The parking lot at my local YMCA was jam-packed this evening when I drove past it on my way home from work. It’s like this every January, as swarms of the well intentioned seek fulfillment by weight loss. By Valentine’s Day, most of them will be in their recliners watching TV.
I really can’t criticize them; I’ve done the same thing so many times. For me it’s always been a bit demoralizing to set sky-high goals and feel worthless when I can’t meet them in a week or two. Dramatic change is certainly possible, especially when ushered in by dramatic circumstances – a heart attack, for example, can turn many die-hard couch potatoes into health nuts. But for most mere mortals, long-lasting change takes a long time.
Why do we do this to ourselves? We look into our fun house mirrors every morning and see a distorted image. We’re too fat, too short, too broke, too tired, too something. Whatever we are, we need to fix it. Right now. Deep in our hearts we believe we aren’t good enough. Movies, TV and magazines prove this to us over and over. The beautiful people in the media looking back at us are talented, wealthy, fit, well dressed and enviably successful. And if our self-esteem still has a shred left, a quick browse through Facebook will take care of that. In this sanitized, storybook land, everyone is having a better time than you. They’re vacationing in the Caribbean and cooking fabulous meals with organic produce. They’re in passionate relationships with stunning partners or proudly attending their child’s graduation from medical school. No one on Facebook ever posts their status from the checkout line at Walmart or lets you see their children in their natural state, throwing food at each other.
Sometimes I need a vacation from these plastic images so I can like myself.
I am fortunate to have a really nice life: wonderful family and friends, good health, a successful career and a comfortable home. I recognize how much I’ve been blessed and I’m deeply grateful. But years of hard work have helped build this life, too. My dad always said hard work never killed anyone. I don’t know about that, but a work ethic is a wonderful thing. The desire to succeed, to set goals and achieve them, is vitally necessary in any society. It becomes a problem when relentless striving turns into unfulfilling perfectionism. Too bad we don’t always recognize it.
What if, instead of an oppressive list of resolutions to face in 2016, we change the game altogether? What if we choose to pursue that which feeds our souls?
Can you transform that inner taskmaster into a nurturing parent?
Instead of a weight loss goal, seek to truly nourish your body.
Instead of finding a way to acquire more, find real gratitude in what you already have.
Instead of getting in shape, stretch and move and live joyfully in your body.
Instead of pursuing achievements, pursue stronger relationships with the people who matter most.
Maybe the rest will take care of itself.