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Today Is My Un-birthday

September 1, 2016

A very merry unbirthday to all
To all
A very merry unbirthday to all
To all

– The Unbirthday Song, “Alice In Wonderland”

No, today is not my birthday. But, one year ago, on September 1st, I set a goal. The nature of the goal isn’t important, but it was something that I’d been struggling with for a very long time. I finally decided that it was crazy that a grown man who managed to raise a bunch of kids, marry someone much smarter than himself, and have a successful business career couldn’t change this one thing about himself. As a project manager, I’m familiar with setting deadlines and then building a project plan to deliver results by that deadline. 

So, I set a goal. My goal was to change my behavior and do it for a year. I gave myself an “out.” After a year, if I really decided I wanted to go back to my old habits, I gave myself permission to. It was an odd conversation with myself. Because I could see how my actions were causing me problems. I didn’t really want to keep the bad habits, but I also knew that emotionally I was using those habits as a crutch. If I told myself “Never again!” (as I had in the past) it would be too overwhelming and I’d never have the courage to go through with it. 

So, 365 days ago, I promised myself that if I would give up my bad habits for a year. If I chose, I could take them up again starting today, the “birthday”of my new habits. 

It was hard. At times over the past year, I’ve had to constantly remind myself of what my goal was. At first I set a intermediate goal of a month, “Just make it one month.” I didn’t promise myself I could go back at the end of a month, but I did try to convince myself that I could last one more month. 

When I was a teenager, I was really sick. I was diagnosed with Crones disease. It’s a devasting disease. Basically, your intestines start failing. Patients at their worst have to have operations to remove ulcerated portions of their intestines, and the worst cases have to go through life with a colostomy bag. I was one of the lucky ones. It eventually went into remission and I’m now symptom free. But, when I was 14, I was one sick kid. 

Because the disease attacks the digestive track, doctor’s visits focused on examining my gut. As a young man, many of these exams were not only highly uncomfortable, but extremely embarrassing as well. Crohn’s is aggravated by stress. Few things in my life were as stressful as the thought of a male doctor giving me a rectal exam. But, I knew that it was necessary and temporary. I developed a technique to get through not only the exams, but the worst of the pain as well. 

This will take less than 15 minutes. I can endure ANYTHING for 15 minutes.

By reminding myself that the pain and discomfort were temporary, I could convince myself to endure it for a limited time.

I can do ANYTHING for 30 days.

That became my new mantra. I didn’t have to practice these new habits forever, or even for a year. I only had to do it for 30 days. Each month came and went, and it really did get easier to stick to my new good habits and avoid my old bad habits. As August 1st came and went I had to start thinking about getting to the end of my goal. 

In the IT industry there are project managers and program managers. Their responsibilities are are very similar, but they have one important difference. Both own projects or programs. However, the project manager’s projects have an ending date. The program managers’s programs are ongoing. I had constructed my “habit change” as a project. It had an end date. I don’t think I would have been able to convince myself to go through with it if it didn’t. 

So, as the end date approached, I had to consider what I wanted to do. I had given myself permission to take up the bad habit again if I really decided I wanted it. But, I had hoped that I would simply leave it in the past and it would no longer be a part of my life. Would I see September 1st as the finish line in the 100 yard dash, or would it be mile marker 5 in a marathon? Was it the dawning of a new day or the sun setting on the past one?

As today approached I considered the possibilities. Avoiding my bad habit was no longer a constant struggle. I’ve changed my life in such a way that I often barely even remember that it was something I’d been bothered by. The thought of taking it back up is not even really a consideration. But, I also don’t feel any sense of success as the 366th day dawns. Yes, it’s the anniversary of setting my goal, but the goal has become a part of daily routine. It’s now part of who I am. Who I see myself as. I don’t need a celebration to commemorate what has become an integral part of me and my actions. 

It’s not so much a birthday as it is an unbirthday, just like yesterday was and just like tomorrow will be.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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