Winter to Spring: A Metaphor for Change

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The season change from Winter to Spring can be the most dramatic in the northeast US. This year is no exception besides it being later than last year with more starts and stops. With every season change there is the longing and waiting while looking for change.

Like changing a habit from one we wish to let go of to the new, positive habit we want to nourish, the change of season from Winter to Spring ebbs and flows. Each day there are changes. The signs begin small — melting snow, warmer sun, early light, daffodils and crocuses poke through dead leaves and, sometimes, snow cover. Excitement grows. Then retreat into snow again. Stops and starts. A slow change. Some habits are also slow to change with stops and starts. With each, acceptance is key.

Then one day there is a tipping point, a definitive arrival. The Spring peepers announce the change with their deafening peeps in the wetlands. The grass becomes green. Buds are on the ends of branches of forsythia, blueberries and lilacs. Coats are forgotten on our way outdoors. The newer arrivals, the Trillium, poke through. It is then I know that Spring has arrived even if there are snowflakes in the forecast (like tonight).

This season change is the most dramatic because we go from sparse, brown (colorless) cold hibernation into birth, regrowth, color, and a warming sun. The drama unfolds into splendor — the Winter blues fade into expansion, newness, and joy.

At the end of each winter, I find myself needing to change a few habits I’ve entertained over the dark winter. Habit changes are like season changes, they sometimes take time. Introducing a new behavior to replace the old requires patience. The brain takes time to carve a new neural pathway. Each day (and sometimes each moment) is making the choice to begin again — stops and starts until the new takes hold in a new pathway in my brain. Slowly the old pathway (or unwanted behavior) lets go, losing its grip on automatic pilot. There is a day where a tipping point is reached — the new becomes automatic while the old requires effort.

I find that changing habits — whether with food, exercise, addictive behaviors, or simply change — works best by introducing a new, positive behavior while preparing to let go of the old. Over time the new behavior takes up residence in a new brain pathway leaving little to no room for the old. The old is kicked out. I know it sounds easy. Not necessarily so especially with those habits that involve serious addiction and then physical detox.

Each Spring I change behavior from Winters hibernation. I feel the longing for my nature hikes as the light grows. I find that preparation is key in helping me make the choice to go into the woods instead of rolling over for ten more minutes curled up in my bed. I know I will need to transition from inactivity to stretching and moving my body through the trails. I prepare by placing my shoes by the bed or front door — creating a visible reminder to make a different choice. I get to let go of one routine for another. Gradually, I wake and put my feet into my hiking boots without an inner dialogue (sometimes an argument) and head out the door. I know I’ve reached the tipping point when I feel excitement to head outdoors and my legs have adjusted to climbing the hills I love to climb. This one is easier because the neural pathway already exists from last summer. I am simply waking it up to take over the Winter pathway.

Is there a habit or behavior you would like to change? Giving up comfort foods for lighter, healthier fare? Perhaps letting go of gluten or dairy for salads and coconut milk? Perhaps turning off the TV (or Netflix) for being outdoors or reading a good book? Maybe letting go of the extra glass of wine in the evening for lengthening your yoga practice or going for a walk outdoors?

Consider what new and positive behavior you wish to bring into your daily life. Then focus on letting go of your unwanted habit. Begin the new behavior now. Prepare to let go of the old — set a date or clear the space. Allow the new habit to take hold in a new neural pathway in your brain through practice.

You can also consider priming your environment for success. Priming your environment means clearing out the old and bringing in the new. Priming my environment involves bringing out my hiking boots, putting away my winter boots, and choosing again and again. If I wish to change food choices, priming my environment involves cleaning my kitchen — removing what I wish to let go of and bringing in my healthier choices. Sometimes I post reminders in a visible place (like a cabinet door). Priming makes my choosing easier.

Sometimes beginning again is necessary when a behavior sneaks back in (sometimes habits are stealthy and come rushing back in). Acknowledging failure is an essential part of change. I see it most in changing addictive behaviors. Sometimes I see people try again and again to change an addiction. I celebrate with them when the new habit is solidly in place.

I, also, celebrate when I recognize that my own changes have been successful. When the tipping point is reached I express my gratitude for success. What will your celebration be as we change the season fully into Spring?

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