Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breaking a Few Crayons

I once had an elementary school art teacher who made us break all of our new crayons in half and take the protective paper off. As a proud owner of my very first 64 pack of Crayolas with a built-in sharpener, I was not enamored with this instruction.

To this day, I believe that particular teaching moment, which launched the school year and all of our upcoming art classes together, could have been handled much more gracefully. But at least as an adult I better understand the point my teacher was attempting to make.

Trying to keep things "just so" can severely inhibit creativity and exploration. My art teacher didn't want us being overly careful not to press too hard when coloring or distracted by the specific names of all the colors. She wanted us to actively experiment, making our art boldly rather than timidly and using the sides of our crayons as well as the points. She knew that--in the long run--breaking our crayons would actually be freeing. She may also have been mindful of the students who didn't have brand new boxes of crayons to use and who might have felt diminished by comparison. Brokenness can be an equalizer.

The broken crayon concept carries over into other areas of life. If you've ever driven a brand new car or invested in a new paint job on an old vehicle, you know how cautiously you drive and park at first, wanting to keep it shiny and pristine for as long as possible. Eventually, though, you will encounter a mud puddle or a shopping cart.

A fresh manicure also requires extra caution. (Ever paint your nails too close to bed time and end up with sheet marks?)

I'm certainly not arguing against taking appropriate care in what we do, but the fear of messing up is not a very satisfying motivator. Besides, let's face it. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty or be willing to sweat a little bit.

I've been using a free website called SparkPeople.com in my recent weight loss efforts. There are lots of resources on the site: recipes, food and exercise trackers, health-related articles, exercise information, social networking, motivational tools, and more. You can use as few or as many as you like.

One of the clever little things you can do there is to collect "SparkPoints" by using the various tools on the site to make progress toward your goals. You earn points from reading health articles, drinking 8 cups of water in a day, taking a Spark poll or quiz, exercising, trying a new Spark recipe, creating a blog post, reading a Spark email, or a host of other helps. The site also tracks your "SparkStreaks" which record how long you have stuck with particular goals that you have set up, such as logging into the site every day, drinking enough water, journaling 3 days a week, or walking 5 days a week.

I have to admit that SparkPoints are the very kind of thing I often roll my eyes at, but, once I tried it, I found that tracking these points was actually kind of fun and did offer some welcome motivation, so I decided to stick with it.

I had logged on to SparkPeople.com to track my points every single day since I signed up to participate in early July of this year. Some days there wasn't much to record, and I was only on the site for a minute or two. Other days I took the time to read a few articles or watch a 5 minute exercise video. But at the very least, I logged on every day...

Until last Sunday.

I thought about logging on to SparkPeople a couple of different times. I even reminded my husband to be sure to track his SparkPoints. But I got distracted with something and remembered at 10 minutes past midnight that I had not tracked any points that day. By then, it was too late. I had broken my streak.

I am embarrassed to admit how disappointing I initially found this realization to be. Mind you, these points and streaks have no monetary value but are simply an invented incentive to stick with your program and progress through various levels. Still, I was pretty bummed.

It felt almost like discovering the first ding in my car door in the Kroger parking lot or breaking the first Crayola in my 64 pack. It was no longer perfect.

Yes, here we go again. Yet another appearance from my insidious little friend, perfectionism and her all-or-nothing thinking.

And here's the really silly part: Having now broken the spell of this magical "streak," I've been mucking around in oh-why-bother-ville ever since... as though accidentally not logging on to a website one day suddenly gave me license to overeat and procrastinate about exercise again!

Since Sunday night, I've decided that breaking that little streak was probably a good thing. I was getting just a wee bit obsessive about my SparkPoints, to the degree that they may have been more of a distraction than an aid. I'm back to using the site again, but without as much attention to points or streaks and with more focus on making use of information which can directly assist me in achieving my healthy living goals.

I've said before that I believe the way we think about eating and moving is at least as important as the actual food we eat and exercise we do, because thinking has a profound effect on doing.

Hitting this little snag helped me notice another area where my thinking needed some attention. Having now considered what happened when I ran off the rails momentarily, it's time to get back on board. I had a wonderful healthy salad at lunch today, and I'm headed back to the gym tonight.

How about you? Are there any "crayons" you need to break so they won't hold you back?

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