I know from experience that when most of us begin making healthy changes to our lifestyles, or even just start planning on these changes, we are met right away with burdens and obstacles. It’s like the world, Fate or the Universe is plotting to keep us fat and unhealthy! Even though we know that’s not the truth, there’s a lot of days when it sure feels like it!
Then there’s just the whole matter of logistics: family members, work schedules, school schedules, and every day annoyances like meetings, luncheons, conferences, traffic and the always popular seasonal parties. How do we integrate our plan for healthy choices in the middle of all we have going on? Most of us try to work it in for a few days or a few weeks and then collapse under the burden of all our obstacles. “There’s just too much getting in the way!” Sometimes, the Universe wins despite all our best plans! The tricks I’ve found are: 1) not to be discouraged; and 2) how to turn a ‘burden’ into a ‘blessing.’
I am certainly no philosopher or theologian, but through my reading and my Liberal Arts education, I’ve learned a few things. One of the books I had to read in college was the Teachings of Chuang Tzu, a 3rd Century Taoist philosopher. It’s definitely what I refer to as a ‘sponge book,’ meaning when you read a parable, it probably won’t make sense to you right away- you have to let it soak in. Gradually, you begin to understand the meaning. It’s a difficult philosophy to get through and unfortunately, our professor began his course (Humanities) with that book. Our class went from about 50 to about 20 in a few short weeks. But the overall gist of his teachings on the Tao is, in my opinion, not that different from Stoicism (the Greco-Roman philosophy with the capital S) or Zen Buddhism: we are all part of the One and until we learn to accept that, we will always be unhappy.
That doesn’t mean that we just have to accept that we will always be fat, unhappy and unhealthy. It means we have to find ways to make what looks like a burden or an obstacle be a blessing to us instead. Believe me, I am certainly not one of those happy little “turn that frown upside down” perky people! Most of my Disney stuff has either Grumpy, Eeyore or Donald Duck on it- not the happy campers! But, basically, if sh*t happens, I can either wallow in it, or find a way out of it (this is Trick #2). Example: I commute 2 hours every morning and every evening five days a week. Essentially, all those fitness gurus who say “move every hour” are wasting their breath on me during my commute because I’ve got at least 20 hours a week on my butt in my car. I can either use that as an obstacle or an excuse not to exercise or lose weight, or I can find a way to use it to my advantage. So, all those podcasts that I listen to? You got it- in the car either on the way to work or on the way home! The same with audiobooks or just to de-stress either by listening to a favorite playlist or using my Bluetooth to catch up with friends. And yes, I realize the irony of de-stressing while stuck in traffic. That’s the other trick: traffic, like sh*t, happens! I can either freak out about it or just accept it as part of life! My current boss is pretty sanguine about it- I am usually more irritated by being late than he is, but either way, my freaking out isn’t going to change the flow of traffic and all it’s going to do is raise my anxiety and blood pressure.
If you listen to someone like Chuang Tzu, when we have something that looks like a burden or an obstacle, changing our perspective changes the obstacle itself. Many of my friends groan when they think of my commute, but to me, it’s an opportunity. Seriously, without being ‘trapped in the car for so many hours,’ when would I find the time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks? I’d have to find it somewhere else in my week! This situation is perfect for it! Not a lot else that I can do in the car but listen!
The same is true for one of the most common complaints I hear: ‘no one else in my family wants to eat healthy!’ Awesome!! Seriously, when we live alone like me, I don’t have any of those temptations in my house unless I bring them in. Don’t want them tempting you? Don’t buy them! Then we go out to a conference and there are those evil bagels daring me not to eat them! It’s hard, because I don’t face that temptation at home. When you are constantly looking at your kids’ chips or spouse’s ice cream or garlic bread, then you get used to seeing all the foods that aren’t on your healthy diet and even more important, you get used to not-eating them! Their siren song of “eat me!” fades away because you have stopped listening to it- you are stronger than the garlic bread, ice cream, chips or bagels. The key of course is not-eating them, which does take some strength to start out, just like it takes some strength for me not to put them in my cart at the store (“I can have one and give the rest to my dad/ sister/ friends”- riiiight!! Not happening!!) The trick is to look at this obstacle as practice. If you face these temptations every day at home, the pizza at the work luncheon is no match for you!
The other trick is not getting discouraged when you either give in to temptation or something gets in the way of your success. In other words, those times when the Universe wins. In my case, the Universe won recently: I usually have a water aerobics class on Mondays and I got stuck on Sunday (my prep day) helping my mom, so I planned on going grocery shopping after my Monday class. Those were my best-laid plans upon which the Universe wrought its usual havoc. I ended up working an hour and a half later than usual, due to delays at court and with clients, so I figured I’d missed my workout class, but then thanks to traffic (yay?), I ended up getting home even later still: those two hours took three and grocery shopping at 7:30 p.m. was really not appealing. I opted for the healthiest fast food I could get: grilled chicken and coleslaw- yay…. The trick is that yes, the Universe won on Monday, but Monday is one day. It’s not the rest of my life! (at least I hope not!) The key is to make more healthy decisions that unhealthy ones. One bad day or one bad week should not be the end of your healthy plan! I didn’t get to be 438 lbs by eating one bad fast food dinner at Jack in the Box; it was a pattern of bad choices that built upon itself and resulted in my being miserably unhealthy. My choices are give up and be unhealthy and unhappy and fat, or keep the faith and try for better. Even when the Universe wins. Even when it feels like the deck is stacked against me (hey, 438?!?) Even if it’s just as simple as taking a seeming failure (“I had biscuits with my chicken and coleslaw! Ugh!”) and using it as a teaching tool for you not to do it again (those stomach cramps during the night? think it was from the flour in the biscuits?? Hello!!)
There are a lot of Motivational Gurus who like to use phrases like “be the captain of your destiny” to encourage you to ‘be in control.’ While I think it’s really motivational, I also think it’s setting you up for a big fall. A lot of ‘your destiny’ has to do with things that happen around you and to you. A big part of my outlook and my weight loss success is accepting there are things in my life that are in my control and as for everything else, all I can do is control my reaction. Like Monday, when I realized I was not going to get off work in time to make my class, when I realized I was stuck in traffic and was getting home way later than I thought- I could have gotten angry, I could have had a tantrum and what would I have gained by that? Just stress and anxiety! I’ve got enough of both of those in my life and I sure don’t need to make any more for myself! It happened, so I made the best I could out of my situation (although I did get a bit snippy at the car in the drive thru ahead of me at 7:30! And that didn’t get me anything either!)
Seriously, it’s taken me a really really long time (like forty-plus years!) to realize that not getting angry at the Universe is an option and it’s not admitting defeat. It’s simply changing strategies. There’s an obstacle in your way? Go around it! I can gripe and whine and b*tch about spending 20 hours a week in the car and it won’t change my situation; it’ll just make me tense and upset and angry. What can I do that’s productive while I’m in the car? I can listen to something informative or enjoyable- problem solved! It’s not an obstacle anymore; I made it an opportunity instead!