There are three areas where I consistently, and without fail, ride the struggle bus:
1) Waking up early
2) Losing weight
It’s like I have a giant mental block around all of them – and as part of that mental block, things like my super comfy pillow, cookies, and Amazon Prime act like sirens luring me to my own wreckage. Like, I know I’d be better off if I woke up early, were able to stick with Weight Watchers, and adhered to a damn budget. I know I’d feel better, and that my mental and physical health would both be in a better place.
Similarly, I know I’m just screwing myself over when I hit snooze, eat cookies, and spend entirely too much money buying supplies for arts and crafts projects/decorating ideas.
Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what, exactly, my problem is, and why trying to do these basic things is like beating my head against the wall separating Westeros from the white walkers. I mean, would it be so hard to resist the allure of the “purchase now” button on Amazon? Would it be so hard to stop myself after a half-cup of ice cream?
I realized that I have similar mindsets about all three of those issues: waking up early, trying to lose weight, and budgeting all feel like massive sacrifices — something akin to voluntarily chopping off a limb. I know the long term benefits would be worth it, but I can’t seem to get past the short-term sacrifices they require. (Why must I be so beholden to instant gratification? Why do my dopamine levels fuck with me like this? WHY, BRAIN? WHYYYYYY?)
I decided to do what all normal people do, and consult the Oracle at Delphi Mountain View, AKA Google. “Why can’t I stick to my budget?” I asked. And lo, the Oracle produced many articles, one of which was…actually helpful. Most notably, this piece from New York Magazine came up, and DEAR GAAAAWD did it ever resonate with me:
There are few words in the English language that conjure a sense of dread faster than the word budget…But the main problem with budgeting is its approach, says Brad Klontz, a psychologist and certified financial planner. “I think the entire concept of budgeting is flawed,” said Klontz. “Your emotional brain responds to the word budget the same way it responds to the word diet. The connotation is deprivation, suffering, agony, depression.” Klontz says hearing the word diet makes us feel there’s a famine coming. We can muster up the motivation to take on that famine in the short term, but in the long term, research shows that diets don’t really work.
Welp. That sure does explain a few things.
I spent some time poking around for other articles within the Science of Us series, and I was happily surprised to find some pieces that helped me ask crucial questions. This piece on the importance of asking what, not why, when trying to figure out how (and, uh, why) we do/don’t do something /feel/don’t feel some particular way, also felt like it hit the nail on the head.
So, that got me thinking: instead of asking why I’m so bad at this, I should ask myself what: what is it that I like and don’t like about making the effort to wake up early, stay on Weight Watchers, and stick to my budget?
What do I like? I like end result.
After I’m awake and out of my cozy cocoon, I’m productive and I have time for writing and art.
After I stay on WW, I like how I feel and how I look. I like that I’m able to run without my knees hurting from all the pressure that the extra weight puts on my joints. I like feeling like I can actually run, not just lumber along like a geriatric water buffalo. I like being able to wear clothes that I actually love, and not just ones that are adequate.
After I save money and stick to a budget, I like knowing that I have more flexibility to do things that really matter to me, like traveling, trying to start a family (egg donors don’t come cheap, y’all) and, ohpleaseohpleaseJesusOprahBuddhaletthisactuallyhappen, eventually quitting my job.
What don’t I like? I don’t like the discipline, effort, or sacrifice. I don’t like having to plan out my meals and exercise. I fucking hate sad desk salads. I don’t like having to plan out my purchases (as opposed to, y’know, just making them whenever the urge strikes).
Part of it, I think, is that my depression, PTSD from the cancer and hysterectomy, and the feeling that I have almost no control over my life suck up so much of my bandwidth that I rely on things like cookies and Amazon to give me little moments of happiness (GO GO GADGET DOPAMINE!). Without those little things, life would feel 99% heavy, dull, and grinding. With those things, it only feels, like, 90% heavy, dull, and grinding.
But really, what am I getting out of that 9% difference? More importantly, even though it comes with an immediate happiness bump, there’s also a rebound effect which amplifies the feeling that I’m not in control of my life: sleeping late makes me late for work, which means I have to stay late to make up for lost time, which then means I have less time to do what I want. Spending money on things I don’t need makes me feel queasy and gives me pangs of guilt. Seeing myself in the mirror, totally devoid of muscles and nearly as heavy as I was at the end of my progesterone treatment, makes me depressed.
The immediate gratification gives me a moment of satisfaction, but it’s quickly followed by guilt and discontent.
So, that 90% is probably more like 95%. Which, y’know, doesn’t seem like much. And it’s probably not worth the rebound effect of the guilt.
When I think about this more, I realize that by trying to actually do these things that I find so hard — self-control, discipline, short-term sacrifices for long-term gain — I might actually start to feel like I do have some semblance of control over my life. And, considering that this lack of control is one of the factors that feeds my depression, I might actually stand a chance of breaking out of that self-reinforcing feedback loop.
So, those will be my next tasks for renovating my life, and it will undoubtedly be among the biggest and most difficult: creating a budget and re-starting — and sticking to — Weight Watchers. Any tips y’all might have for how to make this happen, or how to make it suck less, would be greatly appreciated!