Photo credit here. Source irony noted.
As Lent approached this year, I started to think about what I might give up. I do this every year, much like I do with resolutions. I’m a big fan of goal setting, but a D student when it comes to follow through (and that grade may be gracious). It’s not that I’m a religious person. I’m not, in the traditional sense anyway, but I do love the ritual of giving up things we don’t need to focus on our own nourishment whether that be spiritual or emotional. I appreciate the art of clearing space for what better fills us. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m probably more drawn to the poetry of fasting, giving up things for Lent, and resolutions than I am with the actual process itself. I know this to be true because I am a tragically predictable quitter.
I’ve tried to do some research on what wires got crossed in my brain that makes me one of those people who seem to be all talk and no action. What I find are terms like “psychological deficits” and “cognitive exhaustion” or “psychological homeostasis” which are all scientific ways of saying that your brain can only try for so long before it crashes and needs recharged. Our bodies are biologically wired to reject sustained effort, which seems to be a key ingredient in any big life changes, so what’s a girl to do? Apparently motivation is a finite resource and in an effort to restore balance to our internal world, we go back to what is comfortable and familiar, even if those things aren’t good for us. The racking of heads over abstention from something like nicotine or kicking it in gear for that 5 AM run is normal and will wear anyone down after a while unless the individual is able to regulate and refocus their cognitive resources which, as I’ve learned, requires a whole lot of work and rewiring.
I’ve always had a strange relationship with effort. There are some things that I could focus endlessly on without tiring. In my younger days, I could write for hours on end and was very good at getting into an almost meditative state when it came to studying and research. But get me to stop worrying about some love interest or push harder in a track meet to beat an opponent I would wipe the floor with in practice, I was worthless. This eventually spilled over into other aspects of my life like sticking to an exercise or diet plan (even though I spent all of twenties and the first year or two of my thirties “skinny fat”), and more corrosively alcohol and cigarettes.
Now, you may say, “But Alicia, you stopped drinking and smoking.” Yes, that is true for now and hopefully will remain true from now on. In the spirit of transparency though, I was only able to get over the initial hump of no drinking or smoking because I timed my quit day with wisdom teeth extraction which conveniently put me out of commission for a week (gotta do what you gotta do). I then teetered between total abstention and occasional binges and picked the smoking back up in December, only to quit again because I discovered I was pregnant and so nauseous and sick that the thought of either would send me running straight to the toilet. The point I’m making is that I had a little extra boost. Any effort I’d made in the past to quit without having some ailment or extenuating circumstance seemed to fail within a week. The story is not too different when it came to getting on a consistent workout regimen. What gives?
Goals are like buffets to me, in which case my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. The reason we crash and burn so often in our effort to change is because we don’t set ourselves up for success. I don’t just want to start a fitness routine. I want to be like the chicks on Instagram with the cool workout gear posting pics and videos and making weekly progress updates sipping all manner of protein shakes and meal prepping like a boss. And I want to see gains right away. I want to say “I’m quitting smoking!” and meditate on it and throw Hail Mary’s up to the Universe and feel instantly transformed, and when that doesn’t happen, I call bullshit on the whole process because it’s so damn hard. I fight with myself in these periods, constantly. It feels like every ten minutes there is some horrible negotiation waging in my head over whether I can cheat just a little or do I REALLY have to go to the gym today? It is exhausting and I always cave. Of course there are people who do not operate that way. They have the ability to train their focus onto goals in ways my wiring doesn’t permit, and that’s the biggest thing I’m trying to accept about myself. Sometimes our wiring is different. Trying to be somebody else is an open invitation for let down and failure. What’s that saying? Comparison is an act of violence against the self.
Before I got pregnant, I was beginning to see the gym semi-regularly. I had about fifteen to twenty pounds of “booze weight” that had to go and it was a painstakingly slow effort that produced little fruit. I lost more weight in my first two weeks pregnant than in the previous four months and that’s because I couldn’t hold down food. Now as I’ve accepted that my body is just going to expand further from here, I find myself falling into the same old traps, fantasizing about the intense workout regimen I’m going to engage in once this baby is out. I’m going to be one of those beach body girls strolling around with a six pack, eight month old baby in tow. Whereas this idea brings me joy and feels empowering in the hypothetical, I’m doing myself zero favors by getting googly eyed over what could be if I’m not going to start laying groundwork now. Let’s be honest. I wasn’t that person before so becoming her is going to take real work.
Change takes focused effort and intention. This is true for booze, diets, and dreams. The days of being all talk and a serial quitter must to come to an end if I’m going to be any kind of example for the bambino/a inside this belly. For Lent this year, perhaps I won’t give anything up at all. Instead, I need to take this time to lay some foundational work.
Key questions I’ll be unpacking in the upcoming days:
- What goals do I have that I can work towards now?
- What goals will have to wait until baby is born?
- What is the plan? What do I need to do this week, this month, and this year to get where I’m trying to go?
- What support systems do I need? What is already in place?
- What is distracting me? (quick answer: social media and Netflix, but I’m sure there’s more)
- What do I need to avoid in order to get where I want to be?
- What do I need to learn and what skills do I need to sharpen to get things done?
Research shows that when you have a plan and clearly defined target dates and benchmarks, clear the distractions, and work towards shifting your mindset, you’re more likely to succeed. Whether it’s sobriety or fitness or professional goals, I know I’m going to have to baby step (pardon the pun) towards where I want to be and be more purposeful. Otherwise, I will continue to be the girl who does well for a couple weeks, maybe even a month, only to crash and revert back to even worse behavior than before. I don’t want to be that person anymore nor is it the kind of example I want to set for this child.
So maybe I am giving up something for Lent after all: quitting.