Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Finding the Why

This is one of those "thinking-out-loud" posts.  I thought I'd share some of the things that are circling in my mind and hopefully figure out a few things in the process.

I have been blogging now since 2006 about what was originally a quest to lose 20 pounds.  Now it's closer to 30, and I wonder why something that seems so simple on the surface could have become so difficult. As Valerie Frankel said in Thin is the New Happy, continually losing and regaining the same 20 pounds is "not so much Sisyphean as a**holian." It seems just plain ridiculous.

I remember that when I had lost the weight, I felt sort of disoriented. Without the familiar problem, where should I focus my energy?  I had the same feeling when I finished my dissertation, and now, when I have the job that I got that dissertation in the hopes of getting -- that reaching the goal doesn't feel as meaningful as its pursuit.  I look around and wonder, "what next?"  It's easy to think that the answer is to set another, bigger, more audacious goal.  But the fact that I've accomplished some very big goals and still felt empty suggests that accomplishments are probably not the road to happiness.

Peter Walsh's many books have all been about people who try to fill that empty feeling with possessions, but even when their homes are so overstuffed that they don't have room to live, they keep pursuing more.

The Willpower Instinct gives a clue on why we get hung up on pursuing the same things over and over, even when it doesn't exactly make us happy. It has to do with our brain chemistry.  Dopamine is a brain chemical associated both with motivation and with addiction.  It stimulates the expectation of reward, but is not associated with happiness itself. It can motivate us to seek, but dopamine is an excitement junkie. It doesn't stick around for the "happily ever after" part. It tends to send us in the direction of primitive needs: Food, sex, excitement, immediate gratification, status.  It doesn't steer us to things that actually feel good -- meaningful contact with friends, creative activities, time out in nature.

Lately I have been feeling the need for something even bigger than happiness: Purpose and meaning.  I am stuck on the fundamental question: What does it all mean? Why am I here? What will I, or can I, leave behind when I'm gone?  What purpose is my life supposed to serve?

My French teacher was talking (in French) disapprovingly about a women she read about in the news who went parachuting when she was 84. Roughly translated, my teacher's question was, "Why should she do that? She could still live even another ten years."  My question, which I could not articulate in French, was why would another 10 years be better than doing something she apparently really wanted to do right now?

I'm not saying I'm no longer interested in short-term goals. I am. I still want to lose the weight just so that my life will be simpler -- I won't have to spend time trying to find clothes that will make me look acceptable with the extra roll around my middle.  The revelation of  The Willpower Instinct for me was that the fact that a goal is not easy to accomplish is not necessarily a sign that it's not worth pursuing. I want to write a book, not for fame and fortune, but just for the satisfaction of doing something that I have wanted to do for my whole life.  Publishing it is beside the point.  I still want to find a way to make my work feel more meaningful.

But in the process, I do hope to find the bigger why.  Any insights would be most welcome!

9 comments:

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  2. I loved this post, primarily because the premise is timely for me. I have also been questioning myself and looking for the truth and the "why" of things in my life. In fact, I posted about it just today.

    I also think that I perseverate on this weight loss thing, because it has become a focus that distracts from other things, fills my time and thoughts, has become a habit, and gives me a goal. I do know this: it (the chronic weight loss attempt) is exhausting, but the exhaustion is mitigated by periodic new strategies and subsequent excitemen, based on hope for future success.

    Continuing to pursue it (weight loss) is something I just can't give up and at the same time, my progress has been miniscule in recent years. Go figure...also looking for answers. I do need to read "The Willpower Instinct."

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  3. Thanks for your insight, and for sharing what you've been reading/thinking about. I don't have much to offer, but you've given me more to ponder. As a recovering alcoholic, I'm well aware my food problem is a branch of my former alcohol-consumption problem. But food/alcohol are only symptoms of the real problem. Which is me.

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  4. I think this is probably the first time I've ever commented on a blog, but your post said something that I needed to hear. I need to lose a lot more than 20 pounds. Between trying to lose weight and trying to create a better life I think I've lost sight of living my life. I, too, need to ask myself not how I want to look or "be" in my life, but what I want my life to be about. When I think back to the happiest (and thinnest) times of my life, those were the times when I wasn't striving or seeking. It was when I was present in my life and enjoying it. I wish you luck in finding your "why." You've made me realize I need to find mine.

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    1. Thank you for commenting! I hope we both find our why.

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  5. As someone who is always looking for (and at) the why, this very much resonates. I have found that my greatest successes come when I dig deep rather than "trying to lose weight." When I am at peace, my body comes to its natural, healthy weight and I feel comfortable in my skin and my clothes. Right now, I don't feel comfortable in my skin or my clothes. I've gained...and it's not because I "went off my diet," "stopped counting calories," or was a couch-potato. It's because I jumped back into a self-destructive pattern almost without even realizing it. I've spent nearly four months in this pattern and it's only been because I didn't give up on digging deep that I have finally (just in the past few days) started to see (and ACCEPT) what is really going on. Acceptance has moved me away from resistance.

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  6. Acceptance is an important step, no doubt about it. We have to accept the reality of the current situation, and the past for that matter, in order to move forward. But I don't think it's the whole answer. And I think the meaning of acceptance is a little fuzzy -- does acceptance mean you can never consciously try to make changes? My feeling is no. But I definitely agree all efforts to change should start from a place of kindness, even if I'm not always able to live that. I have good moments and bad ones, and I accept that too.

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    1. "does acceptance mean you can never consciously try to make changes? "

      Not in my world...to me acceptance is saying, "oh, look what I've been doing to myself" and not denying it or trying to turn it into something it isn't. Now that I fully accept what I've been doing to myself and why, I can consciously move forward. I've done it before...I know what it looks and feels like.

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  7. Acceptance is an important step, no doubt about it. We have to accept the reality of the current situation, and the past for that matter, in order to move forward. But I don't think it's the whole answer. And I think the meaning of acceptance is a little fuzzy -- does acceptance mean you can never consciously try to make changes? My feeling is no. But I definitely agree all efforts to change should start from a place of kindness, even if I'm not always able to live that. I have good moments and bad ones, and I accept that too.

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07