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When 95% is Not Better Than 0%

When 95% is Not Better Than 0% 

By Val McKinley

We usually think that more is better. In the world of behavior change, we encourage ourselves and others to do 1% better than the day before. The 1% adds up over time and voila; before we know it, the things that were hard for us or that we had resisted doing, get done. We feel good. Success momentum propels us forward…

Until it doesn’t. I thought I was leading my best life. I was traveling between grandchildren. I had created a portable coaching business and was enjoying the interaction with clients. Over the last two years I had consistently practiced making healthy food choices; also integrating a lot of movement and self-care practices into my daily routine. My husband is a loving partner and I have an amazing social network of family and friends.

So why am I writing this and what does this have to do with Tiny Habits? Last week after a visit with my family in VA, I was scheduled to fly back home to San Diego. That morning, after experiencing yet another two episodes of gastro discomfort which had escalated in frequency and intensity, I was extremely hesitant to get on an airplane. In the midst of not knowing which way to turn, I had an epiphany…’Call Will!’ I had been so preoccupied with my indecision and where to turn, that I had forgotten to ask for help. Help for me was the idea to call Will, my nephew who’s a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in MN. After he’d listened and synthesized all that I told him, he said that I should not fly, but instead take a taxi to the nearest cardiac hospital which he had determined would give me the best care based on the symptoms I presented.

My intuition and call to my nephew probably saved my life. Within 24 hours of admission, I was in surgery during which a stent was placed in my left anterior descending artery – best known as the Widowmaker. It was 95% blocked! Little did I know that a stroke can be a complication of this procedure. 

As soon as I saw my daughter in the recovery room, I knew that something had gone wrong. I had never experienced coming out of anesthesia with the types of symptoms I was experiencing. My vision was totally out of whack. Every move caused vertigo and/or dizziness. I felt so out of control and very frightened. I was soon taken in for a CAT scan, which I later learned was to determine the type of stroke I had experienced.

When a doctor came in the next morning and asked how I was doing I said, “Not good!” He said, bless his heart, “We’re on this!” I went through a myriad of emotions; sadness, pity, tears, and fear to name a few. Questions such as, “Is this my new normal? How will I do what I love to do? Will I be able to hold my grandbaby?” etc., raced through my mind. Several abilities once taken for granted had suddenly been swept out from under me. Talk about being thrown for a loop – literally and figuratively!

This is where Tiny Habits came to the rescue. I know tiny is transformative. I know that self-confidence is the by-product of doing what I say I will do. When I celebrate the behaviors I have planted in my life, my body releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. This process wires in the habits that I want to achieve more quickly.  Action is the catalyst of long-term change. Because I’ve developed the skills of change over time, I knew I could start taking control of my life. 

I was told specialists would not be coming to evaluate me until the next day. However, I knew that for me, waiting was not an option. I had a pity party and cried and was sad. Then, after a few minutes, I told myself to come up with one thing I could do to help myself heal as I was seeing double and was extremely dizzy. The recipes were: After I put a patch on one eye, I will set the timer for ten minutes. I celebrated. After the timer goes off, I will change the patch to the other eye. I celebrated. Repeat…By planting the seed of change that day, I felt empowered. I felt hopeful. I felt that I was doing something to move forward in my healing. Step-by-step, little by little.

Note: For women reading this, or men who have women in their lives, please know: The classic symptoms of a heart attack are different in women!! Even if you have no family history of cholesterol problems, have your cholesterol checked. If you don’t feel like yourself, trust yourself. You have the right to have your health symptoms addressed until a root cause is found. Good luck. Be well!

Update: I was in rehab at the hospital for a week and then went to my daughter’s for a week. I was cleared to fly back home to CA  at the end of the second week. Two habits that I continued to do post stroke were a modified hospital version of the Maui habit upon awakening and my bedtime habit of After I get in bed, I will write my gains for the day and write 3 things I hope to accomplish the next day. And then I celebrated!

I am a firm believer that maintaining a routine helped keep negativity at bay as I continued to heal.

A few weeks after arriving home, I started going to Zumba again. It’s my favorite form of movement. I knew that the full hour of spinning and quick movements would be too much, so my modification was, During my  ½ hour of Zumba, I will walk the steps and look forward. Then celebrate that I was back! Over the next few weeks, I slowly started increasing my time in class, adding head movements and turns as long as I maintained my orientation.

Two months in, I got to start driving again! Yea! I have been in the company of my granddaughter in the last few weeks, getting to hold her and take care of her as before.  Life is good! I feel so blessed to be back to my former self.

Best wishes,

Val McKinley

Tiny Habits Certified Coach

Course Creator: Tiny Habits for Green Light Living—Using Emotional Regulation as a Catalyst for Action

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