May 24, 2012

Acting with Intention

One of the most eye-opening things about my retreat this week has been seeing how there are a lot of people dealing with the same things. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy to spend so much time stressing about the food choices I make and working out on the road – I mean, thinking about these things that much has to be some kind of eating/exercise disorder, right? I’m very conscious of the fact that I read a lot of healthy living blogs, and that some of those blogs may either portray themselves unrealistically or flat-out be promoting unhealthy behavior. For my part, I am pretty honest about what I post, but I also know that I’m a lot less likely to post when I’m not in a good place (hello, six month break from blogging when I was dealing with depression). I know that if someone is writing a running blog, their blog is probably going to focus a lot more on their workouts instead of the other stuff that they do, so I try to remember that what I see isn’t all of their life, and they probably make poor choices at times just like I do. But it does get tough when you see people posting about double workouts every day like it’s no big deal (lately I do double workout days a lot, but it’s definitely not easy) – and of course, having seemingly no issues with their weight like I do. On the work front, I see most of my coworkers seeming to eat whatever they want and rarely going to the gym – and then it makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong. How are they maintaining their weights with basically no effort, while I’m obsessing and still not completely happy?

Well, this week I found out that some of them are worried about it. Nearly everyone in my small coaching group talked about getting more exercise in as one of their potential daily rituals to start incorporating. I was also surprised to find out that I’m not alone in wondering what career is right for me – a quick show of hands revealed that 70% of my coaching group was considering leaving the firm (and discussions during breaks showed that other groups had about the same distribution). Whoa! I think a lot more of us are caught up in the “I’m stuck but don’t know where to turn” thoughts than I would have ever guessed (and this became even more evident when we did a songwriting workshop and someone suggested that the opening line be “I work 80 hours a week in a cube with no windows; I don’t know how much more I can take”). The question is… what do we do about it?

I think Jocelyn hit the nail on the head in her comments the other day – we can change the things we don’t like. Sometimes we get so caught up in the cycle (must get that next promotion!) and societal expectations (go make as much money as you can or you’ll never be able to afford a nice home / vacations / whatever!) that we don’t realize that all of these things are, in fact, choices. One of the big themes of this week has been learning to “act with intention” – and, in fact, when we were asked about the last time we “made an intentional decision” (aka didn’t just go with the flow but made a conscious decision to do something with a goal in mind that mattered to us), I was mortified to realize that I couldn’t think of any time in the last six months that I had done that. Going against the grain is hard!

And of course, there’s also the issue of what’s realistic. Today I ended up being a bit negative during the programming that we had, and I think it was in large part because it’s the last day and we now have to leave the bubble of our ideals and go back to real life. It’s all well and good to figure out that my perfect day would be waking up at 8am with no alarm and spending the day reading/working out/cooking/hanging out with friends… but if I quit real jobs in search of that, I’d probably be broke and still not getting what I want. You can’t get everything exactly the way you’d like it to be, and there are always going to be things you don’t want to do. I think the major takeaway for me this week is that a lot of things I’ve considered necessary evils might not be so necessary – that maybe it’s possible to get more of what I want and less of what I hate.

It all comes back to defining success. We were asked to write our personal definition of success on the very first day – I struggled with that assignment quite a bit. Today, my coach pointed out that coming up with a personal definition of success is kind of like defining the meaning of life – it’s not easy to do and we’ll probably never have all the answers. As much as I’d like to strive for perfection in every way, the real answer is to figure out which things are the most important to me and which I can let slide. And of course, the key to doing that is acting with intention/purpose.

My purpose for the next hour? To go meet up with my friends at the beach bar for a drink before we all fly home 🙂


6 thoughts on “Acting with Intention”

  1. I don’t mean this in a mean way, but I am not sure why you are so obsessed with your weight. Do you feel like you are not in control of your life and by working out all the time, that you are controlling something? Frankly, these double workouts sound very unhealthy, especially for someone who is working long hours. I have seen your pictures and you are by no means fat and I don’t think you need to lose any weight.

    You should not be comparing your weight to other people. You have the body God gave you and you have to accept it, because honestly it only gets harder and harder to keep off the weight as you age. No one is going to accept you or your body if you don’t accept yourself and your body first.

  2. Anonymous, I appreciate your concern. My weight is a bit higher (10-15lbs) now than it is when I’m not traveling, and that’s why I refer to it as vanity pounds – it’s not keeping me from being healthy, but it’s keeping me from looking my best in my clothes. It bugs me that I know it could/should be lower if I were in optimal health and not eating at restaurants all the time. I’d say that all the working out I do is more aimed at not gaining new weight (admittedly b/c I’m terrible about overindulging in all the delicious things that are put in front of me!) than it is losing current weight.

  3. Any kind of office job is going to stop you from being in optimal health. I work a 9-5 job for the most part, but the stress of the job causes me to crave bad food, like chocolate. Also, I am sometimes too tired to go to the gym after work or can’t go because I have a killer headache from staring at a computer screen all day.

    When I went on vacation in March for 10 days, I worked out all the time and ate very healthy food, never once craving chocolate or bad food.

    So sure, if I didn’t work and had no stress, I would be in awesome shape and look and feel great. So would everyone else. But that is not life.

    My point is that what you consider optimal health is probably not realistic. Even if you didn’t travel for work, there would still be other things that would get in the way of you achieving that optimal health.

  4. I’m going based on my weight/health when I stopped working in consulting and wasn’t traveling. I was very healthy at that point and eating reasonable meals (actually, not working out nearly as much as I do now – just eating homecooked meals instead of restaurant meals). That’s what I want to get back to.

  5. Acting on Intention. I have been studying up on “responsibility psychology” (also known as humanist psych) lately. One particular psychologist, Denis Waitly, makes the following statement, “everything we do is volitional. … If you have to do anything, then in that moment (decision) you are acting irresponsibly.” He goes on to state that some people have to work late at the office because the boss makes them, but that he chooses to work late at the office because the project is important for him to finish on time. He gives many other examples and descriptions. We make a choice to go to the bar. We make a choice to have water or wine or beer. We make a choice to order alcohol with our meals.

    I like you Laura, and know that regardless of how you adapt your career, hobbies, family, and friends to better balance your life I am convinced (merely through reading 50by25) that you will always be successful and a winner. But I have to think that the attitude being portrayed about workplace camaraderie building with after hours drinking, combined with fitness activities and bar-hopping, and drinking a bottle of wine to catch up with friends is not helping the “balance” you seek out of life. Not only do alcoholic drinks contain a number of calories, but they also dehydrate a person. And when a person is dehydrated their metabolic rate naturally decreases to “preserve” the body. So those colleagues who seemingly eat and drink the same as you even though you exercise twice a day, may not be quite the same as you. Maybe away from the job they do not drink at all (or even exercise), thus allowing their body to rehydrate, and bring their metabolic rate back to normal. And remember constant running/work outs will also stress the hydration capabilities of the body. Not to mention the stress of a job in and of it self.

    (I want to make two points, so that no one thinks I make those above points as a hypocrite. I do not abstain from alcohol, but do try to keep drinking only to the times where it would be to my advantage to have nice little alcoholic buzz – about once a month or less. Working out twice a day is NOT a sin. I will regularly either run twice or run once and lift weights once every day. And sometimes run a race in the morning and then meet up with friends in the afternoon for a trail run.)

    Neither career, alcohol, or exercise are necessarily negative stressors, but in the wrong combinations they may not work well together. Career and Exercise can complement each other to provide increased energy, desire, and efficiency in all parts of life. Alcohol can be paired with either of those other two stressors in a reasonable way. But if you claim that while on a project travel consulting that you put on “ten to fifteen” pounds, that is not reasonable.

    I can tell you have a pretty good (very good?) support crew around you to keep you feeling positive. People that you trust for their judgment and will listen to you when you are not feeling well. But do you have someone around you, that will look you in the eye, and say “No” when you are weighing the cost-benefit analysis of some new proposition? Someone who you totally trust to have your best interests at heart (even when they tell you “No, don’t do that.”)?

    Denis Waitly makes one more point that I think artfully combines everything I have said. Self-image is the key to behavior. Change the way we see ourselves, we change our behaviors. If we see ourselves as losers, then losers we will always be. If we see ourselves as fat, then (no matter how much we exercise) we will always be fat. If we see ourselves as runners, then we will become runners, we will naturally do what is in the best interests of running. If we see ourselves as successful teachers embedded in our communities, then that is what we (I) become. So, the key is to continuously implant in our minds the images of who we see ourselves as. To feed our subconscious minds with thoughts of who we want to become so that our minds believe who we really are.

  6. Danny, AWESOME insight! Is there a particular book by Waitley that you’d recommend? I checked it out and saw that he’s been pretty prolific, so I’d love to hear a starting point.

    As far as drinking – you’re absolutely right. One of the conclusions I’ve come to just in the past few days is that alcohol would probably be one of the biggest quick hits for me. Specifically, in the last two years I’ve gotten really into craft beer – but that’s a ton worse for me than the wine or vodka/seltzers I drank before getting into beer. I think I need to reevaluate how often I’m drinking as well as how much I’m drinking, perhaps cutting the beer back to a once a month special occasion thing? (Meaning, I still get to go to a beer festival I bought tickets for next weekend)

    As far as the support system – awesome point. I think most people just view me as “that’s Laura, she can do everything!”, in part because I don’t like to show my stress to the world and I intentionally try to make things look easy. (I blame my ballet background for that – never let the audience see how hard you’re working!) In the last few months, I’ve been trying to say no to more things myself (and being really proud of myself for small victories), but maybe it does take another person to really help with that. I’ll have to think more about it.

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