“Day 2”, Phronesis, “Becoming a Builder” and Don’t Forget the Donkey…The Road To Health Success

It is hard enough to navigate the ups and down of life at the best of times…and 2020 has been anything but the best of times! Life during COVID can feel akin to one relentless anxiety filled uphill battle. Many a morning I have had to fight the desire to roll over and snooze another pandemic-filled day away. I rarely gave into this desire, but I always wanted to.

Brene Brown’s concept of “day 2” has helped me persevere. It has helped me intentionally work to maintain habits that serve me and double down on finding small pockets of joy. Think of “day 2” as the day sandwiched between “new and scary” day 1 and “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel” day 3. “New” is scary as crap, but typically includes a certain heightened “must get toilet paper and survive” energy that for most of us is somewhat mobilizing. Then day 2 hits. Any“fight or flight” energy has been utilized – only exhaust fumes remain.

We are currently in “day 2” of the pandemic, and to quote Brene, you “can’t skip day 2”. The messy, exhausting and often demoralizing middle day has to happen before day 3 can come.

We can’t give up. We might feel overwhelmed, scared sh*tless…but we have to keep going.

We have to find ways to create small pockets of joy, design health habits that serve us, weave motion into our daily life, and (for the most part) stay on our health horse. It was one thing to indulge daily when we all thought COVID would be two weeks. Now that we now know “day 3” is far in the future, we have to create healthy habits and more sustainable coping mechanisms. Sure, on some days “persevering” will require a low bar of success – I call these “don’t punch anyone and put your pants on days”. The trick is to make those days as infrequent as possible.

I am not saying we can’t savour a treat once in a while. What I am saying is we have to learn how to make decisions our future self (our self at the end of the day and our self at the end of COVID) will be proud of.  Now, this is all easier said than done. To paraphrase Derick Sivers: “if knowledge were enough we would all have six pack abs and be billionaires”. We all know – mostly – how to act in this pandemic. Eat when hungry. Stop when full. Stay away from processed foods. Knowing and doing are two different things.

Enter…..Phronesis

We need to cultivate what Aristotle would call Phronesis, i.e. practical wisdom. Phronesis is the lived experience that comes from actually “doing” – vs talking – about something. Phronesis is embodied knowledge. Phronesis is the capacity to engage the skill you want – to actually throw a baseball rather than describe the physics of throwing a baseball.

When it comes to health, phronesis includes the ability to eat your vegetables and move your body vs simply talking about eating better and exercising.

To gain this embodied knowledge you have to ACT. You get practical wisdom by doing the skill you want to create.

To paraphrase Aristotle: “You become a builder by building and you become a harpist by playing the harp”.

You create the future you by the acts you take NOW.

Start acting like the person you would be proud of. Engage the skill set you want to have. Build yourself into the self you want to be. #blahblahblahgoworkout! Stop talking and start doing.

The cool part is that this “becoming” process is self-reinforcing: experiencing “being a healthy person” will show you how possible and positive being that person is, which will reinforce the desire to become that type of person. I spent the first half of my life inactive and full of shame. The more I exercised – and made a point of reminding myself after every workout that I felt BETTER – the easier it became for me to convince myself to move. I taught my nervous system that I feel better both physically and emotionally when I move.

Listen up….

This is IMPORTANT, nowhere am I saying “be perfect”. Perfectionism is always a harmful mindset, but especially in a pandemic. “Perfect” doesn’t exist. Aiming for perfect simply sets you up for failure. My goal for you (and for me) is that you continue to try, to work, to grow, to have a grow mindset. When you “fail” and fall off your horse, simply use that information as feedback. All experiencing just data. Care about your trends.

Do your best KNOWING that “your best” is not the same as “the best” or “perfect”. You might be able to see a “better” option, but if that option is not possible for you in the moment you have to let it go. Do what you can in the moment with what you have.

The nice part is ….

You DO NOT have to be perfect to create a fitter future you. To paraphrase James Clear, every decision is a vote for the person you want to be BUT you don’t have to vote yourself in unanimously. All you need to do is – for the most part – make good decisions. Maybe aim to get 80% of the votes?

How do you create Phronesis?

Don’t be a Donkey

Don’t be paralyzed by the goal of perfection and/or “analysis paralysis”. Act. Be curious. Try stuff. If it doesn’t work the experience was excellent data.

The image of the “stuck” donkey comes from philosopher Jean Buridan. He described a donkey sitting equal distance between two bales of hay. The donkey couldn’t figure out which bale would be “perfect” so he stays still and starves. He was never told he couldn’t eventually have both. He could have had one, then had the other…and been pleasantly stuffed!

When I can’t figure out what path to take I remind myself “Kathleen, don’t be a donkey…pick something. If you choose the wrong thing you can always change your mind and/or learn valuable data. If you do nothing you will have nothing to learn from”.

It is easy to be the donkey, to ponder “should I run or lift weight” and then think “screw it” and watch copious hours of Netflix, to go back and forth on which diet to try and then instead have a frustration-induced ice cream binge.

Net is, try something, if it doesn’t work use the data and try something else. Working is winning!

Can’t figure out what exercise to do, try Yoga by Adrianne. Hate it? Move to outside walks. Hate that try the Fitness Marshall. DO SOMETHING. To paraphrase James Clear, you have to standardize before you can optimize. In my words, start and then tweak!

Concluding thoughts…

You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to get great.

You don’t have to BE the healthier person to start acting like a healthier person, but you will never BECOME the healthier version of you if you don’t START!

If you want to be a healthier person you have to start acting the way a healthier person would act. To become a builder, you have to build stuff! As you “build” have compassion with yourself – this is “day 2” of a global pandemic and none of us have ever navigated a global pandemic before. Just keep top of mind that compassion and self-love are not the same thing as letting yourself off the hook. Respect yourself enough to hold yourself accountable!!

Just keep consistently showing up for yourself! We become harpists through playing the harp…and “healthier versions of us” through SMALL DAILY acts of health.

Day two sucks. Keep putting in the work.