Recently I did a post on choices, essentially about how we choose our own lives and lifestyles whether we realize it or not, and I realized that so many of us end up in what I call “living fat” situations because we don’t consciously think about it. It’s our default setting: like when you send an email to someone, unless you stop to think about setting it up, it’s going to be in whatever the default font is, usually something obnoxiously tiny.
The truth is that most of us think more about our email font than we do our lifestyle. It’s more of that “big picture -small picture” thinking: we focus on the small picture when we need to see the bigger picture and can only see the big picture when we should focus on the smaller one. You’ve got a dozen things to get done on your way home and there’s nothing ready for dinner, so you think “I’ve got no time for grocery shopping, so I’ll get takeout.” You’re looking at the bigger picture: I’ve got a dozen things to get done before I can go home. Your decision to get takeout is a little picture decision, but what you don’t see is that all the little decisions add up into the bigger picture. If you had gone grocery shopping yesterday or over the weekend, you could have prepared something ahead of time so you would have a meal (a healthier meal hopefully) waiting for you at home, or you could have at least had something quick that you could whip up instead of the takeout. But you didn’t go grocery shopping, because you were too busy doing all of the other stuff on your list of things that need to be done. So now, you hit the pharmacy and the post office and the office supply place and run all your errands, whip through the local Jack in the Box and settle for the burger and fries for dinner. So everything is accomplished and you’ve had your dinner, so you jump in the shower and get some sleep. Everything is done. Except the grocery shopping. So tomorrow, what happens? More stuff to do, no time for grocery shopping, hit Jack in the Box again and say hi to Dennis at the drive thru.
For those of you who might be thinking that I’m exaggerating here, I wish I could say I was. This was my life in 2014. I got off work about 6:30-7:00 p.m., drove the 75 miles home in the commuter traffic, hit all the errands on the way home (because I didn’t have time during the day!) and hit the Jack in the Box drive thru almost every night (and his name really was Dennis). On the weekends, I was so tired and so busy trying to catch up with everything else I needed to do that ‘I didn’t have time to go grocery shopping.’ The sad truth of it was that this living fat lifestyle was my default setting. I thought I was doing the best that I could do, but all of the little decisions were making my life harder and making me fatter and more unhealthy. If I had taken two or three hours each weekend to do the shopping and planning a few meals, I could have skipped the drive thru, which would have at least given me some healthier options.
Most of us go through life on auto-pilot without really thinking about our “default setting” for things like eating or exercising or anything else that isn’t a five alarm emergency. There’s the old reporter’s saying “if it bleeds, it leads,” and that’s kind of how most of categorize our tasks in life: whatever is due yesterday gets done first and then it’s the stuff that’s due today and everything else just gets in line behind those tasks. The sad part is the “everything else” is generally what really matters in our lives: things like our health, our families, our wants and needs. It’s like the expression I used in another post: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Really? Is that how you want to go through your life? Putting your job first? Putting mundane matters before the ones who should matter most (and that includes you)?
The problem with my old default setting was that I didn’t plan anything. It was always staying one step ahead of the flood, which meant a lot of takeout and processed or frozen foods. There was no priority beyond what was due next and if that meant staying at work until 7:00 p.m. or later, then that’s what happened. So what if I got home at 9:30 p.m. and dinner was yet one more sourdough jack burger eaten about 10:00 p.m. before falling into bed, so I can do the same thing next morning? There is so much wrong with that picture! Forget the dang burger- what about me?! This was my “living fat” default setting, and this was pretty much what my days were like for at least the last two years of the job from hell. There was no healthy activity, no stress relief, no healthy food and no concern about the quality of my life. My life was running in front of the flood trying hard to stay on high ground and all the while the water was getting deeper around me. I was slowly drowning; I just didn’t know it at the time.
I think of this as a “living fat” situation because pretty much everything I did every day was conducive to my staying unhealthy and overweight. I wasn’t consciously deciding to stay overweight and unhealthy, but the “every day” decisions that I thought were perfectly natural and normal were unhealthy behaviors, like choosing takeout, like being “too busy” to “insert healthy activity here” and what did that get me? It got me regular panic/ anxiety attacks, mental and physical exhaustion, deteriorating health (various worsening disorders), out of control weight gain and growing unhappiness and sense of worthlessness. None of this is healthy behavior, but because this was my default, I didn’t realize I was in charge of my decisions and could change my circumstances.
Your default setting may not be as crazy as mine, but it may also be keeping you unhealthy/ overweight. It may be something as simple as working out “when you have time” but you keep putting everything else (like working late, the kids, the errands) ahead of the working out. It may be something like buying healthy groceries which go to waste because you opt for “something quick” when you get home, like takeout or something frozen/ processed. It may be something as simple as eating a whole bag or box of whatever because there’s too little to save but too much to throw away: “Eh- I’ll just eat the rest- it’s not that much!” This is another one I’m so guilty of doing! I hate keeping bags of leftover stuff when it’s almost gone, but then throwing it away is wasteful, but the bag is a real hassle to deal with, sooo if I eat it, it’s not wasted and I don’t have to store it! I just end up storing it on my butt or my thighs instead! Now I make myself throw it away and it still is really really hard!!
The problem with changing your default setting is that you may not know what it is that’s the problem, or you may not realize it’s something you can change (like me). You need to take a conscious look at your regular behaviors and see where you can make improvements. You can also ask your friends and family to help with this. Is there something they complain about to you on a regular basis? If there is something that comes up regularly, maybe this is one of those behaviors you should change. It can be something like staying up late every night or drinking coffee 24/7. A journal of daily activities can help you get an objective look at your life. Write down everything you eat and drink and when and do the same for your activities, even if it’s just something like “picked up prescription at Walgreens 3:13 p.m.” If you do this for a couple of weeks, you can start to see your patterns and where you can make some improvements. Remember health is not just about the body; it’s also about your mind and spirit. If you want more quality time with your friends and family (or just you), this would also be a way to find it. It’s also a matter of establishing priorities. I hate feeling rushed in the morning so I take five minutes before I go to bed to set out what I’m wearing for the next day (no searching for socks at 6:00 a.m.!) and I get my lunch packed and the coffee set up. Push the button, grab the lunchbox, fill the travel mug and we’re off! It’s about five minutes the night before (during a commercial break if I’m watching tv) and it makes things easier in the morning (more play time with the rug rats)!
These may not seem like important changes, but when I slack off and don’t do it the night before, I sure notice it in the morning. It’s an investment in me. It’s the difference between seeing the email clearly and squinting at the micro-font. To paraphrase a popular commercial for living space: “change your default setting- change the world!”