Last week, I watched a good portion of Hurricane Michael blow through Tallahassee from my front porch. As a lifelong southerner, I’ve seen a few tropical storms and hurricanes, and find myself stuck between being in awe of the power of nature and wanting to give it a wide enough berth to show my respect. This storm was no different, and as I sipped my coffee and wondered how long the power would last, I sat under the cover of my porch and watched the trees.
I have a lot of pine trees around my house. I have some of the big fat ones and some of the spindly little ones, and I had placed my bets on which would survive and which would not. As the bands of wind and rain came through, the trees began to sway. And then they began to bend. That’s when I went inside and moved to the window.
I watched the trees bend and thought about their root system. I wondered how far the roots went down and how far over a pine tree could bend. I wondered whether it was better to be a big fat tree or a little skinny tree. And, I noticed some things.
A while ago I saw a quote with a picture of a tree that said, “if you do not like life’s circumstances, move. You are not a tree.” It made me feel kind of bad for trees, because they can’t move from their circumstances. They have to stand there and take it, whether it is a drought or a category four hurricane.
We are like that sometimes too. Sometimes circumstances are bad and it’s easy for someone to say, “well, if you don’t like it, then leave.” But sometimes we are so rooted where we are, either by family or obligations or other life things that happen, and picking up and leaving isn’t really an option. We are like a tree, and we have to stand there and take it.
I know a lot of people who feel that way about their health. They need to make changes, and sure, it’s easy for someone outside to say, “well just eat better. Just get up earlier and exercise. Just quick buying cigarettes. Just do it.” But they are rooted in lives that can’t be undone that easily, and it seems like they have to withstand the winds of life.
But as I watched the trees in the storm, I noticed that they were doing more than just standing there. They were swaying, bending, and releasing. Even when we are rooted where we are, we can do the same thing.
Sway When You Can
The storms of life can definitely push us around, but we don’t have to just stand there. Like a tree, we all sway from side to side throughout our lives to allow for this event or that unexpected change of plans. I believe that these times actually make us stronger, more cognitively nimble, and more creative. Sway when you can so that the things you do to take care of yourself can keep happening even in a storm. Swaying might mean compromising on when exercise happens so that it can, rather than letting it stop altogether.
Bend When You Need To
As I watched the trees bend I thought about how they were pretty stubborn and must really be committed to being where they were to withstand so much pressure and not fall over. It reminded me of those times when life gets so hectic that if we want to stay healthy in spite of it, we need to make even bigger compromises. Sometimes we let exercise go and focus on eating healthy. Sometimes food choices are not in our control so we counteract it by staying active. Bending in this way means that we might not be getting everything we need, but at least we’re getting some of it, and sometimes that’s enough.
Let Some Branches Fall
Those trees were swaying and they were bending, but they were also releasing some of themselves in order to stay upright. This is a loss, for sure, but one that is regained over time. Don’t be afraid to let some branches fall off of your tree if it means you stay rooted in what supports your physical and emotional health. It’s likely that those things will come back in time, and the loss will be a temporary one.
The clean-up from the storm continues, and as we reach out to the west and help our neighbors recover, I believe that our roots will go deeper and we will be stronger. If another of life’s storms is headed your way, be like a tree. Sway, bend, release, and hang on to your roots.
Have you ever said that you are, “ready, willing, and able,” to tackle the task at hand? The phrase rattles off the tongue quite effortlessly, conjuring images of a soldier in uniform stepping up to the front lines with a salute, ready for battle. I’ve said it often without a second thought, but as I often do, recently I stopped to think about it a little more and wonder if perhaps the words should be rearranged.
In my work as a Certified Wellness Coach, being ready for change is a big topic of conversation. After asking about and listening to many people’s desires and strategies for change, I propose that we put the words in reverse order to discover what we are able, willing, and ready to do to create change in our lives.
This first stage is pretty easy, because most of the things we want to do for healthy living are tasks we are able to do. With a few exceptions, we have the ability to buy fruits and vegetables instead of cookies and soda at the store, to drive to the gym for an exercise class or walk in the neighborhood, and to turn off the lights and go to bed at a certain time. Our arms and legs work in such a way that we are able to do those things, and we’re adults so generally we have some level of control over our time. There are some of us for whom these things are a challenge, but on the average, our functional ability is high; we are able to do most anything.
Now we’re getting into some rougher terrain. After all, what we are able to do and what we are willing to do can be quite different. Sure, you’re able to get in the car and drive to the exercise class, but are you willing to miss something else in order to do it? You have the ability to sip on coffee or tea while others have dessert, but are you willing to? It can take some time to sort out what we are really willing to do - and miss out on - in order to have a particular outcome. Be honest with yourself about what level of hassle you are willing to tolerate in your life if it means that you can make progress on a goal that is important to you.
This is where we get to the good stuff! Being able to do things is a gimme, and being willing to do things feels kind of like being talked into something. But being ready? That’s exciting! Being ready to take action is a great place to be because that’s exactly where you are: ready for something. The best way to figure out what you are ready to take action on is to think about feels like a step in the right direction, and also not like too much work. For example, you know you are able to buy fruits and veggies for snacks during the week, and you might agree that you are even willing to eat fruits and veggies as snacks a few times a week. The next step is determining what you feel ready to do, like maybe you feel ready to bring them to work with you so they are available when you need a snack.
Now, I realize you may be reading this and thinking, “I’m ready to sit here in my chair and do nothing, how about that?” That’s fair, because this process is for people who want to change, not stay the same. The key to using the able/willing/ready process to get started towards change is to challenge yourself a bit and nudge yourself towards the next step. The results you experience will be relative to the amount of challenge and effort you put in. The more willing you are to take action, the more you will be rewarded.
The beauty of working toward change is that it is a fluid process. Rarely do we get up, begin doing things differently, and never look back or get off track. So, if you find that the speed at which you are trying to change things is too fast, slow down. You can even go back to the old way of doing things. It’s your choice.
My question for you this week is are you able? Yes. Are you willing? Perhaps. Are you ready? Well, ready or not, your life is here. Jump on in!
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!