Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Can't Control the Future

The other day I was thinking about this tendency I have to believe that something has to have an end point, or a goal, or some sort of measurement to be "perfect" in order to be worthwhile. It's hard to put a finger on this, but let me try and give a couple of examples.

When I think about strength training, or even when I *do* strength train, I feel great. But then I start to think, "What about next month when I go on vacation? I will be driving a lot, visiting a lot, and I probably won't have the time or equipment to weight train. All my efforts will be for nothing if I strength train all week NOW because if I skip weight training for 2 or 3 weeks I will be back to square one." Or, I go even further into the future. "I don't know if lifting weights is sustainable for the next 40 or 50 years. There will be times I am sick or busy. I might get tired of it and stop. I might get too old to be doing this. And then I will stop and all my lifting will have been for nothing."

Just typing it out, I see how ridiculous this is! But this *very* line of thinking has stopped me from strength training on many a day! "Oh well, I can't be perfect forever so why bother?" Nonsense! And it sounds like just an excuse but honestly, until I sat down and tore these thoughts apart and wrote them out like this, I had no idea how ridiculous my reasoning was.

Other examples:
Some days I don't bike because I start thinking that "I won't be able to bike on vacation next month so why bother biking and building up all that endurance and trying to build a habit that I am just going to break in a month anyway?"

Some days I eat cake because "I can't stay away from sweets forever. I don't want to live my entire life never tasting another piece of cake."

Sometimes I don't vacuum the floor because "it just KEEPS getting dirty (go figure) and no matter HOW many times I vacuum it, I am just going to have to vacuum it AGAIN!"

There are even days when I don't clean the kitchen, because "I wash the dishes and they get dirty again. I wipe the counters and they need wiped again tomorrow. I can't see an end to the kitchen cleaning! It is never 'finished'!"

And then, there's the old thought pattern that keeps so many people fat. Quit trying to lose weight because "this will always be a battle, and even if I lose all the weight I am going to have to keep struggling and fighting and exercising and counting calories and there will be no end to it!" So ya stay fat instead.

There's a couple of obviously faulty ideas thrown in here.

1. If there is no end, I can't deal with it. I can't keep doing this forever, so I may as well not do it at all.
2. If I can't do it perfectly/everyday, it isn't worth doing at all.
3. If I'm not sure I will have a perfect track record at this, I may as well have no track record at all.

It's sort of like saying, "If I can't be sure I will get an A, I might as well go for the F."

Maybe I sound like a bit of a perfectionist. Maybe I am, at heart. When my kids were all little, and I was married to their father, I had a really nice, clean, organized home. I was fairly thin, I was happy. I got up every day with my little kids and cared for them. I cooked from scratch yet I always had a very clean kitchen to work in. The floors were mopped, windows cleaned, living room picked up but lived in. Laundry was washed and hung out on the line to dry. I took my little ones with me as I tended our acre of garden, and fed the chickens and my horse and the dogs. I sewed quilts, canned produce from the garden, and milked a goat twice a day for my baby who was intolerant of any other milk (including mine). All that and my kids were happy, my house was clean and welcoming, and I felt fulfilled.

And then came a move to "the city," a divorce, having to go to work, going back to school. My perfect life fell apart and so did my house. As hard as I tried, I could never get all the chores done. With four kids under 8 and no family or husband to help me anymore, I felt stuck. The house went downhill fast. I did the most basic of cleaning, but nothing more felt within my grasp. We lived with baskets of (clean) laundry stacked in the living room, toys and crayons strewn everywhere, beds not made. It was the hardest time of my life, as I worked from sunrise until 2am every day just trying to care for my kids, earn some money, and get good grades so I could better our lives. And that's when the little perfectionist in me got squashed. I *couldn't* get everything done, I didn't have time to weed and mow and water the lawn as often as it needed, I couldn't afford the kinds of food I wanted to cook. Part of me forged on and got that degree and raised the kids. Part of me died and gave up and let the house go and let my body go. The yard got weedy. The house got cluttered and messy. I went from about 180 pounds to 245 pounds in under a year. And part of me really lost hope during that time, even though I eventually did come out on top.

Now I have this looming sense that even if I get on top of things... declutter my house, lose the weight... I won't be able to maintain it forever. Maybe something will happen. Maybe I will end up a single Mom again. Maybe my life will be chaos again, and then my life will turn upside down and I will go back to that state of disorder and regain all the weight. The maybes keep me paralyzed.

But you know what? I can't control the future. I can't do 'forever.' None of us can. All we have is today. In fact, all we have is this very moment. Because in the next moment we could be gone. Everything could change. But what good is life if you live in in fear, or worry, or hesitancy?

Lifting weights JUST FOR TODAY gives me benefits even if I *never* lift weights again. I'll become stronger *for today*, I will feel energized and get more done. I will be proud of myself. I love the feeling I get after a good strength training session! And that makes it worth doing *today.* No strings attached.

Biking helps me feel better *today.* It gets my circulation going, I feel more alive, and it improves the condition of my knees. I do feel amazing after a bike ride, and that makes it worth doing *just today* even if I never do it again.

Vacuuming and washing dishes makes me feel better immediately. Walking around in a clean house just feels better. It is worth the effort *today* because it makes me proud of my home, makes my kids happy, makes me happy. I don't feel like such a sloth when my home is clean. Even if I were to never clean my house again and become one of those crazy cat ladies with boxes of clutter piled to the ceiling, at least cleaning it *today* makes me feel good, TODAY.

Taking charge and losing weight NOW is good for my health NOW. I feel happier and have more energy. I can do more. I am prouder of myself. I can fit into better clothes. Losing weight is the best thing for *me* TODAY because even if ten years from now I regain ALL the weight and die of a heart attack, at least TODAY was good, and healthy, and enjoyable.

Sure, it would be ideal to have a future guaranteed to be filled with lots of weight lifting, biking, an immaculate house and a perfect, slim body, but sometimes we gotta just step back and say, "this is worth doing for today, regardless of the long term outcome." Because we cannot control the future.

So let go of the tomorrow worries, the perfectionism, the silly rationalizations. No matter what tomorrow may bring, do the BEST thing for you TODAY!

p.s. This was a breakthrough post for me. Sometimes I write to sort through the thoughts in my head that have made me and kept me fat. This is a biggie. I feel like a major roadblock has been removed by just recognizing this pattern in myself. I hope it helps someone else as much as it helped me!


Trainer Shauna said...

Sounds like you have an 'all or nothing' personality which is very common among perfectionists. I am the same way! It's a struggle, but you can change it step by step! :)

anne h said...

RIGHT NOW is all the time there is, or ever will be. In very real way, there IS no future...when it comes, IT will be NOW. Of course.
We all know this, but still react to the future as if it were real, now.

Anonymous said...

Wow!! All I can say is wow! I saw myself very clearly in your post too!!! Life is so overwhelming somedays that is does feel like such a constant struggle. The struggle is worth it. Keep up the good work.
A constant reader, seldom commentor!

Larkspur said...

Well said. We have to accept and enjoy the cycle. The garden blooms, at some point the flowers fade and we have to wait until next year, but does that mean there was no point to the planting, watering, and tending? You loved those years when your kids were small and even though life changed, it's okay-- those were good days and there will be more. I don't think there's any of us that hasn't experienced that "What? AGAIN?" feeling. But I guess the idea is to enjoy the ride.

~TMcGee~ said...

It helped, helped very much. Thank you for sharing your break through with us.

Shelley said...

I had that same "why bother" attitude for years - changing to "just for today" has been such a good thing for me, in so many ways. Great breakthrough, Lyn!

NewMe said...

Terrific post. I think women, in particular, suffer from perfectionism. We are expected (and expect ourselves) to do it all: the perfect house, the perfect cook, the perfect wife, the perfect mother, and in the last 30 years or so, the perfect breadwinner.

Men, on the other hand, can get away with doing only one or two demanding jobs (breadwinner and, if we're lucky, handyman). Yes, I know they work hard, but I really don't think they take the weight of the world on their shoulders as women tend to do. I suspect we're hardwired to be that way, 'cause it sure isn't any fun!

I don't particularly like the idea of "living each day as if it were your last", but I know you're not saying that either. We just have to do our best each day, but not aim for perfection. We have to learn to leave well enough alone, otherwise we end up achieving nothing.

Thank you, as usual, for your insightful comments.

Graze With Me said...

Love it,looks like you really called yourself out on that one. It's very true - I'm a perfectionist as well sometimes.

Keep up the good thoughts!

Cammy said...

It IS a huge breakthrough. In the writing world, Anne Lamott calls this thinking "writing within a one-inch picture frame." E.L. Doctorow compared it to driving at night and said he could only see as far as the headlights illuminated but that he realized he could make the entire journey that way. You can, too!

Hanlie said...

This is huge for me too! I've always been far too much of a perfectionist and when things fell apart, everything fell apart.

I think lots of people with weight issues, even anorexics, have control issues...

I have often had that kind of thinking - I really recognized myself in your examples. When I finally understood that I can only control what I do today, things got a lot better and I'm less likely these days to procrastinate.

Great post! I'm glad that you feel empowered by this breakthrough!

Lady Downsize! said...

Hi Lyn, Did I inspire you the other day when I wrote Why Put off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today?? I feel like you were talking right to me and those same thoughts I battle. Great post, and Ohhh, how I can relate....never give up, never given in, and never talk yourself out of it.

Big Girl said...

Oh so right. YOu certainly can't change the past and you can't control the future so you might as well make the best of the present

Lisa said...

I can relate! Great post.

*Fitcetera* said...

I like anne h.'s response. & cammy's too
The Power of Now. It's a great feeling when you "get" it. Takes alot of the pressure off.
I'm reading a great book right now Change Your Thoughts by Sarah Edelman ~~ using cognitive behavioral therapy and just went to see my therapist today.
We actually talked on this subject together.
If you can stay with this thought process (and all it takes is practice, practice, practice) ... we'll get it so it becomes habit.
great post lyn!

Megan said...

I am a new reader and just wanted to say I LOVE your blog!

This post is just what I needed today. SO thank you for that!

Katie said...

I see myself so much in you! I want you to know that after reading through some of your posts, I got straight up and did some time on the treadmill. <3

Action Jackson said...

This is exactly how I feel all the time. When it comes to losing weight, strength training, and getting in shape, I have this mentality that only allows me to focus on the big picture, rather than the everyday justices I am doing myself. It's why I have failed in the past, I'm sure of it. I've only been at it "again" really hardcore for less than two weeks, and I constantly find myself reading blogs of people who are 300-400 days in, and still not where they want to be. At that junction, I'm just like "what's the point?"

But your right, today is more important than tomorrow, because today I'm capable of making the right decisions. And there is no perfection, I will never be exactly where I want to be. This mentality is such a hard one to break. Thank you for this breakthrough... it helped me, with today.

MB said...

WOW! That is a powerful post. I see so much of myself in your words.

Right now is all we really have.

Thank you for being such an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lyn, this could have been me that you were writing about. It has made me stop and recognise that my way of thinking has been highjacking my dreams for just so long, Carol (Aust)

Tammy said...

Amazing. I have had the EXACT same thoughts and figured I was the only one. You've removed a road block for me too. This is huge. I'm gonna' be all over this "today" thing. Thanks for showing me the light. :)

South Beach Steve said...

Lyn, you said it all when you said, "No matter what tomorrow may bring, do the BEST thing for you TODAY!" There is only one day you can control, that is today. This is a fantastic breakthrough.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I saw myself in many of your statements.

Kathleen said...

Wow. What a great post! Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

another great post lyn!

one of the things i love about compound exercises in stength training, rather than muscle isolating traditional work, is it really strengthens the mind/body connection. i felt that the first day i did a kettlebell drill.

i remember my old trainer telling me to focus just on my targeted muscle group while repping. something great happens when you put your whole body and mind into a movement, not a muscle group. this doesnt fade if you miss a few workouts!

Anonymous said...

This entry is definitely a 'keeper'! Thanks!


Vickie said...

I read this last night and pondered it and then again this morning. I identify with much of what you wrote. Some of it remains with me (in my own life) and some of it has gotten much better.

In my life - my therapist talked to me a LOT about some of these feelings that I attributed to 'the black and white' thing or perfectionism as REALLY being all about fear and anxiety.

Back for Round Two said...

I'm so happy I found your blog! I read your posts thinking, "I could have written that!". Maybe not as eloquently, but I feel so much the same way! Thank you for sharing :)

Hide those cookies said...

I fall into the trap of that "all or nothing" thinking. Good for you analyzing your faulty logic and trying to adjust your thinking!

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way so often. I wonder where in the world I got it into my head that there was supposed to be a finish line for everything.

Susan said...

Another great post (and great comments too)! I'll have to mull over this one.

Anonymous said...

This post really hit home with me. You made so many points that made me think, "That's just like me." I will really have to re-read this post and implement the benefits of doing things for the NOW, the feelings that are produced by being good to yourself and your surroundings at the PRESENT moment. You are right. No one knows what we will have in the future and if we base our current activities on that, we will always lose. Thanks for the great post.

Anonymous said...

Lyn - Thanks for this post. It was a break through post for me, too. I tend to HAVE to have a reason to exercise or find an excuse not to do it at all. Exercising today just to feel stronger today seems to be the key for me.

BTW...I've been a reader since last fall and truly have enjoyed all your posts. Good luck on your continued journey to a stronger and healthier you! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

Rachel said...

I really relate to this post...thanks so much for sharing it.

Karyn said...

I'm glad you have discovered this about yourself, Lyn. You are spot on when you say this is perfectionism and also when you say this is living in fear. I struggle with some of these same things, myself.

I am a firm believer in "Live TODAY" partly because if I let myself look too far into the future or look at too big a picture I get overwhelmed and do nothing.

The opposite of living in fear is living in faith.

Heather said...

that is my #1 problem in how I view the world - I try to control everything. sometimes its a good thing in that preparing for things helps me better deal with them should they arise, but it also sucks because the reality is, we cannot control everything or know what the future may bring. perhaps if I didnt try to control everything I wouldnt be so hard on myself or other people and Im getting better at it, but it is difficult so just do what you can to try to live in the moment rather than worrying about or focusing on things that are out of your control or that you can deal with when the pop up.

Rina said...

Wow! I just found your blog, and I feel like this is exactly what I need. You are so articulate, you are describing so many feelings that I also have. This post is a breakthrough for me too. Thank you!!! I'm off to read your archives :)