Sunday, September 4, 2011

The 'C & R Brothers

Perfectionism sometimes rears its ugly head for me in all-or-nothing thinking.

I get an idea in my mind, a goal I want to achieve--maybe making a big splash at an upcoming reunion by showing up 30 pounds lighter.

So far, so good. A vision is a wonderful thing.

My idea is big enough to require considerable time and effort to pull off. I think it's do-able, but not easily. It will require multiple steps to achieve.

I want the whole picture, though--the full effect. If I "only" lose 10 or 15 pounds, I'll still weigh more than I did the last time most of them saw me.

I know that to lose 30 pounds in the 4 months until the reunion will be a challenge. I'll really have to pull out all the stops and make this a top priority.

Then I begin to consider all the other things I also need to attend to in the next few months...

Enter my old friend Procrastination with his sidekick, Rationalization.

'Cras and Rash, we'll call them.

'Cras points out that I can't possibly make the lifestyle shift required without purging my kitchen of all unhealthy junk and restocking it with only fresh, whole foods and maybe even installing a state-of-the art water filtration system. In other words, a major project before I can even begin. Ugh.

Rash reminds me that it is Thursday, and NO ONE starts a diet on a Thursday. Besides, it would be wasteful to just throw out all the unhealthy food currently in the kitchen, so I have until Monday to eat it all (by which time I will have more than 30 pounds to lose).

'Cras also explains that since I let my gym membership lapse years ago, it's become more expensive to join, so I'll have to wait for them to run a special before I try to sign up again.

Before I can think through any viable alternatives, Rash tells me that what little I can do in the way of exercise at home in the meantime isn't going to be enough to make a dent in the amount of weight I have to lose, so there's no need to even consider it.

I'm sure you already know that the ending to this tale does NOT include a grand entrance at the reunion in a size 6. More likely, I'll be sitting at home that night in sweats instead, eating donuts and berating myself again for my lack of willpower.

When it comes to visits from the 'C & R brothers, it doesn't matter whether you want to lose 30 pounds or 300. They are equal-opportunity uninvited guests. But you don't have to let procrastination and rationalization in just because they have knocked on your door with their all-or-nothing sales pitch. There is plenty of middle ground to be explored instead.

Yes, sometimes long-held dreams or a bold vision will inspire sweeping changes that catapult us to achieve lofty goals in record time. It's wonderful when we have those dramatic WOW experiences, but it's not the only way important things get done.

If a show-stopping 180-degree turn-around doesn't look promising for any reason, we aren't out of options. We needn't give up or wait for another grand inspiration, which may or may not arrive.

The conventional wisdom is that we have to double down, get tough with ourselves, step up our game, make it all happen. But there are times when a kinder, gentler approach is more appropriate. The results may not be as dramatic, but neither is there a high crash-and-burn potential when we make adjustments gradually. 

We can choose to proceed imperfectly, knowing that we aren't necessarily positioned for an impressive showing but also recognizing that something is almost always better than nothing. 

If you can't fit 30 minutes of exercise into your day, start with 10...

Or 5...

Even ONE.

If you aren't ready to commit to all aspects of a healthy eating plan, start by drinking more water and reducing your food intake only slightly. Begin to make a few healthy substitutions.

Even if you can't slip into that little black dress in time for the reunion, you can be healthier than you are now, and that's enough to matter.

How we think is every bit as important as how we eat or how we move.

The act of simply taking whatever small steps we reasonably can at the moment is such an obvious concept, but when we are caught in a downward spiral of poor choices and self-loathing we convince ourselves that the idea of doing so little is worthless in the face of the task ahead.

Or maybe life is actually going pretty well, so we are not groping around in some emotional black hole, but perfectionism still convinces us that it's not worth doing anything until we can do it "right."

The last time I lost a significant amount of weight, I did so in a determined and disciplined way. After a long period of procrastination I finally bit the bullet, joined Weight Watchers, and followed the plan religiously. I could tell you how many "points" were in almost anything. I could also tell you the date I joined, the date I reached my goal and shifted to "maintenance," and the date I became a "Lifetime Member." Although mine was not one of those incredible weight loss stories you sometimes see on television or in magazines, my friends and family knew I was on a mission, and it was indeed life-changing for me, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

This time it's far sloppier, but no less important.

I knew I had let some of my good habits slide and needed to get back on track, but frankly I had other things on my mind and wasn't entirely in the mood to deal with it. I reluctantly got started on the food part of things before I felt ready to exercise, and I'm still experimenting with various approaches to eating, uncertain about whether or not I want to count Weight Watchers points again. Even now that I'm in full gear with both healthier eating and regular exercise, the excess weight is coming off more slowly than before.

At one point, I began to ask myself, "Why bother?"

Why am I putting myself through all this effort for such incremental results?

My answers...
  • Slowly feeling better and better beats the hell out of slowly feeling worse and worse. 
  • Doing something imperfectly is still better than doing nothing at all. 
  • Being well enough to live the kind of life I want to live is important to me, even if slow progress is all I can manage right now. 
  • And I suspect that these less dramatic changes may actually be more realistic for me to maintain, long-term, than strict adherence to a more formal weight-loss program.

Once 'Cras & Rash have been ushered out, what initially seemed impossible becomes easier and easier. Now that I've finally gotten started on my imperfect path, it isn't the dreary undertaking I had convinced myself it would be, and my slow progress has actually begun to speed up. 

When you hit a bump in the road--and you will--that's okay. It doesn't erase every good thing you've done. Nor does it mean you can't move forward again. Just take the next little step.

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