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Resolve to Pause

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On the debut episode of The Marc & Tom Show with comedian Marc Maron & WFMU’s Tom Scharpling, Scharpling closed with a comment regarding how it can feel like it takes him forever to correct his path sometimes,

“It’s like when they turn those oil rigs — like the giant tankers — around. It’s like it takes them ten miles to turn ten feet. That’s what it feels like for me. It’s like, man, I cannot turn the ship around. I can’t do a one-eighty on these things. It takes like… and at this point I’m slightly pointing more in the right direction; I guess I’ll take this, that might have to be enough for what I can do here.”

The times where I’ve recognized my own lack of personal resolve have historically been my weakest, and my inability to remain consistent in maintaining a healthy weight might well be my greatest source of struggle; not my drinking, nor my ups and downs with depression, nor my otherwise erratic behavior. It just so happened that while I was listening to Scharpling explain his position that I happened to be in a funk as I was closing out a week that had seen its fair share of personal letdowns in that regard. I kept telling myself that my ship was changing its course, so to speak, but the reality of the moment left me feeling like my one-eighty was not to be…

After a few brief hours of sleep that night I shot up at 1:00 am as a dream left me with some sort of revelation. What was the dream about? What was its point? What lesson was I to gain from it? Between the time that I stood up from my bed to the time that I hit the bathroom I lost the plot: grenades were involved, there was a small fight of some sort, and if I remember correctly the brother of one of my good friends was in there somewhere, but I couldn’t ultimately piece together the bigger picture. I didn’t, however, lose the purpose: I genuinely felt like I could now walk away from binging.

Earlier in that day, before I had heard Scharpling’s explanation, I was actually contemplating writing down some reactionary thoughts to the idea of Commitment vs. Experimentation, or essentially setting a hard-commitment to less and less while not foregoing experimentation. In essence I was trying to figure out whether I was trying to set too many goals for myself and whether or not that was — to borrow the phrase again — preventing me from turning my ship around. Was I simply experimenting where I needed to commit? (In this case, the focus being a weight loss goal I’d set for myself.) But as the day wore on and new ideas penetrated my train of thought another theory began to take hold: not Commitment vs. Experimentation but Reward vs. Regret.

For the past week or so I’ve tried to be more present concerning the decisions I’m making. If I had a bad day or experience, I tried to focus on monitoring my instincts, my cravings, and especially how I attempt to reward myself to get over whatever hurdle I might be stuck on. A few days into that process though, as I continued to work on the idea, the term for what I was searching for was handed to me: “Pause.” As Leo Babauta writes,

“When we fail, it’s because we act on urges without thinking, without realizing it. We have the urge to eat junk, and we do it. We have the urge to check email instead of writing a chapter of our book, and so we open our inbox. We have an urge to smoke, to drink, to do drugs, to chew our nails, to play a Facebook game, to procrastinate, to skip a workout, to eat more fries, to criticize, to act in jealousy or anger, to be rude … and we act on that urge. What if instead we learned to pause after each urge? What if we stopped, looked at that urge, paid close attention to what it feels like inside our bodies, but didn’t act?”

Have you ever been so emotionally attached to someone that your tunnel vision prevented you from seeing a bigger picture around you while you were with that person? Prior to reading Babauta’s words the thought came to me that my brain frequently thinks within this realm of unhealthy irregularity, as if I were in love much of the time. I simply don’t think straight. I’d have a great week and be so caught up in the moment that when I’d be buying groceries, for example, I’d completely overlook that I was de-railing myself by binging on unhealthy food for dinner. While I might have been committed to a goal, I had no Pause, and all I could see was the reward: I might not have been in love, but a very similar sense of momentary blindness was still affecting me.

A few weeks back when my dad came to visit with me he explained his own situation in trying to identify why I might have been experiencing such issues with my own weight. As he aged and began to gain a lot of weight himself he became diabetic and he thought that I might have that same issue developing in my body. I might, don’t get me wrong, but as I told him I’ll repeat here: I can almost guarantee that diabetes isn’t at the core of my weight gain… I am. I’m no physician, but regularly drinking a fifth of cheap booze and eating an entire frozen pizza (in a single serving no less) likely has quite a bit to do with gaining about 20 pounds over the course of a few months… Just a hunch.

“When you get caught up in minutia, the really important stuff gets left undone. Often simply because in buying the low-carb salad dressing, you give yourself a mental checkmark in the “healthy eating” column and proceed to violate the truly important issues.”

Ultimately I enjoy the frankness of this “mental checkmark” statement because it helps cap off the idea of Pause nicely, bringing home the idea of why it’s important. So often have I become caught up on a single reason or two as to why my ship might not be turning around fast enough that I forget to ensure my own commitment to staying the course. So often have I set a goal, only to reward the most insignificant of achievements in an unhealthy manner, setting myself back two steps before I’d even gained an inch. But this past week I’ve been successful in taking a step back from myself — pausing, if you will — and analyzing my actions before the fact rather than after. When a reward wouldn’t outweigh the regret I might experience after partaking, I’d stay away. If a reward wouldn’t really knock me off of my larger aim, then I’d go for it. The resolve to Pause has been a beautiful thing for me this week and certainly something that I feel resolved to pursuing as I continue forward toward my goal. Now, if only I can figure out what that damned dream was about, I might really have something here…