49. Balancing Conflicting Desires
Welcome to episode 49 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about balancing conflicting desires because at the end of the day I think this is where we actively create the most sustainable success with weight loss and other areas of our life where we want to create progress and growth.
They say that the magic happens beyond or outside of your comfort zone and that is the main conflict we end up experiencing - comfort vs that magic or growth; the known and the predictable and what many consider safe vs the unknown, the possibly unsafe and therefore the uncomfortable.
And when you really pay attention it's really incredible how the smallest things, really easy things can make us incredibly uncomfortable. Forget difficult exercise, just talking a walk around the block can be really uncomfortable mentally when it's not part of your routine. Anything out of the ordinary requires more brain power and our basic instinct is to preserve that and especially so when we already feel overwhelmed with everything else going on in our lives. We are a culture of busy and that mindset of being consumed with all that is contributes to us feeling like we don't have any brainpower to spare for anything new. And that makes anything new even more uncomfortable.
And so that would be my first tip if you want to create change is that there needs to be some room, some space and that's actually more mental than anything, and that's why meditation and mindfulness are so important. When you are overwhelmed you almost have no choice but to make the comfortable, routine choice because it's easier. That's when you do the things that you regret later. That's when you just grab the food that you don't really want to eat or skip the workout. Because you're just in survival mode and when that's the case growth simply can't be the priority.
I remember once hearing Chalene Johnson say that you can't try to lose weight when your house is a mess, and while I don't think that's 100% true, I totally grant that if having a messy house adds to your stress, it's probably going to be harder to lose weight with that added stress weighing on you (pun intended) than it would be if that didn't bother you or if your house was clean.
And as someone who does get stressed out by clutter and mess, I can attest that this is true. To go off on just a bit of a tangent, there is a YouTuber I'm a fan of called The Minimal Mom and she introduced me to the idea that all of your stuff creates an invisible to-do list in your mind. And that's not just the stuff you see, but the stuff that's hiding in the back of your closet or under your bathroom sink or wherever, even if you don't remember what it is, it's taking up some of your mental space.
And that idea REALLY rang true for me and that's really helped me to declutter on another level. And doing that has freed up a lot of mental space for me that I can now devote to other things. And I could honestly spend an entire podcast or two just talking about cleaning and decluttering, but instead I will just link to a few of my favorite videos from The Minimal Mom that have really helped me.
But I do want to make a final point to say that, if you think your house being a mess is getting in the way of losing weight, you need to avoid concluding that you have to get your house in perfect order so that you can lose weight. That kind of all or nothing thinking; that assumption that perfect exists and we must achieve it, it prevents us from making or being satisfied with any improvements and that's never a good place to be.
My house is nowhere near perfect, but I've gotten to a place where it doesn't stress me out, both because it's less cluttered and clean, but also because I've relaxed my standards. And the one is almost dependent on the other. We create progress via consistent behaviors and it's much easier to maintain the imperfect and attainable. Even though my carpet could stand to be vacuumed every day (because we have dogs and young children) that's not attainable for me, at least not in a way that doesn't add more stress to my plate. But I can deal with vacuuming on Mondays Wednesdays and Friday's and making it up the next day when I invariably forget or get too busy.
This helps keep my house at a really tolerable level of clean and it's much better than I would experience if I insisted that the carpets be vacuumed every single day. In fact, I'm absolutely sure that I wouldn't vacuum as much if I insisted on that because I'd think, "Well, I can't do it every day, so why bother doing it today? I can't be perfect so why bother?"
And it's the same thing with food rules or exercise programs or "promises" that you make to yourself. When we attempt to set things in stone or abide by some standards we've set, that's a clear indication that we're seeking perfection. We're looking for what's right and trying to avoid what is wrong. And yet neither actually exists.
How we view this conflict is really interesting too, and I think it contributes to how we are able to manage it. I already characterized the two sides as being in our comfort zone or out of our comfort zone, or as maybe stagnancy vs growth. Some view it as higher brain vs lower brain, some see it as immediate vs long term gratification, some see it as acting from your past vs acting from your future, some see it more simply as yin and yang.
And I would encourage you to see the judgement that is inherent in basically all of these views except for yin and yang. Growth is definitely better than stagnancy, right? Delayed gratification is better than immediate gratification. And certainly acting from our higher brain is better, more correct than acting from our lower brain. Except when your higher brain attempts to starve you or make you crazy in pursuit of some idea of what it means to be happy, or successful, or enough.
Let's think of your conflicting desire as a rubber band. Say that on the one hand you have the desire to eat a donut, and on the other hand you have the desire to lose weight. And you feel like these desires are diametrically opposed, and so you feel like you're being pulled in opposite directions and that the only way to release that tension is to choose the one or the other; to make the right choice.
And we forget that there is a middle way that can appease us. Because neither choice is right or wrong, we can have both or neither. And that might look like a compromise - something like relaxing about your body and weight loss goals AND taking just a few bites of a donut. But it might also be realizing that there is something beyond these choices. It's realizing that you aren't the rubber band, and that you are in fact the fingers holding the rubber band and you can ease the tension. You can actually set the rubber band down entirely by asking yourself what it is you ultimately want. What are you really seeking to satisfy with the donut? And, what are you reallyseeking to satisfy with weight loss?
Because you can give yourself those things, those feelings, already. And when you realize that, the conflict disappears. If I want a clean house to ultimately feel more at peace, then I'm certainly not giving myself that peace by stressing myself out about cleaning it. And so I put down the rubber band down and found the middle way. I did a little more and demanded a little less. And when it comes to weight loss it's often the same. We learn to eat a little healthier and accept ourselves a little more.
The author and buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield has a beautiful blog post about The Middle Way that I will include in the show notes. He talks about being in a monastery hearing hundreds of monks recite these original original verses: “There is a middle way between the extremes of indulgence and self-denial, free from sorrow and suffering. This is the way to peace and liberation in this very life.”
Kornfield emphasizes this and says, "If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not free. And if we fight against ourselves and the world we are not free. It is the middle path that brings freedom."
I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you find your own middle way. Thanks for listening and I'll see you next week.
Jack Kornfield on The Middle Way: https://jackkornfield.com/finding-the-middle-way/
My Favorite Minimal Mom Videos:
The Silent To Do List:
The Laundry System that Changed My Life!:
How to easily keep a tidy house: