Friday, June 01, 2012

The downside of the upside

I have a great friend who is a yoga teacher. She was telling me about the crazy schedule she has for the next few weeks and then quickly shut herself down and said, "but of course it's all perfect."

I do admire her ability to see the positive, but I think in this case it might have been worth thinking about why she is so prone to overbook herself and asking herself if there was a way she could set things up differently next time. Of course she has to accept that if she is committed to all of these things, she has to make the best of it now, but it's worth exploring that overwhelmed feeling and thinking if there is a way to avoid it.


I do feel that there is a pressure to be reflexively positive. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote eloquently about it in Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. There is an almost superstitious belief that if we aren't always unerringly happy, we will attract bad things to us. Ehrenreich even got grief for daring to feel sad and angry when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Of course, there is some truth to the sunny-side outlook --  anyone who is reading this is using an electronic device that costs more than most people in the world will live on in the next year.  We are all very blessed, and it is worth being genuinely grateful for the things and people we are lucky enough to have in our lives.

That said, emotions are there for a reason.  And an unswervingly positive outlook is like a compass that is always set to North -- pretty useless for deciding what direction I need to go.  If I'm feeling bad about something, it might be a sign that I want to make a change. Trying to shove those bad feelings down with affirmations and positive thinking may be the very last thing that helps.

I had a job, for example, that was so bad that I fantasized on the way to work that I would get into a minor car accident so that I wouldn't have to spend the day there.  That was a pretty serious sign that I should have left. I told myself I couldn't. I was in graduate school and this job making $8 an hour (almost double minimum wage at the time) was paying a lot of our bills.  In retrospect, though, I could have done things differently. I could have found a minimum wage job and gotten student loans, which I was superstitiously afraid to do. I could have insisted that my boyfriend (now my husband) find a way to contribute more to our joint expenses.  We could have found ways to cut those expenses. I was convinced, though, that I just had to accept the situation and make the best of it. I worked that job for a miserable year and luckily got a graduate assistantship the next year and could quit. It all worked out in the end.

I recently listened to the audio version of This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike by Augusten Burroughs. It wasn't my favorite of his books (Magical Thinking was much better) except for the first chapter:
Affirmations are dishonest.  They are a form of self-betrayal based on bogus, side-of-the-cereal-box psychology.
The truth is, it is not going to help to stand in front of a mirror, look into your own eyes, and lie to yourself.
 Especially when you are supposed to be the one person you can count on. 
What to do instead? When I'm feeling lousy, I think it's a good time to take another look at the situation.  Maybe there is a way to get myself out of the mess if I'm willing to dare to question its inevitability.

With the weight thing, that is what I'm trying to do.  I have genuinely asked myself, "If the world was magically transformed so that societal expectations for weight vanished, would you still want to lose weight?" The answer is yes, so I've been trying to make changes in the reality in which I live, instead of in the ideal world. I have been looking for ways to set up my life so that the real me, not the magically healthy me who never once craves tortilla chips, can have a better chance of succeeding. I've made a new default by setting up a workout schedule for the next month.  That schedule is a best-case scenario. I've already made the choice to deviate from it -- today for example, my knee has been swollen and tender, so I skipped the run -- but I'm more likely to succeed than having a default of doing nothing and having to consciously choose what workout to do each day. I also planned my meals for this week, but I had a couple of backup no-cook options just in case, which we ended up using.

I don't have all of the answers and I don't expect anymore that I will, someday, have things all figured out.  I don't think that I'm entitled to an easy; stress-free life. I'm entitled to the life that chance, circumstance, and my own efforts build for me, and that can be a pretty good one.  Especially if my compass is working, and I'm willing to use it.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Thank you, this is just what I needed to hear today. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have to disagree about affirmations. And I just happened to come across a blog post that explains why in a way that makes sense to me: http://gravelandrust.blogspot.com/2012/06/affirmative-action.html

    I may not be "entitled" to an easy, stress-free life, but I do deserve one. That doesn't mean it gets handed to me, it means that I believe I am worthy of it and that who I am at my core is enough to get it. As Roxie points out in her post, affirmations attract more of what we want...they help us focus.

    ReplyDelete

"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