Beginning Again vs. Starting Over

The thing I love about working with my coach, Meg, is that she steers me toward some real discoveries and Aha! moments. She laughed yesterday as commented that it can sometimes take me 45 minutes into an hour-long session for me to unearth a useful nugget, but the value of the discoveries are always worth the time it took to excavate them. I may share more about the major "find" from yesterday's emotional dig, but I am still unpacking all that it means and how I will work through it. Something else came up in our meeting yesterday , though, and it led me to write this post.I think one of the hardest parts of making meaningful change is breaking away from old, often lifelong, habits and behaviors. I don't know what those habits are for you, but, in my case, it's weight loss and a poor body image. Poor body image kind of speaks for itself. Weight loss, however, is kind of a catch-all. More specifically, I am talking about food choices and portion control, physical movement, and identifying and addressing triggers that lead to (or allow for) poor choices.

Something has been nagging me for quite a while is the challenge of making commitments or intentions stick. I feels like the proverbial "one step forward, two steps back" scenario. I get all excited about making a food plan for a week. Go to the store and purchase all that's needed. Two or three days later, I'm sitting in a slump, full of guilt after eating two veggie hotdogs and some oven-baked Ore-Ida fries. How did that happen? Ugh! Ok. Get your shit together Matthew! Shake it off and start over.Here is the rub with my idea of starting over. It means that I am going all the way back to zero.I never thought about how this thinking or mindset has created, or added to, a sneaky defeatist attitude. I never realized that, somewhere in my psyche, knowing that I am going back to zero has discouraged me from trying. I get tired of taking steps toward a healthier me only to find myself back at the starting line again...and again...and again. I thought about a quip by that wise sage, Homer Simpson, "Can't win. Don't try!" Sometimes I would even find myself saying that I am on the path toward healthy eating and consistent exercise, only to self-sabotage by not practicing portion control or not pushing myself to be challenged on my bike rides or during gym workouts.As I talked through this dynamic with Meg, she reminded me that I should give myself space and permission to begin again. It was in that moment that I revisited a concept by Mark Nepo -- life is about a "practice of return."

"Being human is to always be in return: to sacredness, to wakefulness, to the fact that we’re on the same journey, alone and together. We’re safe, then afraid. We’re calm, then agitated. We’re clear, then confused. We’re enthusiastic, then numb. We long for the moments of lift and run from the moments that weigh us down. But the inescapable rhythm of life lifts us and weighs us down by turns, just as the ocean swells and dips with each wave. When we lose our way, each of us is challenged to discern and embody a very personal practice of return -- to what matters and to what has heart."

Living a healthier lifestyle and taking better care of my body matters to me, and I feel my practice of return is what allows me to keep trying. With that said, I never gave thought to the cumulative emotional toll of starting over. Back to the starting line. As I talked to Meg about how this dynamic hallowed me out, I stopped for a moment to question how I viewed this pattern. The more I thought about it and talked it out; I almost stumbled into a fresh perspective on rebounding from poor decisions.I had to ask myself: Why does beginning again mean completely starting over? The short answer was/is: It doesn't. I have spent years throwing the baby out with the bathwater every time I made a choice that didn't serve my goal(s). I would completely discount the progress, no matter how small, and figured everything that came before a mistake was part of the road to failure. I had to scrap everything and start anew.

Yesterday it hit me that not viewing a poor choice in isolation has been a significant reason why I feel, under the surface, that I am incapable of truly being healthy and physically fit. I have joked with friends about how I have exhibited an all-or-nothing interest in things (situations, beliefs, faith, people) over the years. It only dawned on me yesterday that this mindset is what is shaping my approach to a healthy lifestyle. I hit one obstacle or roadblock, and I fold up the tent and go back to what soothes my wounds: eating and lethargy.I know it is going to take time for me to establish a mindful practice of return so that I know the difference between beginning again and starting over. I have to truly embrace the notion that a poor choice -- whether on day 12 or 82 -- doesn't negate or invalidate all the work, progress, and experience gained in the preceding days. Making a poor choice is not an indictment nor confirmation that I am incapable of change and consistency. If flip it around, I have another chance to keep moving toward my goals again...and again.