It’s funny sometimes how the universe sends us messages.
As I drove through town last week, minding my own business and going about my errands, I noticed the lyrics from a song playing on the radio permeating my thoughts and getting my attention.
“You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need”
It was fitting because I’d been talking to folks about the obstacles they were encountering that were keeping them from what they wanted.
In most cases, what they wanted was more control over their time so they could enjoy the benefits of exercise, healthy eating, and meditation for stress relief. But there was so much in the way —driving to the gym, prep time for healthy meals, and work responsibilities — and it seemed like there wasn’t enough time for it all.
Part of my work as a certified wellness coach is helping people figure out how to navigate around those kinds obstacles so they can get to the good stuff, so I had been wondering what could be done to get them out of the way.
Later that day I was having a snack, and part of my snack was my daily habit of four olives, each one stuffed with a clove of garlic. (No, my husband has not mentioned that I smell like garlic. Everyone asks me that.)
As I ate my garlic olives, I remembered how they became part of my day. You see, I used to make a juice of carrots, oranges, lemon juice, and garlic cloves when I felt sick. I had done a bit of research and became convinced that raw garlic would boost my immune system so I drank it often during cold and flu season.
But one time, I was out of carrots, and I didn’t have enough oranges, and I didn’t want to go to the store. Knowing that the garlic was the most potent and helpful ingredient of the juice, a lightbulb went off over my head. I skipped the carrots, oranges, and lemon juice and went straight for the jar of garlic-stuffed olives in the fridge.
I didn’t necessarily get what I wanted, but I got what I needed.
And then I smiled, because I had the answer to my clients’ problems about not having time for the healthy habits that seemed so complicated. If they could specifically identify the most beneficial element of the habit, the good stuff, they could probably just go straight to that part and skip all of the obstacles completely.
The benefit of yoga can be captured with deep breathing, a guided meditation, and 15 minutes of quiet. It might not be what you want — an expert instructor guiding you through a class —but on days when you can’t get what you want, you can get what you need.
The benefit of healthy eating is almost always in the vegetables and water that comes along with a meal. A healthy meal doesn’t need to be sustainably-farmed local organic super foods cooked for maximum nutrient absorption. You can get what you need from that meal — vegetables and water — pretty darn quick at any grocery store.
A walk or jog in your neighborhood is just as valuable as a class at a fitness center. On the days when you can’t get what you want, get what you need. Just get that heart rate up and get the good stuff, and then get back to your other responsibilities a lot faster.
The obstacles we see between us and what we need and want are not fixed, and in many cases they are not even real. This week, pay attention to when you get to the part of your healthy habits that you needed, and explore how the next time you can skip the obstacles and go straight to the reward.
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you can get what you need.
A few years ago, I overheard my son and a friend talking about an interaction they had with someone at school who was argumentative.
I listened to them discuss how frustrating it was when they could not end the debate, and smiled when I heard my son’s friend say matter-of-factly, “we just have to let go of the rope!” In his mind, engaging with the other student was like picking up a rope for a battle of tug-of-war.
But he knew he didn’t have to play that game. He could stop pulling, drop the rope, and opt out of that stressful situation. I don’t know whether he learned that somewhere or came up with it on his own, but I was impressed and I hope that pragmatic, resilient perspective sticks with him into adulthood.
Sometimes life feels like a tug of war, doesn’t it? With us in the middle being yanked from side to side as competing priorities try to gain our undivided attention, it can often seem like we never get to choose where our energy goes. Other times we are on one side of the rope, trying to pull experiences and achievements towards us. And of course, the harder we pull, the more invested we become, and the more determined we are to win the prize of having won.
In fact, we spend so much time pulling on that rope, pulling experiences and achievements over the obstacles, over the rugged surface of resistance, through whatever gets thrown in our way to distract us from our course, that eventually we wonder why it has to be so hard. We think it shouldn’t be this hard. This week, I invite you to consider what you may be pulling on – or what is pulling you – and whether it is worth hanging on to.
How do we choose what to pull? Some things are worth pulling into your life. When you are facing a health crisis, a scary diagnosis, or other urgent need to change your habits, it’s worth your energy to start pulling. Change is hard, and we are set in our ways. In this case, pulling may mean challenging yourself to choose a bag of apples at the grocery store and not get the caramel dip to accompany them. That is not easy to do! Pulling may mean not having a glass of wine when everyone else is. Difficult, but worth the effort when the payoff can change the trajectory of your life. As a wellness coach, I want change to be a natural process that happens when we are ready. In reality, there are times when we have to force change, and pull hard to get to a safer place.
How do we know when to let go? Everyone loves a fighter! Cheering for someone who beats the odds and overcomes a challenge is inspirational, and being the person who inspires in that way is appealing to a lot of us (*ahem* me). But while some health goals are admirable and would be a great achievement, they come at the wrong time in our lives for the amount of energy they require. I learned this lesson personally when I tried to simultaneously run a wellness consulting business, care for a newborn, train for a marathon, and continue juggling all of the balls I already had in the air. The decision to let go was made for me when I began having physical signs of stress and, as a health professional, read the writing on the wall. I had to press pause on some of my business goals until I could devote more energy to them. I changed my running goals to something that gave me the challenge of training without the exhaustion of a marathon. I let go, so I could hang on to what was more urgent.
Here are signs that it is time to let go of the rope: when you are feeling like it shouldn’t be this hard, and that you’re working really, really hard for results that are elusive at best, it’s time to let go. When you become resentful about working so much harder than others and not enjoying the process, it’s time to let go. When you realize you have been working on the same goal for a very long time and have not seen a change that warrants the energy you have invested, it is time to let go. When you begin to dread the time when you need to turn attention to the goal at hand and have to talk yourself into it most days, it is time to let go.
Letting go doesn’t always feel like a responsible option, and sometimes it is just not possible. We can’t just let go of our responsibilities as parents, at work, or to loved ones who depend on us. We can let go of extracurricular activities we that we have chosen to take on, other people’s priorities that we have obligated ourselves to, and really great ideas that are more likely to thrive at a time when there is less competition for your attention.
How do we deal with how it feels to let go? I’m sure you have heard this before: if you love something, set it free; what comes back is meant to be. There will be times when letting go is an indulgent relief, like deciding to not reach your goal weight but be happy five pounds heavier. There will be times when letting go feels like giving up, like when you have to say goodbye to someone who is a toxic influence in your life despite your best efforts to be friends. Mourn that feeling of loss, and remind yourself of what you gain as a result. If it is helpful, keep a journal where you can record the benefits you experience as a result of not pulling on that rope anymore. Look around and enjoy the life that you were missing when you were focused on the rope.
One of my biggest fears as a wellness coach is that my clients will become impatient with the slow rate of lasting change, and it is tempting to let them grab a rope and pull because I want them to feel the triumph and thrill of accomplishing a challenge. I love cheering for the underdog, too! But the real reward comes in knowing when to let go, feeling confident that it will free you up to enjoy the life you were meant to have.
Imagine that two neighbors decide that they each want to build identical houses on their properties. They call a contractor to come and advise them, and as the contractor begins to explain the process of building the houses, one of the friends interrupts. “Oh no, I don’t want you to use nails on my house,” he says.
The contractor is confused. “You don’t want any nails?”
“No,” the man answers. “Nails are a pain. I don’t like them. I know other people who have built houses without nails, so I am going to skip that part.”
“Are you sure?” the contractor asks. “Nails are one of my most valuable tools. Every house that I have built that has been satisfactory to my customers has included nails. Without them, you may not be happy with your house.”
“I am sure,” says the man. “I don’t want to deal with nails, and I will not have them.”
The contractor begins the process of building the houses for the two neighbors, and soon the man who wanted his house built without nails notices that his neighbor is already moving in.
“Hey,” he says indignantly. “Why isn’t my house done yet? We started building on the same day. We have the same kind of house. But you’re moving in and I am still waiting for my house to be done. What gives?”
The neighbor pauses. “Yes, we did start on the same day, but you decided you didn’t want to use nails. That’s a fine choice, but it’s going to take a lot longer for your house to be done. I used all of the tools that were available, so my house is done and I can move in now.” And he went inside and sat in his favorite chair and enjoyed his new house.
In my work as a health coach, I often hear another version of this story. Many people have a weight loss goal, but as we begin to discuss the various tools and processes that go into weight loss, some of them stop me and say, “no, I don’t want to do that part.”
It may be reducing empty calories from alcohol or soda, or paying attention to calories and logging them in a food journal, or eating smaller portions. Those things are a pain, and no fun, and they’ve heard about other people who have lost weight without doing those things, so they want to skip it.
And that’s fine. You can certainly achieve a weight loss goal without doing the things that other people rely on for success. But soon, frustration sets in when their progress is slower than they expected. Sometimes, friends who decided to use all of the tools available to them reach their weight loss goals faster and maintain them longer, like when the man saw his neighbor moving into a new house even though they started building on the same day.
We all have tools sitting around us, waiting to be used in pursuit of our goals. They usually exist because others before us have discovered that they work really well. If you’re struggling to make progress while others sail past you, it may be because they are using tools that you’ve shrugged off.
That’s OK. The tools are always there, and it’s always a good time to reach into the toolbox and pick up a nail.
Since the time that you woke up today until right now, when you are reading these words, your brain has had an estimated three thousand thoughts each hour. Even more now, because you’re thinking about what you just read. On average, we have about 60,000-80,000 thoughts per day!
How much thought do you give to your thoughts? I hear about them a lot in my work as a wellness coach, because thoughts are the main thing that get in the way of healthy living. I remind folks every day that they are the gatekeeper for their thoughts, and that they can choose which ones they engage with and which ones they don’t. I usually encourage them to engage with the positive ones and let the negative ones pass them by.
And eventually, someone will say, “well I can’t just ignore my problems! I have to deal with reality eventually!” And, I wholeheartedly agree. Reality definitely needs to be dealt with.
But your negative thoughts are not your reality. The problems your brain creates, the ones keeping you from living a vibrant and healthy life, are just passengers through the turnstile of your heart.
Stay with me.
Imagine that inside your heart is a turnstile, like in a subway station, and that your thoughts travel from your brain through your heart, and in order to do so they have to go through the turnstile.
And most of your thoughts, the mundane ones like picking up bread from the store and remembering to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, go through the turnstile with no problem. Click, click, click.
But some don’t get through. Some of them become like an irate passenger who is not happy with things and wants to call the manager and make a big stink. These are negative thoughts, and they don’t go through.
You’ll know you have one of these because you’ll feel tense, on edge, and irritated. It might say, “I’m sick of vegetables! I don’t like this!” Or, “I’m tired! I don’t want to exercise today!” It is very loud and demanding, and it wants you to stop what you are doing and deal with it.
This is the part where some people decide they cannot follow through with their healthy plans: when an annoying thought throws a fit in their brain. But here’s a secret: you don’t have to deal with every single problem that crops up in the day. In fact, you can go to your imaginary turnstile, ask that irate passenger to please step to the side so the other passengers can get through, and set it aside for later, after you have done your other work. (And by “work” I mean eating vegetables and exercising.)
Then later in the day, after you have done the things, you can go over to the waiting area to deal with the problems. But guess what? It is unlikely that you will find anyone there waiting for you. That’s because most of the thoughts we have during the day just need to click through the turnstile. Some go through easily, others yell and shout on their way through, but most of them just need to do that and they’re gone. The actual problems that we really do need to take action on will still be there at the end of the day, and you can take action and resolve it so it can also go on its way.
Is there a line at your heart’s turnstile? Is there a thought that needs to step aside so the others can go through? You can still live healthfully while also having problems in life! This week, just keep the line moving. Click, click, click.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!