Last night, I presented a topic about pushing and gliding – in reference mainly to eating, but also regarding life. It is usually (maybe always) the case that healthy ways of thinking about food are also helpful ways to think about life in general. My purpose was to get participants thinking about the subtle messages that indicate it’s either a good time to give yourself a little kick in the pants or to ease up a bit and allow changes (or thoughts) to gel.
At the end of this session, one participant expressed an interesting, but not surprising, comment: “Kim, I know I have trouble with that kind of gray thinking. I want it to be more black and white. I want to know how to do it.”
I thought about it for the rest of the night. What I think she wanted was a black and white guide to being gray. Isn’t that impossible? Still, wouldn’t we all like a rule book (a black and white one) that tells us exactly how to do all of the gray things in our lives the “right” way? I would, if I’m honest. It would be so much easier than having to listen to my desires, pay attention to my needs, and assimilate the needs of others into my decisions.
In this case, it is food we are talking about, but it could be anything. I would love to know the right way to prioritize my time! When I feel pulled in many directions, I would just LOVE to have a rule book that lists the “correct” order to attend to life issues – all while not being too selfish or ignoring my own needs too much.
Even though we cannot really make something gray fit into black and white categories like “right” or “wrong”, it can still help to have tools, although they will never be perfect indicators. I came across an article in Runner’s World that attempts to do just that with running (“Time to Rest?”). The author describes how to identify, even quantify, when to glide and when to push with running. Using 10 “red flag” factors that signal “caution”, a runner can get some idea of whether to run or rest (push or glide). This may help some people, but for others a simple intuitive “check in” may be just as valuable.
A similar tool for changing eating habits might be helpful in some cases, one that could help identify the warning signs of too much pushing and the need for a glide. At least it would provide a systematic way of taking a look at how the process is going. If I were to invent a tool like that, I would include considerations like:
1. Rate of weight loss – If you are losing very quickly, it may be a sign that habit changes are too rapid to keep up with attitude changes.
2. Sleep – If you do not sleep well, it can affect mood and hunger. This may be a good time to be careful with ambitious change goals.
3. Energy level – This may be an indicator that there are just not enough calories coming in, or it may mean that there is some other reason for fatigue that may affect your ability to push it.
4. Mood – Being stressed beyond your norm, or just feeling generally negative, can derail the best plans if you push too hard.
5. Atypical life situation – When unusual life situations arise, it is not always a good idea to add more challenges to the mix. Temporarily extra busy? It’s probably not the best time to make life more stressful by pushing hard to change eating habits.
6. Needing a break – When pushing ahead with changes and working hard to make new habits stick, there is often a point (or points) where a little rest from the effort is helpful. If not recognized, the break may just happen, and it will probably not be as moderate as if it had been planned!
7. Hunger – You have been losing weight at a good clip, but you are constantly hungry!
I’m not going to attempt to quantify these items as a way of weighing the results. It seems to me that trying to make this seem too scientific would not help. The whole point is to look more intuitively at when to push and when to glide. I do not want to give the impression that there is a system that answers that question in black and white terms. There is no such system! If it helps to go through the list above to get in touch with your intuitive choice, that is a good reason to use it.
The more factors that apply to you, the more you probably need to back off a bit and have a productive glide, but even one factor can be enough of a reason. As you practice, you may not always know, but you will feel more “right” about the process – and much more comfortable with the unavoidable grayness of it.
The fact is that so much in our lives is gray. There is no rule book, no black and white “right” way or “right” choice at any time. There is only the right choice for me (or you) at this time. That is very gray. Admitting it’s gray is a good start. Then failure does not have to be black and white either.