Nonrandom thoughts and mindful metaphors
All of my adult life I have wrestled with healthy living. I’ve been overweight for 20 years – clinically obese for a chunk of that time. Both of my parents are obese, so I’m genetically predisposed – and being 5’3″ with a 6’10” sweet tooth doesn’t help matters. Bottom line: it is a daily struggle for me. Every night I eat the brownie, and every morning I kick myself for not being able to fit into half the pants in my closet.
I’m also a modern American, so naturally I wish there was a shortcut. Some pill or treatment that would solve this rather than months of hard work. I know from experience that it’s much, much harder to get lean than to stay lean. I think to myself, “if I could only get lean overnight, then I know I could stay that way.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had fleeting thoughts about using hypnosis, liposuction, or one of those electric belts that shocks you all through the day. When I hear a news story about a hiker lost in the woods for three days without food who lost twenty pounds, I start wondering if I could pay someone to drop me blindfolded in the forest with a GPS tag. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for the Y!) there are no shortcuts when it comes to healthy living.
Those of you who know me know that I’m not accustomed to failure. When there is a problem, I typically find a way to fix it. Naturally then, it grieves me terribly that I haven’t been able to rise to this personal challenge despite over five years of effort. The frustration and disappointment has been especially strong the past few weeks. I’ve been asking and telling myself often: “What is wrong with you that you can’t fix this? You know what to do – why don’t you do it?”
This question deserves an answer, and a few days ago that answer came to me (as most of my good thoughts and ideas do) in the shower. For me, slaying the dragon of weight loss boils down to my being M.I.A.: Motivated, Informed, and Accountable. Please allow me to unpack this a bit:
Motivated – In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink states that intrinsic motivation is vital to lasting change. In other words, the decision to make a lifestyle change based on the motivation to be a better you is much more effective than motivation based on reward (looking great) or consequence (not fitting into our clothes). I believe this type of motivation is critical to reaching healthy living goals. I have to want it – for me – so that my body is not standing in the way of my being the best me I can be.
Informed – Knowing what to do to is obviously a key component to attaining healthy living goals, but that’s only part of the picture. Knowing why those things work or don’t work is also important, as is studying how certain techniques and methods work for you versus others, and most importantly – having a good understanding of what makes you tick: your predispositions, your emotional reactions, your weaknesses. In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard , Chip & Dan Heath explore the idea that our emotion is almost always going to trump, or at least temper, our logic (unless you happen to be a Vulcan). Logic says “you need the exercise” but emotion says “wow it’s cold outside and this bed is so warm and cozy!” Understanding where your emotions tend to get the better of you, and learning tricks to manage that is critical to lasting change. Being a “student of you” is a key part of being informed.
Accountable – For most people, letting “me” down is one thing, but letting “you” down is another. Likewise, behavior can change dramatically in the absence of short-term consequences; just look at many students’ first month at college. Duty to others runs deep in every culture on earth. No one wants to be an oath breaker, and we can use this to our advantage. Engaging friends to walk along side you is vital to success. Find someone who will help set expectations, proactively ask you to report on specific milestones on a regular basis, and hopefully participate with you directly in reaching a shared goal. For me, accountability is the tough one – and the one I believe keeps me from succeeding at healthy living. I am reluctant to seek out people that will chide me for skipping a workout or tackle me when I’m making a beeline for the cookies.
These three factors are all interdependent. Two out of three won’t get the job done – you must have them all. A new year is just around the corner. Are you ready to be the example your family and community need you to be? Are you M.I.A.?