Getting Out of Your Head & Out of Your Way

I am sure we’ve all been told about a million times that we are our own worst enemy.  As a paralegal, one of my favorite expressions regarding our clients is “they make their own problems and they are GOOD at what they do!”  Most of our clients are great people, but they often make their problems worse, and our job as their advocate much harder, because they insist on doing things their way, or they think they know more than the attorney.  They might be rocket scientists or neurosurgeons, but there’s a reason you hire an attorney!

I am no different than anyone else: there are a lot of times I’m freaking out over a late charge on a bill and it usually starts with me asking myself “why didn’t you pay this last week when the reminder popped up on the calendar? Now you’re frantically trying to get them on the phone to make a phone payment so you don’t get dinged another $30!” Yep, it’s my fault and no one else’s, so there’s no one else I can blame for it!

The same thing happens when it comes to weight loss and healthy habits: we often make our own problems and we are spectacularly creative at it! We come up with endless excuses about how we can’t start doing X because of someone or something else. “I have a family and they don’t want to eat the same food I need to eat!”; “I can’t afford to go to a gym!”;  “I don’t have any time to work out!” Most of us genuinely want to get healthier, lose weight and be more fit, but we run into these bumps in the road and we’re stuck there.  We don’t know how to get around them.  They are legitimate issues, but I would not call them actual problems.  Yes, it’s a lot harder to eat healthy when you have a family of kids and a spouse who doesn’t want to changer his/ her eating habits. Gyms are expensive and time is always an issue, but this is when we need to be creative.

One of Elizabeth Benton’s favorite quotes is from Rumi (13th Century Persian poet & theologian): “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.” We are faced with a problem: our choices are to stay there fretting over the problem or to look for ways around it, i.e. start crawling.  I was blessed as a child by growing up in a household that focused on problem-solving, so by the time I reached high school, it was normal for me and my sister to “start crawling” when we had a problem.  The idea is to do what you can rather than to do nothing at all.

For example, when I was in college, I lived with my dad and I did most of the cooking for both of us. My dad and I like a lot of the same foods, but there are some things I like (lamb) that he can’t stand and there are things he loves (stewed tomatoes- ugh!) that I refuse to eat.  So when it came to dinner time, it was not unusual for me to make one dinner for me and another for him.  I remember my cousin and his wife having a disagreement over this same issue and she asked me if I thought she was being unreasonable.  When I told my regular routine, she asked, incredulous: “you make two dinners each night?” “umm, yeah?” It had never occurred to me that this was unusual: it was how I’d always done it. It wasn’t that I was going way out of my way to accommodate my dad or make extra work for me; it was really just that my dad likes eating XYZ and I don’t, so my choices were either to eat what he was eating or make something different for me to eat, and since I was the cook, it was no big deal.  There were plenty of nights when we ate the same thing and so I only made one dinner.  I didn’t see his wanting something I didn’t like as a problem, and as I grew older I think how we view these everyday issues makes a difference. If you look at every bump in the road as a problem or an impediment to success, then you’re going to have A LOT of problems.  Changing your perspective can make a huge difference.

Allow me to digress (& I promise there is a point): I grew up in the 1970’s and one of the books I borrowed from a friend was about astrology (Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs), and in one of the descriptions of Aries the Ram, the author read the astrological chart for an Aries woman which showed there would be prolonged period of hardship (about two years or so).  At the time of the reading, the woman, her husband and her five young kids lived in a two room apartment with a two large dogs and a litter of puppies, and had been living like this for about a year and half (although the puppies were new!)  The woman anxiously asked Linda if the chart showed when this hardship would begin.  Linda was illustrating Aries’ almost indefatigable optimism, how anyone else would have seen her living situation as intolerably hard, but for Aries, it was just the way things were. They keep believing things are going to get better, and (to paraphrase Linda) the funny thing is that they do! If nothing else, if you keep a positive outlook, at the very least you are not wallowing in misery and unhappiness while you are working to make things better.

Attitude isn’t exactly all, but it’s most of it! How you approach an issue is dictated by how you perceive it.  If it’s an awful task that you dread doing, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to do.  It’s just a fact of life: dreading a task creates negative feelings which you have to get over in order to do the task.  You already have something you need to do, and you’ve just thrown a great big mountain to climb to get to that molehill of a task.  How many times have you dreaded taking an exam: fretted, worried, lost sleep, hated the idea and then after you took it, you realized “that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!”  Of course it wasn’t! Partly because by the time you went to sit for the test, you’d built it up to be the Spanish Inquisition! Your anxiety and dread just made the whole run-up to that test way worse than it needed to be.

A little anxiety is normal.  A little apprehension, especially in a new situation, is normal, but there are people who will allow the worry and apprehension to become monumental obstacles. When you approach each bump in the road as if they are all problems and then proceed to blow some if not all of the problems out of proportion, then you are simply making problems for yourself, á la our clients! This is what I mean when I tell people to get out of their heads and you’ll get out of your way.  If you can get some perspective on the issue (not problem), then you can see it for what it truly is.  FDR said it simply: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Our fear and dread amplifies the issue until it’s an insurmountable obstacle.  Very few obstacles are insurmountable in real life. We do run up against them occasionally, but even then, these true problems do not have to dictate how we approach them.  One example of perspective vs true problems is a fitness coach I have, Bill.  He’s in his 70’s, has heart disease and has cancer.  Until he told us this, I’d never have guessed he has these health problems.  He’s a lot fitter than I am and is one of the most positive people I’ve met. I’m sure he has difficult times regarding his health, but rather than sit and fret over his real problems, he chooses to be positive and do as much as he can.

We are all in pretty much the same boat, whether it’s dealing with something that is difficult, awkward or scares us in some way.  If we look at these issues as hard, scary, intimidating, then we are allowing our perceptions to make these issues much more difficult than they should be.  We build them up in our heads and turn them into real problems. A personal real life example: I commute 2 hours each way five days a week, and when I mention that to people they look horrified: “OMG! how awful! Isn’t there someplace closer you can work?!” Yes, I can look at it as a terribly long trip every day five days a week, and seriously the first few times I drove it, yeah, it was long and tiring.  Yes, it can be inconvenient, but the fact is I like my job very much and I like the people I work with very much.  I also like where I live very much, so moving is not an option. What are my options? Every morning, I line up whatever podcasts I want to listen to or program my playlist on my iPod. I’ve got audio books and I also have a handsfree earpiece for my phone, so while I’m on way to work, I’m singing along to my favorite music, learning something or talking to friends and family.  Sometimes, I am doing none of those: it’s quiet time for me and the phone and devices are off.  Usually, I use this time to learn things and I think of it as an opportunity, because frankly, if I did not have to drive so much, it would make it a lot harder for me to listen to the podcasts and books. I would have to cram them into my day somewhere and since I’m not someone who normally learns through listening, it would be a lot harder for me.  Since I am ‘stuck in the truck,’ and listening is about all that I can do, I listen.

As with everything, it takes a little bit of practice to change your initial attitude.  When something happens that isn’t anticipated or is inconvenient, you don’t have to have the “everything is wonderful” saccharine sweet attitude (it’s okay to get p*ssed or irritated).  It’s where you go from there that makes the difference: this is just a detour or a pothole on your road to success.  What can you do or how can you get around it?  Your schedule changed at work and now you aren’t going to be able to get to the gym until much later, and there are no other classes at those times.  You can find a gym buddy and go on together.  You can go on your own.  Maybe changing gyms is an option.  Are there other classes available that you can get into?  My community college offers ‘community ed’ classes that include fitness and there is a yoga studio near my house that has classes as well as a crossfit gym with classes.  Yes, these are extra money, but if I can’t make it to the gym and don’t go on my own, maybe I should cancel the gym and put that money towards classes I will be attending.  Your spouse/ family has decided he/she/ they are done with this “healthy nutrition” thing.  That doesn’t mean you have to give it up. If you do the cooking, make what they like and make something you like. Just because it’s all on the table, it doesn’t mean you have to eat all of it!  If they like burgers, make the burgers and you can have yours plain or however you like it. If they are eating fries, make yourself a salad or veggies or whatever you like.  If they do the cooking, it’s not a huge imposition to ask them to include a salad or the veggies, or if they are just being obdurate (that’s a fancy word for ‘snotty’), make them yourself.  Opening a bag of salad isn’t a big deal or heating some veggies in the microwave is also not a big deal, and it’s more fries for them! When faced with an issue, start crawling! If you can’t afford a gym, walking is still free! Invest a little money in some resistance bands or second hand equipment, and there are a lot of yoga, pilates and other workouts available on YouTube. See if there is a gym or a program through your employer or insurance that is available.  If you are a college student, sometimes the gym is open to students and if you live in an apartment complex/ condo, they have workout facilities on the grounds for owners.

Too often when things happen, or things don’t go as planned, we get stuck in our heads: one mindset takes over and we let our emotions and fears dictate how we deal with the situation.  This is normal; staying stuck there is a choice.  We choose not to move forward, whether we realize it or not. Taking a step back and getting some perspective (getting out of your head) can help you see what your options really are and what changes you can make. Make the best choice you can with the situation you have; you’ll be amazed at the progress you make!


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