A few months ago, I was in an article in The Huffington Post giving advice about what we acupuncturists wish that patients would do outside of the clinic to maintain balance and health. (You can find that article here: http://acutakehealth.com/acupuncturists-spill-the-12-health-tips-they-wish-everyone-would-remember ). My piece of advice? Stop waiting for perfect.
When I wrote that, I meant that patients should stop waiting for the perfect time to succeed and letting everything else fall by the wayside in the interim. So many patients wait to take care of their health until they are in the ideal situation to do so. After the holidays are over, when the weather gets nicer, when the stress of their job settles down...when patients are content with smaller, consistent changes, things fall comfortably into place, in a way that is sustainable.
Today, I want to talk a bit about “waiting for perfect” from another angle. I think we all have this image of what our lives will be like when things are perfect. We have visions of how we will look, how we will feel, what we will have. There is nothing wrong with setting goals, but the question is this: are we truly living while we are waiting to reach our desired destinations? It's one thing to relish the journey while looking forward to the future; it's another to put your ability to enjoy life into a temporary state of hiatus while you struggle mindlessly toward an end. I see so many patients waiting to love themselves until they look or feel better, and it saddens me. If I could succeed in getting one thing to stick, it would be this: anticipate the future while you embrace the present. You simply never know if your goal will be all it's cracked up to be, so take the time to celebrate your existence every step of the way.
Several years ago, I went through a series of major life changes, all at once. I moved, started a new job, bought a new car, changed my field...all within six months. It was a whirlwind. On top of all this, I completely changed my diet and fitness routine. I was bored and lonely in a new state, and began to kill time spending hours at the gym. I didn't have a particular goal in mind; I just wanted to get healthy and have something to take up the time I normally would have spent engaging in social activities with friends. As my body shrank, I marveled at how different it was to lose weight in such an aimless way. Normally, people have a number or a size in mind when they diet, but I wasn't doing this for any real reason. I was simply using the gym as a way to help me settle into this new, unfamiliar life. I could feel my clothes getting looser as weeks went on, and it felt good-to a degree. But self-image is so very dependent on how others view us, and without anyone to really notice the changes taking place in my body, I didn't notice them as much, either. It was only when I traveled home to see family and friends that I truly felt thinner. Although I had reshaped my body, I simply didn't feel that way until I went home and everyone kept talking about how great I looked.
It felt good, but empty. I had this picture in my mind of how I would look and feel as I got into shape, but the fantasy was better than the reality. Not that I was unhappy, but I had always been pretty content with my looks. As my face thinned, I began to feel less attractive, and I couldn't figure out why. Now that I was closer to my goal weight than I had ever been before, I found myself picking at little details that I hadn't previously noticed. I started to see lines in my face that hadn't been there prior to my weight loss. As my body slimmed down, all I could focus on were my shrinking curves-and not in a good way. And I wondered what was wrong with me-how could I not be ecstatic to be down several sizes? To be able to do 50 push-ups in a row? To learn that I had the blood pressure of a long-distance runner?
Now that I look back, I realize that certain ideas, repeated often enough, tend to entrench themselves within the subconscious mind. Throughout my life, I had heard over and over how much better life is when you are smaller. I had built up an image of what my life would be at a smaller size, and now that this had become reality...well, truly, my life wasn't really any different. I was healthier, yes, and I'm not discounting that...but I was still the same person, with the same problems and challenges. Losing weight didn't change my life, and that was a slow shock to my system.
Fortunately, I wasn't depending on the gym and a lack of carbs to shift the direction of my life. I was already pretty damn content. But what if I had been in that limbo state that I see in so many patients, that place where they are on hold until they hit that perfect size? The disappointment would have been completely disheartening.
So, again, I will repeat this until I can't repeat it any more: enjoy yourself, who you are, right now at this moment. Strive for better, but enjoy who you are now. Savor your days, and focus on experiencing joy today...not at some indeterminable point in the future.