Stop Weighing Yourself

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“Stop weighing yourself.”

Three little words that showed up in my Twitter feed last week. I have no idea whether they were a reaction or a challenge, a frustrated admonition or a supportive suggestion. Were they directed at a specific individual or open advice for all?

Whatever their original intent, these three words have continued turning over and around in my head since I read them. They have been speaking to me about the many ways we weigh ourselves and find ourselves wanting. And they suggest – no, demand – that we stop doing this. Self-reflection is an important tool for growth. But when self-recrimination replaces balanced self-assessment, we can find ourselves engaging in a vicious self-talk that is completely lacking in constructive energy. Suddenly, our internal dialogue has us contending with the biggest bully of our lives – our own inner critic. Below, I’ve compiled a partial list of ways we need to stop weighing ourselves because they almost inevitably lead to self-bullying. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

Stop comparing yourself to arbitrary measures

As a culture, we are obsessed with measuring things. We know how much we “should” weigh based on our height and age; we know how many servings of each type of food we ought to eat; we have credit scores which determine whether we are a good or bad financial risk; and now we even have Klout scores measuring how influential we are. One of the problems with these measures is that they are based on huge data sets, not on individual people. The data set incorporates individual difference but we forget that when we find the point that “represents” us – especially if we don’t land right on that point (if our weight or our education or how often we clean our bathroom doesn’t conform to the average).

Another difficulty with these arbitrary measures is that, as human beings, we tend to apply meaning to them beyond the use for which the measure was originally intended. We take internet quizzes and suddenly find ourselves judging our tendency toward introversion/extroversion or our similarity to certain characters from Downton Abbey. We look at our credit score or the scale and instead of thinking, “This is only one way of seeing my situation” we think, “I’m a loser” or “I’m a fat slob.” Isn’t it time to stop taking these impersonal measures and applying them to ourselves in deeply personal – and often hurtful – ways?

Stop comparing yourself to others 

It is incredibly difficult to avoid finding yourself wanting by comparison to others. One reason is that we generally only see what others are choosing to let us see – and we all try to appear in the best light publicly. Another reason is that we are almost always more charitable toward others than we are toward ourselves. HER curves look sensuous, MINE look dumpy. HIS old clothes look “classic” or “vintage,” MINE are hopelessly out-of-date. We do this when the other person’s self or things are similar to us/ours. How much more so do we assign negative attributes to ourselves when there is disparity between us and another person? When I attend Bike School (the Thursday night twitter group found at #bikeschool) I am often jealous of the number and kind of bikes the other attendees own. As soon as I begin to feel sorry for myself as the owner of one measly old Trek hybrid, I begin a downward spiral that leaves me, by the end of the evening, feeling like an unemployed loser with little to offer the world – all because I can’t afford to own a road bike?!

Why is it so difficult to celebrate our own unique selves, living in our own unique circumstances? Because we assign value to the wrong things when we compare ourselves to others. I learned an important lesson about this by associating with distance runners when I worked with college student athletes. Runners race. Races, by definition, pit you against others in a comparison of skill determined by speed. But distance runners are often more focused on their personal record (PR) – comparing their own previous performance to their current performance. Imagine if we did this in daily life. I can’t help but think we’d all be a lot happier focusing on our progress rather than our shortfalls.

Stop thinking you are not enough

I recently bought The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. A few pages in, I came upon this, “…worthless feelings arise when we believe, however briefly, that who we are is not enough.” The passage goes on to ask that we sit and “quietly feel the fact that who you are is enough.” I couldn’t do it. In that moment, the first thought that occurred to me was, “Obviously, I’m not enough.” Because if I were enough, I’d have a better job. If I were enough, someone would be in love with me. If I were enough…well, let’s just say the list of ways I could immediately identify myself as ‘not enough’ was very long.

Even in the midst of that emotional moment of wallowing in my own inadequacy, I knew I was indulging in the worst form of self-pity. When I weigh myself and find that I am “not enough”, it absolves me of responsibility. Its not my fault that my life isn’t what I want it to be – I’m not enough. It is beyond my ability to change – I’m not enough. When I think of myself as not enough, I cannot be an agent of change, I can only be a bit of flotsam tossed about by the currents of life. Thinking I am not enough is an abdication of my personal power.

Stop participating in your own shaming

Samuel Johnson said, “Adversity is the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free from admirers then.” To a certain extent, this is true – and adversity can be a great teacher. However, it also happens to be the state in which we are most susceptible to our own inner critics. In our good moments, this results in positive self-talk and an optimistic viewpoint. In our lesser moments, the result is that we allow our inner voices to say nasty things to us – things we would never put up with from someone else. Words have the power to hurt – whether they originate with others or within ourselves. Learn to speak kinder words in a more respectful tone inside your own head. You may never completely eradicate shame from your life, but you don’t need to participate in its proliferation.

Stop focusing on the “wrong” things and start focusing on the “right” things

Last time I weighed myself and put the number up on this blog, the scale read 176 pounds. Exactly half of my starting weight of 352. This is a wonderful thing. I’ve worked hard and taken a slow path to get here. I’m not sure what I said to a friend when we were discussing this, but his response was, “When you look at yourself do you seriously NOT see how much you’ve physically changed in just the time since you moved here?” My response was, “Not really.” Because recently I haven’t felt good about my life in general, so when I look in the mirror what I see is sagging skin, wrinkles, the weight I still have to lose.

The problem with focusing on the wrong things is that we tend to move toward what we are focused on. This is true when we’re driving a car and accidentally veer toward the field full of baby lambs we were looking at and it is true in our daily lives. If my focus is on the ways I fall short, I continue to move toward my weaknesses, instead of moving toward my strengths.

Stop letting your last decision or choice define you

We give the other people in our lives lots of chances and opportunities, often many more than they may objectively deserve. We understand that people are flawed, and that even good people make bad decisions or choices that we disagree with. We continue to love and support them anyway. In fact, that may be how many of us define love and/or friendship: offering ongoing love and support despite these things.

We rarely cut ourselves that same slack.

One thing I’ve learned from my efforts to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, including management of my relationship with food, is that every bite is an opportunity to make a new choice. It doesn’t matter that the last choice I made was to dump a pile of cheese crackers on my plate – wish I hadn’t, but its over and done. The next choice can be a better one. The point isn’t to make perfect choices every time – and berate yourself when you fall short of this ideal. The point is to make more good choices, in the aggregate, than bad ones. By “good” I mean “that lead toward what you want” and by bad I mean “that don’t lead toward what you want.” Removing the shame, guilt, and deficit-thinking that keep us mired in weighing ourselves and finding ourselves wanting, is the goal.

 

Stop. Weighing. Yourself. When my friend tweeted those three little words he likely had no idea who they would touch or how they would be taken! He tweeted them into the ethernet anyway, rather than being bogged down with self-doubt and self-criticism. I think there’s something important each of us can take from his admonition! What do you think?

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Berries (not pearls) of Wisdom

“…autumn berries hung like clusters of coral beads, as in those fabled orchards where the fruits were jewels . . .” – Charles Dickens
 

On a photo excursion with Mike this past weekend, I discovered that nature has more lessons to teach me than I realized. This particular day, the lessons were about how we view the world, the filters and perspectives through which we look at our lives or the events that comprise our days. And my teachers? The bright autumn berries that abound in the woods through which our path rambled.

Shortly after hitting the trail at Prairie Park Fishery, both Mike and I noticed luscious red berries. They were lit by the sun and glowing red amid yellow and green flora. I wanted desperately to photograph them, but they were on the wrong side of a chain link fence. So, I attempted to photograph them through the fence. The result? The fence got in the way, giving the berries second billing.

Berry Lesson #1:  In order to see things clearly it is important to clear your field of vision.

Remove or get past extraneous stuff that clutters up your thinking. This is so much easier to say than do, even when taking a simple photo on a Saturday afternoon. But when you are contemplating decisions about big things – your relationships, your livelihood – it is easy to pile nonessential pieces into the picture. Suddenly you’re focusing on something tangential, and you’ve distracted yourself from the central issue. Clear out the psychological and emotional clutter, and your vision will clear as well. Trust me, the end result is worth it.

A bit further along on our walk, I noticed a tree with vines curling around its trunk. I loved the look and the texture of the bark, the  symbiosis between tree and vine. So I took a photo…

…and continued on my way. Eventually, Mike and I turned around and began to retrace our steps at a leisurely pace. Mike moved ahead when I stopped to get a closer look at something on the ground. When I caught up with him, I noticed Mike was avidly shooting pictures. As I moved up next to him, I saw that he had in his viewfinder a profusion of bright yellow berries which contrasted beautifully against the brilliant blue sky. As I admired his find, I suddenly recognized what I was looking at – the tree I had already photographed. I had been so focused on the textures and the winding vine, I had completely missed the presence of the berries!

Berry Lesson #2:  There IS such a thing as being too focused.

While focus and single-mindedness can be great, we’ve all heard cautionary tales of people who were so focused on achieving a particular goal that they missed out on some beautiful opportunities in their lives. When I was originally photographing the tree, I would have sworn there were no berries in the  vicinity – yet, take another look at the tree photo and you’ll see yellow berries. They are clearly visible to all (except to me as I honed in on the trunk and winding vine).

On our photo excursions, Mike is forever reminding me “Don’t forget to look up!”. It’s a great reminder to change my perspective, to switch up the view from which I am looking at things. Too much focus keeps our eyes locked straight ahead, causing us to miss important things in the periphery.  When I finally did look up, thanks to Mike’s example and exhortation, I saw this:

After a while, I began to think I had already snapped photos of every possible view or item on the Fishery trail. Then the low battery light started flashing on my camera, and suddenly I was in a frenzy to grab a last few pictures before the camera shut itself off. This led to some hurried and/or random shots, such as this one:

What’s it a picture of? Its just nothing – no interest, no composition, no focal point. When we are in too big a hurry, momentum takes over. Sometimes, momentum carries us forward, sometimes it just keeps us moving. I often think that our culture, obsessed as it is with multitasking and speed and noise, mistakes all this activity for meaningfulness. As I was racing along, hurriedly snapping, I didn’t take one worthwhile shot.

Berry Lesson #3:  In daily life, and photo excursions, you’ve got to slow down and breathe deeply in order for the best things to happen – and to recognize them when they do.

After I snapped the shot above, I looked up to see Mike standing still. His camera, however, was clicking rapidly as he tried to capture a moving target. He said that several blue birds were chasing each other around a particular thicket. I joined him, but I was no match for those little birds – I couldn’t find them with my lens no matter what I did. I trotted back and forth across the trail for a minute, in an unproductive attempt to outrun the winged critters.

Then I stopped, laughing at myself. I let my shoulders relax into the warmth of the sun shining down on them. I smelled the crisp and slightly decaying scent of the leaves piled on the ground. I thought, briefly, “I am happy”. I could see some movement in one tree, so I lifted my camera until I could just barely glimpse something that didn’t look like a leaf. I didn’t care about the end product; I cared about the fact that I was – that second – where and with whom I wanted to be, engaging with my surroundings in a fully conscious manner. And in that moment – CLICK!  – one of the best things happened:

An Hour, A Trail, and a Camera

August 21, 2012. Twenty one days down, ten to go. On-lookers may reason we’re on the downhill side, but August is a lopsided mountain in student affairs – the climb, the long-haul, just keeps going until it suddenly stops somewhere in the vicinity of Labor Day (if we are lucky and our students stay sane, safe, and sober).

I was at my desk. I had reached the limit of my ability to reason clearly and push forward with the paperwork that has piled up while I’ve been training the Resident Assistants. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:20 on a beautiful afternoon. No evening session planned. I wasn’t on call.

So I bolted.

I was possessed by a sudden, single-minded energy. I had not planned it, nor had I thought of doing it until that moment. It just popped into my brain as a whole thought, and I practically tripped over my own feet in my attempt to move quickly (the fear of getting stopped by someone’s need as I try to leave campus is a very real one in August). I was home, changed, and on my way within minutes.

I saw others setting foot on the path as I pulled into parking at the Indian Creek Nature Center. But once I set out on the trail, camera in hand, I did not see another human being for a full hour. As I walked, I felt my entire body relax. My breathing deepened, and I felt my soul open up, not like a flower to the sun but like a jack-in-the-box, swiftly and all at once. I have never been a  “granola” girl, but as my physical fitness has improved I’ve discovered that getting out in nature, on foot or by bicycle, has the automatic effect of releasing any tension I carry. I relax completely.

I’ve also discovered that taking my camera has an interesting impact on my experience of nature. I feel myself expand as the tension leaves my body. And the camera exerts an opposite pull: that of focusing my attention. It would seem that expansion and focus are opposites. But in the context of nature photography, they not only coexist, they paradoxically enhance one another. As my being reaches out to the natural world surrounding me, my camera lens selects something on which to focus and I see the place and the moment in striking detail. I see light, color, texture and find I am also more grounded, able to use my other senses more extensively.

I spent one hour on my own – just me, my camera, and a few critters (both seen and unseen). By the time I returned to the parking lot, my shoulders were no longer hunched up to my ears, I was breathing normally, and (best of all) no sense of panic or worry remained in my head or thumping heart.

And now that I’ve used my words to describe the experience, I thought you might like to see some of what I saw on my short journey of expansion and focus (I took 100+ photos, so this is truly a sampling):












Words That Changed My Life: Intention

Note: This is the first in a series exploring words that have had an impact on my life, either by changing my perspective or by helping me to grasp a concept I had struggled to understand. The series will appear periodically, interspersed with other posts. For those of you thinking about a guest post for the “Sunday Roast” series, one option is a post about a word that changed your life !
 
From the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.”

I am a word person. I always have been, though for much of my life I relegated the power of words to my heart – by which I mean that I understood their power to affect my inner life and to stir emotions, but I didn’t fully comprehend them as vehicles for the outward thrust of energy. I didn’t know that some words could affect my daily experience.

In graduate school, we spoke about the need for educators to create “intentional” programs, designed to challenge and support our students in their personal development. Rather than throwing together a hodge-podge of experiences, think and plan carefully with a particular goal or goals in mind.

Goals. I learned how to write them, how to operationalize them, how to assess progress toward them. I just couldn’t get the hang of actually having them.

And then the idea of “Intention” (and it’s sister concept, “The Law of Attraction”) exploded on the scene. The New Age Movement meets Quantum Physics. I watched “What the Bleep”, read Lynn Grabhorn’s “Excuse Me, You’re Life is Waiting” – there is no shortage of material out there which says that we can create our own reality and attract into our lives the things we want, by “setting our intention”.

I liked these ideas, despite the fact that much of what has been written is tinged with magical thinking and focused on achieving material abundance. Although I’m not bent on earning my first million, I am attracted to the concept that it might be up to me whether any day is a good day. I have tried several experiments with the idea of intention. One notable example ended up with me getting free meat at the grocery store – it was a fun experiment, but the free meat has not been a replicable outcome.

What has and can be replicated is the intention to manage my own choices such that a positive outcome is practically guaranteed. I remember the first time I approached an annual event, one which I had annually dreaded, with this specific intention: “Today, I will be calm and open to every person who approaches me. If there is a problem, we will resolve it with compassion and respect.” I wrote the intention down, and said it aloud. Each time throughout the day that I began to feel anxiety or my composure began to slip, I would remind myself of the day’s intention.

In the end, it was a great day. In the end, I learned that the power of intention isn’t magical at all. It simply requires two things: the intent (in this case a short-term goal for the day) and the willingness to remain consciously focused on aligning your behavior with that intent. Simple, but not easy. Not easy, but what life-changing behavior ever is?

This may be one of the reasons the Gospel of John is my favorite. It’s first sentence “In the beginning was The Word” is perhaps my favorite sentence of all time. Then: The Word was with God and was God, and it was focused outward with a mighty intent. God’s intention created everything – how amazing and powerful is that? And the light created by that intent has not and cannot be overcome by darkness.

In my life, I try to use intention to reflect some small measure of that light. Simple, but not easy. Some days, I set my goal/intention for the day and my focus never wavers. Other days, it unravels or comes apart in shreds as I lose control of my attention, I get pulled in too many directions, I am unable to stay centered. As with every change we try to make in life, practice is called for and perfection is a million miles away. But I have more successfully intentional days now than I did five years ago, or five months ago. And that has, indeed, changed my life.