Mind Games

Sep 26, 2014

Mind Games

“Stand up and step away from your brain”, one of my wise friends often advises because, when I rely on my emotional brain (the amygdala) run the show, I am just as likely to act as my own worst enemy as my friend.

I can often find the relief I seek from owning my less than helpful choices by making wild promises, like: “Once the treadmill gets here I’ll exercise every single day”.  Promises get me off the hook by explaining how, at some future date (suspiciously unspecified) I am going to be totally willing do something that I am totally unwilling to do now. Since practice makes perfect, so the saying goes, how is practicing bailing out going to make me better at following through? Interesting logic.

I use excuses on the other hand to avoid taking responsibility for those less than helpful food choices altogether.  If the reason is good enough, so my thinking goes, I am simply never going to need to be accountable.  Apparently if I can convince myself for example that “I deserve this because….I had a stressful day”, my body is somehow able to be immune to those less than helpful choices.  Sort of like thinking that Amex will excuse me from debt incurred if I  had a stressful month.  Excuses get me off the hook without lots of tiresome internal dialogue.

Case in point: One of my clients was recounting a story to me of how she had agonized that morning getting herself to exercise. You know the conversation, when you are all warm and cozy (have had lots of practice and are very, very good at managing to talk yourself out of it anyway) and begin the dialogue of trying to convince yourself to get out of bed and exercise.

She told me that, as she ran 22 excuses through her head, she was at least able to stop herself and say, “Bull***, just get up and do it”. Great of course, because we have to get better at calling our own bluff like that, and will with more practice.

But there is another crucial angle here: behind every one of those excuses is probably some legitimate issue she really does have to figure out. They are real issues to figure out, not bull****. In fact, the real price tag to excuse making is that we never end up finding solutions because the excuse is permission not to look. This person happens to be a self-employed professional with two special needs kids, and there really are a thousand things that make the logistics of exercising challenging. And every one of those excuses for not getting out of bed is probably going to need a solution eventually if this is to get easier for her.

Rationalizations are my personal favorite, like: I have to keep these in the house for so an so (who apparently is never going to get the chance to eat them).  I like to believe that they are the “thinking woman’s” tool.  Unfortunately the cleverer I am, the cleverer they are.  They provide a plausible explanation for my behavior with a grain of truth to them that allows me to buy right into them.  But, they are never the whole truth, only the half that I want to believe.

The bigger price for these amusing little mind games is not the nutritional, behavioral or caloric cost, or even the cascade of off track eating to which they are often the catalyst.  No, the real price is that when I buy into them, they stand squarely in the way of looking for solutions. The solutions that I need for all these situations that are likely to continue to present themselves in my life.


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