugged sodas like they were the answer to all my problems.
November was coming and my brain — always looking for the easy out — decided October 31st would be the ideal time to have the last soda and then go on a soda detox for the remainder of the year.
October 31st, which was, what?, a week and more away. Whoa, it was Coca Cola gluttony.
Never have you seen a man puff out so quickly. I drank up to 3 a day!
It was gross. The Bloat took over my torso. Others took to calling me Puff Daddy. So I imagined. I could see thought bubbles circling people’s heads.
Then . . . wild unfettered triumph
November 1st rolled around . . . and I quit. (!) Cold turkey. I’m writing this almost six weeks later and still not one drop of soda has touched my pure lips.
So — failure upon failure upon failure. How did I turn it around?
I’d like to say it was two-fold:
1. Glorious excess
. . . leading to feeling gross beyond measure
Then . . .
2. A vision of who I could be in the New Year
The low followed by this resplendent vision of myself lean and nimble again, leaping over daffodils, dragonflies darting in halos about me, hair flowing in the wind —
I always have hair in my idealized version of myself — in the same way as we age we still feel twenty — or thirty — or whatever magical age number we were when we were in our prime.
November 1st rolled around and that was it. I was resolute. I suddenly identified with 2019 Me more than 2018 Summer And Fall Me.
The moral of this story?
Don’t stop. Don’t stop quitting something you ought to quit. One of those times will stick.
Also — when especially grossed out about your smoking habit, your unflossed teeth, your pimply fast-food-fed skin, your sloth, your downward spiral, your anything — when sufficiently disgusted by your current self, tap into Near Future You, who you are/will be when you’re in optimal mode.
Let Near Future You draw you forward … Unacceptable You will recede into the rear-view mirror.