Monday, April 22, 2013

who owns the choice to change?

Thank you for all your lovely comments on my last post! It's nice to know there's someone reading besides Romanian sex traffickers.

Anyway, I mentioned that I've been pretty riveted lately by the idea of how change really works. And one of the concepts I’ve come across is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic change. That is to say, change that you bring upon yourself versus change that is brought upon you by someone or something external to you.

A simpler way to think about it is this: one is a type of change you have control over and the other isn’t. An example of a change you don’t have control over might be losing your job, or finding out your landlord is selling the house you rent. An example of change you DO have control over is quitting your job, or deciding to move in with your significant other.

But one thing that’s been puzzling me lately is where weight loss / health goals fit into that. How many times have you looked in the mirror and said, “Oh my God, I HAVE to lose some weight”? If you’re anything like me, the answer is “a shit ton.” Or maybe you got bad test results the last time you saw your doctor -- your cholesterol is high or you’re pre-diabetic, or whatever. And again you might say to yourself (or even hear from your doctor), “I HAVE to do something about this!”

I feel like I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself over the last two years, because not only do I feel like I HAVE to lose weight, I feel like I HAVE to get back to my old weight. That’s been the voice in my head, over and over -- you have to do this, everyone’s judging you, you don’t fit into any of your old clothes, this is humiliating and you HAVE TO FIX IT.

But now I wonder if I’m not giving away some (or even a lot) of my power when I say that to myself. The reality is, we are never FORCED to try to get healthier. Yes, some of the consequences can be dire -- our health might deteriorate, we could lose mobility, we could even eventually die and leave behind sad little orphan children. I’m absolutely not saying those aren’t terrible things that we probably want to avoid -- but that’s the thing, we WANT to avoid them. We don’t HAVE to.

Think about it this way. If you get fired from your job, you have to leave. Even if you decide to be like the guy from Office Space and just hide in the basement of your office for awhile, pretending you still work there, eventually they will find you and literally force you to leave. They will escort you from the building, or call the police if they have to. They will most definitely stop paying you. You really DON’T have a choice.

But when it comes to health, you do. Sure, you could face the ultimate consequence if you don’t change, but it’s still your choice.

I think this concept is more important than we give it credit for. We tend to act out when we feel like we’re not in control of something. How many times have I done something stupid and immature when I felt forced into making a change I didn’t want to make? I’m pretty sure divorce attorneys get rich off this very idea -- one person’s not happy about the divorce and channels that unhappiness into fighting over every hideous knick-knack and kitchen utensil.

On the other hand, if you resign from your job in order to pursue your dream of being a professional tap dancer, I highly doubt your old boss is going to find you sneaking into the building, sitting at your old desk, and secretly doing your old job on the sly. That was a choice (a change) you made for yourself, and you’re much more likely to embrace all aspects of it, even the moments that are inevitably going to be tough. (Hey, the professional tap dancing scene is very cut-throat. Or so I hear.)

So when we start a new health regime, and we ‘cheat’ or give up or do something that otherwise doesn’t align with our goals, maybe it’s because, on some level, we feel like this change is being forced upon us. Maybe when we throw up our hands and reach for the cake (guilty!), what we’re doing is the same as the soon-to-be-divorced guy, absolutely insisting he should get that porcelain rabbit with the Easter bonnet. I mean, he DESERVES it.

Just like we deserve that cake, right?

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