My family was recently introduced to French Macarons. I had seen them before in quaint pastry shops, but hadn’t tried them – they didn’t really look like food to me but rather like Christmas tree ornaments! Once we tried them and learned that they are made with almond flour, so gluten-free, my daughter and I had to learn to make them. Well, we’ve “made” seven batches now, with only two being marginally successful and really not nearly as beautiful as the cheerful little delights we ate in France. The other day, my daughter said “I’m done with macarons!” and ran from the kitchen. I’ve read lots of articles about macarons with an array of advice and insider tips for success, but can’t seem to keep track of them all when I am beating the egg whites (seven minutes or ten?!) or setting the oven temperature (285 or 350?!).
All this “trying again” got me to thinking about health behaviors and how hard it is to change and adopt new ones. I have also been thinking about the school district’s emphasis on “habits of mind” and learning from mistakes. I keep telling myself that I can’t make perfect macarons…yet! Seriously, though, after working with people for over a decade on trying to improve their health and adopt preventive habits to maintain health, I realize that path is also filled with false starts and what some might interpret as failure. For example, it takes most people at least ten attempts to successfully quit smoking. We all know that one person who just woke up one day and quit cold turkey, but that is the exception, not the rule. It takes a very long time to make exercise part of a regular routine – when it becomes something that feels good, not a task to complete. It’s hard to stop drinking soda or fancy, sugar-filled coffee drinks because those things do make us feel good in the short-term.
Given the difficulty involved in changing habits, many people adopt “all-or-nothing” thinking. We’ve all probably had thoughts like “I’ve already eaten that piece of cake, I might as well eat another and start over tomorrow” if we are trying to reduce our sugar intake. While the starting over part is good, do you really have to throw in the towel for the day because you ate a piece of cake? I think this leads to unhealthy perspectives on certain foods and makes overeating more likely as we then beat ourselves up for anything that we perceive as an “infraction.” The same goes for missing a planned work-out – it’s so easy to fall off the wagon after that, instead of realizing that everyone has things that come up to interfere with best-laid plans. We all would do well to adopt a growth mindset regarding our health related behaviors.
On the flip side of this, it’s also so important to set reasonable goals for ourselves and to celebrate small successes. You may feel that the changes you would like to see in your habits, or your body or health, are so substantial that you’ll never attain them. This is a sure-fire way to sabotage yourself and also a great example of “all-or-nothing” thinking. Having big goals is great, but so is breaking those goals down into mini-goals made of small steps that will eventually get you there. If you aren’t exercising at all right now, try for a ten-minute walk several times per week and gradually increase from there. And celebrate reaching those smaller goals. You may have to try seven times, or ten times or more to get there, but you won’t get there if you beat yourself up and stop trying! Be kind to yourself and celebrate your desire to change!
In the meantime, I’ll keep trying different macaron recipes!