Every day humans are bombarded with a variety of choices and decisions. What we often do not realize is every moment also offers us opportunities, and the choices we make in those moments create who we are. From the time that we shift from sleep to awake, we begin to make choices. Each of those micro-choices either lay the beginnings of a new neural pathway or add to an existing neural pathway.
This morning, as my body began to wake, I felt the coolness of the air on my cheek. I snuggled deeper into my blankets and turned over. I felt myself dozing back off. "NO!" I screamed internally. I jerked awake and sat up. Then, I crawled out of bed. This is my new normal. I am trying to strengthen an old neural pathway that has gone neglected for a few years. For twenty-one years, I rose early for work. It was a well-oiled pathway until injuries and illness caused me to change my routine.
When I first began to struggle to get up, my body woke up at the usual time, but instead of throwing my feet out of bed, I rolled over and stayed in bed longer. Within a few weeks, I was staying in bed until the very last moment. I was convinced I was too tired to move. However, at the very last minute, I somehow drug myself out of bed and into the shower. I wasn't too tired to move, yet I held on to that belief.
For three years, I clawed my way out of bed. Until one day, when I was reflecting on neural pathways, I realized that despite my illness, I could choose to get out of bed the minute I woke up, the same way I did for 21 years. Those extra moments were only oiling a neural pathway that was causing me great angst. Getting out of bed at the last minute had me running around like a chicken with my head cut off. It was not the way I wanted to live my life. So, I decided to change it.
The first day of my new normal was awful. The alarm clanged, and I shut it off. I started to turn over; then, I remembered my commitment to myself. I sat up. My body felt as heavy as 1,000 pounds of concrete. I sat my feet on the floor and pushed myself out of bed. I took a sleepy shower. Then as I was walking by the bed, I lost my resolve and crawled back into bed. The blankets felt like heaven. Just for a moment, I told myself. I felt myself drifting off. I shouted, "NO!" again and dragged myself back out of bed. I am sure I was cursing my decision to change this neural pathway.
Every morning for the first week, the bed called to me to come back and climb in. It took every ounce of my strength to walk past it and out of the room. The second week was much more manageable. I began to notice that no matter how badly I felt, if I just got out of bed the moment the alarm rang, it was easier for me. Each day I can feel my old neural pathway getting stronger. That doesn't mean I like getting out of bed, especially in the winter. It just means that I do not have to fight myself as hard as I did when I was feeding the other neural pathway.
I realized that this one change set in motion other changes. My tenacity returned. I had not noticed that it was weaker until it was back. It was painful to see how refusing to get out of bed until the final minute impacted how I viewed myself and my abilities. It seems that I processed staying in bed with an inability to do hard things or to push through difficult tasks or situations. Tasks, in general, had become harder. At the time, I thought this was due to my physical abilities. However, with this change, I could see that for me, it was not due to my physical abilities. Tasks had become harder due to the way I saw my ability to do them.
Now that I am getting out of bed when the alarm rings, I feel more powerful. Not physically powerful, just mentally powerful. Getting out of bed for me requires mental strength. Pushing through the desire to roll over has me pushing through other difficult tasks. And weirdly enough, it is not as hard to push through them as it has been for the last three years.
This experience reminds me of the power I have in each moment and how those moments create who I am and how I interact in the world. It also reminds me of how fast we create new neural pathways and the consequences (positive and negative) of them. I have long told myself that words are not neutral. They either build up or tear down. I am learning anew that moments are not neutral either. Our response to them is either helping us or blocking us from the potential inside of us.
To me, it is a message of hope that we have the opportunity to change who we are and how we are in the world with the decisions we make in each moment that we live. No matter how bad things are, we have the power to change moment by moment.
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash