Setting Ourselves up for Failure
One of my favorite exercises I do with a new client is their ‘dream day.’ I have them close their eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths, and give them permission to escape into their most well day. Go ahead, try it, from the moment you wake until you put your head back on that same pillow at night, I want you to play through an entire day where you are immersed in blissful you-specific well being. What do you do? Who do you spend time with? What do you eat? What is the season, the temperature, the general feeling of the day?
In all of my years doing this, no matter the age, gender, health disposition, etc. the days go something like this:
“I wake up slow, but early. I have some quiet time to myself in the morning, maybe some reading and coffee. I do things that make me feel fulfilled; art, writing, create, etc. I spend time with people I care about. We eat together, perhaps go on a walk, and we really connect. I spend a lot of time outside, either walking or just hanging out in a park. I cook dinner with someone/people I care about. The food is fresh and delicious. I wind down the day with a good book, maybe some wine, and go to bed feeling blissfully tired but content.”
That’s the general make up of most people’s day, with a variations based on people’s specific hobbies, interests, etc. Never, not once have I had someone claim their most well day is ‘getting a private jet, heading to Vegas, winning the lottery and being able to eat donuts and French fries all day without consequence.’ And even more rare is this scenario, “I wake up early, spend 2-3 hours at the gym, drink kale smoothies for each meal and feel satiated, and then I have enough energy to run a half marathon in the evening.”
So, why is it then that when I ask people what their wellness goals are, I hear things like, ‘go to the gym more,’ ‘eat only healthy foods,’ and ‘change my entire lifestyle to one of focus and pure dedication to healthy behaviors?’
There seems to be a distinct and paralyzing conflict between what we want to want and what we really want/who we really are. If our most well day is full of simple truths like, “just a few moments of alone time to reflect,” and “time outside with people I love,” why are we setting ourselves up for failure by creating goals that look nothing like those truths?
This is how the fitness industry, in all of its poison, survives. It has sculpted our perspective into an unobtainable structure. We are aiming for impossible goals, not because they are not ‘physically possible,’ but because they are not in line with who we are and what we want in our most intuitive being. So we spend more money, we buy more gym passes, we hire another trainer, more online cleanse programs, more motivational gadgets, more spandex, more, more, more. As we spend more and continually miss the fitness mark, we mentally bash ourselves, “why can’t I get my crap together? Why am I so bad at this? Am I the laziest, least motivated, worst advocate for my own health ever?”
The answer that every health magazine, gym representative, and beach-body trainer doesn’t want you to know, is that you were never going to succeed. It’s not set up for that. When what you value and what you are told to value are different, it’s like running head first into a brick wall, over and over and over again. We are being set up for failure towards an impossible finish line.
What we want vs what we want to want
So, where do we start to unravel the poison injected by the fitness/health industry? We begin by figuring out what we actually want versus what we want to want. Do you really want to run a half marathon? Or do you wish that you wanted that? Do you really want to spend your precious 1-2 hours of free time per day in the weight room? Or do you feel like you’re supposed to want that? Go back to that well day, what’s different about the reality of those desires and the goals you are ‘sure’ you want?
What is Worth?
In the end, it all comes down to where we place worth. Do you place worth in your relationships? Do you place your worth in your work or your titles (wife, husband, mother, father, employee, friend, etc)? Does a large chunk of your self-worth come from your physical appearance? Or do you feel more worthwhile when you feel funny, intelligent, kind, or maybe self-sacrificing? Knowing how you show love, or your ‘love language’ could be helpful in answering this question: quality time, physical touch, gift-giving, acts of service, and verbal validation.
Where You Place Your Worth, You Place Your Time
The truth is that where we place our worth, we place our time. It is as basic and non-compromising as that. You may want to spend more time at home, but if you receive most of your worth from your work, that’s where your time will go. If you place your worth into your relationships, that solo-gym time will be forfeited each time in lieu for time spent with friends and family.
Do you see how there is no progressing past this point until it is realized? I don’t disagree that you may see value in cooking all of your own meals from scratch with only organic, local ingredients, but if your worth is wrapped up in spending quality time with your kids, of course that will take precedent. You may really want to exercise more, but if your worth is immersed in your project at work, therein lies your focus and your time.
Validation is a tricky bugger. It begins when we are young, usually. As soon as we spend more time with our peers than our parents, our ever-observant childhood eyes notice how some kids are really good at some things, while others are better at other things. This starts to distinguish how we spend our time. If we are told we are good at sports, it’s likely that we will keep seeking validation from that arena. If we are told our painting is top notch, it’s likely we will keep working towards more and more accolades from that skillset. Conversely, even if we aren’t specifically told we are bad at something, simply not receiving positive validation subconsciously persuades us to not pursue certain endeavors. No one may have ever specifically said you were a bad singer, but no one ever told you that you had a good voice, so perhaps you sang less and less in public. You may have noticed the accolades and praise other kids got for their aptitude for numbers, and because you weren’t a part of that group, you have since believed you are bad at math. We veer towards our sources of validation, this becomes where we put our worth, and, again, where we feel of worth is where we spend our time.
Narrowing our Focus:
Now comes the inevitable and invariable ‘now what?’ The good news is once we decipher where we get majority of our worth, it all gets very simple. It becomes simple because we don’t have wide enough scope to see past our worth. Meaning, where I put value is what shapes my perspective of the world. We see everything through those very shade-specific glasses. Say that I want to change my worth from a career-based validation system, to that of a relationship centric one. There could be fear of losing those work praises, the promotions, the financial compensation, etc. But, if our worth truly comes from our relationships, we won’t even have an eye for the other. Make sense? If you don’t see any worth in how people are dressed, maybe it just doesn’t register as a valuable marker, then there is no chance you are spending any portion of your day sad or regretful about the amount of time not shopping for new shoes or the latest lulu lemon style. There won’t be space for all that you’re not getting, you will only see the gains from your worth-center.
More Bang for Your Buck
How does this relate back to wellness? In my experience with clients, the most successful stories come from those who are brutally honest about where they find their worth, and then…. they utilize it. Instead of trying to change where they feel most validated, they combine their wellness goals within those strengths. Example:
Sarah noticed that everything in her life came back to her relationships. She felt most successful in her job when her clients and co-workers were in good spirits. She felt most rewarded as a person when her children, husband, and friends were around spending quality time together. She felt like a failure in her health goals, noting her desire to be involved with and constantly improving upon her relationships took up all of her energy and time. Instead of trying to change where Sarah saw worth, we merely molded the story to benefit her. Instead of doing a solo workout at the gym, she chose to go for hikes with a new person in her life each week. Instead of getting frustrated at her eating habits, she created a cooking club where she saw many of her friends at once one night per week.
You can get the most bang for your buck by merely utilizing your strengths. If you are a phenomenal employee, perhaps you create a health initiative at work that has similar rewards as a work project, thus giving you the same validation in putting time towards it.
Rewrite Your Recipe
I, for one, am sick of a poisonous, lie-ridden industry is telling us how to feel and pursue a worthwhile lifestyle. Every day I work with such dynamically unique individuals, full of different perspectives, values, love languages, and histories that have created who they are. Instead of putting all these dynamic people one the same mechanical robots (treadmills, ellipticals, apps tracking your calories), why wouldn’t we write a bigger, Harry-Potter-book-7 style story on how health looks for us? It could be full of our specific horcruxes, what our patronus looks like, and who our fellow wizard/witch allies are. Yeah, we all deserve a bigger, better definition for the magic that is our quirks and wellness values. Evaluate your worth, rewrite your wellness book, give it YOUR ending.