When I speak to audiences of health, nutrition, and fitness professionals, as well as clients who are in the midst of life changes, I am often struck by how many of them approach the project of making better choices.
Often, “better choices” are defined as “not-doing”.
As in, Not-doing bad things.
Not-doing all that we want to do.
Especially late at night, or in those other spaces where control and conscious reasoning do not have jurisdiction, and so our logical brains must helplessly stand at the barriers, watching like anxious, sphincter-clenched homophobic onlookers at a Pride parade full of bearded drag queens, taped nipples, and errant swinging testicles as our id and our primal instincts and our internal five-year-olds devour the world dipped in ice cream, wiggling joyfully as they do it.
After the party, of course, our control and conscious reasoning tell us that we should be consumed with regret, and try harder.
Try harder to not-do.
Fence ourselves in.
Still, our wild natures threaten to leak out. Our exuberant flesh and Dionysian spirit protrudes, and spills over, and wants and wants and wants.
We clamp down harder. Become more rigid. Clutching. Grasping. Or just absent from our own lives.
When I ask these audiences things like “What do you imagine?” or “How much do you travel?” or “If you didn’t have self-imposed Limitation X what might you do?” or “Have you ever tried…?” I am often met with blank faces.
For many people, their worlds — and thus their minds — are the small trodden paths between gym and cupboard and health food store and excavating flowers frantically for nectar. All business. Like accountant bees. No time to stop and luxuriate.
Treading the grooves of “rules” and “shoulds”.
So, dear reader, here is an invitation to reconsider.
A few small questions to ask yourself about your choices, from minute to macro.
If I make a choice…
Does this choice add value to my body? My relationships? My life?
Does this choice take value away?
In the face of this choice, do I grow or shrink as a human being? Do I loop back on myself, like that thing that happens when two mirrors face each other, repeating the same bullshit into infinite regress?
Does this choice give me options? Expand possibilities and opportunities? Draw the horizon even further away and expand the frame, so that all before me is potential?
Or does this choice constrain my options? Limit me? Shrink my horizon to a tiny, tunneled point?
Does this choice widen or narrow my life?
Does this choice follow a familiar script? Perhaps a Same Old Story — “This is how it is, how it was, how it must be, because that is all there is, forever and ever amen”?
Or does this choice create a new story, forever writing itself into being? With an ambiguous ending? “Just as our heroine was hanging from the cliff by her fingernails, thinking the game was over, a surprising turn of events occurred…”
When I make this choice, what am I assuming to be true? Is that thing really true? For sure? (Ask Nate Silver to double check the numbers.)
Is this choice possibly based on bullshit? Drill down. Scratch and sniff. Is there a thin veneer of truthiness that covers a moist, steaming turd? (Or just… nothing?)
Who do I become when I make this choice? Am I an anxious, fretful, narcissistic, unloved child seeking security and affirmation? Am I an adult, calm and mature? Am I an even older adult who’s out of shits to give, exuberantly wearing an ugly hat and purple rubber boots as I stomp cheerfully out of giving a fuck about anything?
How many choices do I think I have? Have I explored a wide range? How big is my world of choices? Do I need to embiggen it?
What am I choosing to trade for this choice? Self-love? Sanity? Something else? What are the short-term and long-term trade-offs?
Does reading this list make me want to barf? Is it dawning on me that I need to get the fuck out of the shitty little prison of my own brain?
No problem — the world awaits. Pull back the curtain. Punch out the window. Kick open the door.
And run free.