A funny thing happened to me last week at the gym. I had popped into the bathroom before class, and as I was leaving the key got stuck in the door. It literally only took me about 5 seconds to unstick it and release the lock, but in that time I had managed to work myself up into a frenzied state. Panic rose up in my chest and I could feel tears threatening. The experience left me feeling a little shaken and very foolish.
I mentioned it to one of my coaches, sort of making a joke out of it. He innocently asked me if I had ever gotten locked in a bathroom as a child, and funnily enough I had. I had almost forgotten that as a young child I had locked myself in the bathroom of a family friend’s house. I ended up having to throw the key out the bathroom window, so my mother could retrieve it and rescue her traumatized child! My mother never liked locked doors. She feared that in the unlikely event of a fire, she wouldn’t be able to get to us. So, I would have been quite unused to the feeling of being trapped somewhere.
Having spoken to my coach, it amazed me to realise that almost 30 years later, this experience is still effecting me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “ruining my life” or making me want to run to a shrink or anything, but it has clearly left a little imprint on me. It made me start to wonder how many other marks I might have picked up over the years. How much of my current behaviour is determined by past events? How often do we repeat the same patterns of behaviour, without even realising we do it?
One such pattern of behaviour that I seem to be locked in to has revealed itself recently. As many regular readers will know, I have struggled with my weight for many years. Lately, I have come to realise that each and every time I get to within a kilo or two of my goal weight, I just stop. I stall at first and then I actually begin to go backwards. I start doing ridiculous things like ordering take out twice a week and drinking far more than I normally would. I can’t focus on my training, and I get into a negative feedback loop. I feel like a loser for not being able to continue making progress. I question my commitment. I ask myself how could I be so stupid? I know full well that my actions are not in congress with my goals, but yet I can’t seem to straighten myself out.
Why is it that I do this? Truthfully, I am not entirely sure. One theory I have is that I am scared to reach the finish line. What if it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would? What if I am still not happy with myself? What will I do then? Maybe it’s because I have been actively trying to loose weight for so long, that I don’t quite know what I will do with myself when this is over?
Truthfully though the why, in this case, doesn’t really matter. Sure it’s certainly interesting and possibly insightful to know that the reason I freaked out about being locked in was because of a past event. However, knowing this isn’t going to set me free any sooner! Life puts obstacles and stumbling blocks in our way all the time. Some are external and some are internal. Understanding the reason they got there is all very well and good, but knowing how to get around them is far more powerful.
I have come to understand lately, that each time this obstacle cropped up for me, I have tried to tackle it in the same way. Like the very definition of insanity, continually doing the same thing and expecting different results. I would fight and struggle and push and strain trying to get this damn thing out of the way. Like the unstoppable force when it meets the immovable object, I was relentless. Until eventually, my energy depleted and I would be left exhausted, defeated and no closer to the goal.
Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, was a sinner. As punishment for his sins, he was condemned to spend all of eternity pushing a heavy boulder up hill, only to watch it roll back down again. Forever locked in a cycle of exerting enormous energy, only to see it all come to nothing. I can’t help wondering just how many of us have condemned ourselves to the same fate? How many of us continually try to force the obstacles we encounter out of our path, instead of trying to find a way to simply go around them.
For me, encountering this same stumbling block again, I have decided to face it with a different perspective. It’s a familiar adversary by now, and I have come to know how it plays the game. I have decided instead of trying to tackle it head on, I will go under it, or over it, or around it. I will, in short, do the exact opposite of what I have done until now. In the past, I would have beaten myself up for all of the things I felt I was doing wrong. This time, I am keeping a gratitude journal, and writing each day about the things which I felt went well. During previous battles, I would have tortured myself for hours each night in the gym. This time, I am focusing on enjoying my workouts and having fun. I take walks at lunchtime to clear my head and get into the sun, not to “burn calories.”
I know that this phase will pass, so I will conserve my energy for when I come out the other side. Will this strategy work? Who knows! But at least I will know I have tried something different this time. As unpleasant as the thought may be, our past experiences shape us. Like tiny threads, woven into the fabric, trying to unpick them may cause more harm than good. However, when we become aware of a pattern of behaviour, which we have become locked in to, we have an opportunity to choose to do something else instead xxx