photo: peter mBy Crabby McSlacker
Anyone else feeling a bit frustrated and thwarted these days? Could you use a pep-talk and some perspective, or is it just me? When I wrote most of this post yesterday, I was in a majorly crappy mood and I probably shouldn't hit publish on this thing. We'll see if today is any better--too early to tell.
But I'm hoping that however you're doing, whether you're kickin' ass, getting your ass kicked, or are somewhere in between, that you might let us know what's up!
So anyway, what's the reason for this extra whiny post?
The problem is lumpiness.
Yeah, So What Does "Lumpiness" Even Mean?
I'm not talking about physical lumpiness--although looking down at my expanding waistline, that kind can be pretty depressing too.
I'm talking about the phenomenon of consistent efforts yielding inconsistent returns.
Hmm, that's not all that clear either, is it. So let's get mathy, shall we? In life, we act as though the effort-to-reward equation is linear. The more effort we put, in, the better results we get, right?
But seriously, doesn't it sometimes feel a lot more like this?
Sometimes you strive for things and work hard and get great results. Hooray! But other times: same striving and working, yet: crappy results. Acck!
Then out of the blue, maybe some good things happen! But suppose they feel kind of arbitrary, like they didn't really have much to do with your effort. And then some bad things happen! Perhaps these are things that make it even harder to do the things you're supposed to be doing, which weren't even paying off that well in the first place.
Why Lumpiness Can Be Such a Nasty Evil Motivation Killer
The more that effort and reward feel disconnected, the less motivated you're going to be to put out any effort at all. Why bother? Good things come and bad things come anyway! Let's just all eat some Oreos and take a nap, why don't we?
If we buy the myth that Effort Will Always Guarantee Results, when it doesn't, we sometimes unconsciously end up thinking Effort Makes No Damn Difference at All.
Neither of those overgeneralizations is true, however tempting they are.
Effort isn't always rewarded, because life isn't fair. We all have different genes and environments and life situations, and random good and bad stuff happens that we can't control.
And yet, the more we do on our own behalf, the better off we are. Sometimes payoffs are delayed or come in unexpected forms. Sometimes transgressions aren't punished immediately but lead to negative consequences down the road. All our efforts "count," even if we don't know how or why.
Of course we can understand all that intellectually, but after a few setbacks we can start to feel discouraged about our ability to make any positive changes at all. (The phenomenon is often called "learned helplessness.") It's often not conscious, so the fact that it's an illogical mindset doesn't matter--not if it never gets to the smart part of your brain that can analyze and challenge it.
When this "nothing I do matters" cloud descends, we can start to feel like a few disappointments constitute a legitimate reason to get slothful, self-pitying, and overindulgent. And especially if we don't admit to ourselves what's going on, we may put in less effort while pretending to ourselves we're doing the same stuff we used to do before we got discouraged. And then results get even worse and we get even more pissy and stubborn and slothful.
And I am a prime example.
My Particular Boring Lumpiness Complaints
Lumpy space princess (crop) from Moo Shu
Please skip this next section. It's solely for my own venting purposes, you seriously don't want to know.
Healthy Eating: My metabolism seems to be continuing to slow down in middle age--and I don't think post-menopausal weight gain is all psychological. I can't seem to make progress against creeping belly fat. Effort has not been yielding results! Plus I find many of the healthiest things I eat are proving problematic to digest, and between the bad stuff I shouldn't eat and the good stuff I shouldn't eat either, there's not much left. I want to eat like a "normal" person sometimes! And then frustration builds and I temporarily act out and eat in quantities that I used to be able to get away with, but can't anymore.
Over the last years I've been trying different approaches, many of which I've bored you with already: obsessive calorie tracking with MyFitnessPal, intermittent fasting, mediterranean-ish slow carb, low carb, a paleo-ish thing, a more "intuitive" eating style, etc. But despite eating a ton of vegetables and lean protein and minimal processed stuff, I still don't seem to have a handle on it. LOTS of effort; disappointing results. And I can feel myself slipping into a dangerous "what the hell, why bother" mindframe. Lately, I seem to be adding all kinds of foods back into my repertoire (healthy, but not low cal or low carb) and I'm not measuring shit anymore like I used to either. And, oddly enough, my pants are getting even tighter and my gut is expanding.
Working out: Knee problems, hip problems, calf problems, hamstring problems... all require various modifications and I find myself losing enthusiasm for energetic workouts. I'm still pretty active, but HIIT has become sporadic, and I'm far more likely to opt for a walk than an elliptical session than I used to, and I'm getting pretty perfunctory with weights. I keep trying to reinvigorate my workouts, but I feel like it's an uphill battle because everytime I switch things up, something else starts to hurt. I feel a bit like I'm entering a motivation danger zone.
I am heading off for my first physical therapy appointment today (which is a two hour round trip in a the least ergonomically well-designed car ever manufactured, to add to the whining.) But I'm hoping this will help. Fingers crossed!
Writing: I love blogging and have a ton of other projects on the drawing board, but readership and other measurable sorts of progress is extremely "lumpy." I'll spare you details, because is there anything more pathetic than a blogger blogging about blogging, especially if it's whiny? But yeah, it's another somewhat unpredictable endeavor.
Turning The Grumpy Lumpy Thing Around
Well, I'm thinking step #1 is Recognizing it Is Going On, which is what this post is about. Sorry! But if you don't catch that you are slipping into a de-motivated period, you can keep going through the motions and bullshitting yourself that you are trying hard when you're really not.
Recognize Stupid Thoughts: Some of that I went through above, and writing this post actually really helped me realize how dumb I am being! There's a whole post on dealing with negative thoughts, so I won't totally repeat myself.
But basically, I know that many of the things I do aren't just wasted effort, even if the particulars don't always pan out. But I realize I have to make a lot more effort to notice all the small positive cause/effect instances that I've been overlooking, as tempting as it is to slide into a nice pissy negative attitude.
Whimper, Moan, Bitch, Swear, and Seek Support: We all go through cycles of discouragement, and a reminder that others have been there and come back out again can be really encouraging. This is where having an online community can be really nice! Especially an online community that can put up with a little negativity as part of the process.
See The Whole Picture: It's easy to focus on the areas where we feel frustrated. But there is no way to be 100% successful in all areas of life at the same time. As it happens, there are other places in my life where I've been putting more focus, and these are going well!
Change Some Things Up! I haven't quite figured out what and how, but I know that to get that fresh optimistic energy, I need to feel that I'm trying something a least slightly different, or doing it with a different mind frame.
Some of the most successful lifestyle changes I've made have come in the wake of stalled, frustrasting periods. It actually helps to get good and pissy and riled to really see the way clear to to doing things differently.
I wrote an old post on Remotivating, and I think perhaps it might be time for me to re-read it!
Remembering Lumpiness Has A Positive Side Too: Sometimes, just as mysteriously as things went to shit in the first place, they get better again for no apparent reason. Ever dreaded a challenge knowing you were going to suck and unexpectedly ended up kicking ass? Or all of a sudden got recognition or payoff for efforts you put in ages ago and had almost forgotten about? Or realized that some chronic health thing you once thought you'd just have to live with forever is not a problem anymore? If things were all linear and predictable, we wouldn't get these lovely gifts!
Reframing Frustration as a Personal Development Challenge and Chance to Grow and All That Crap. I actually have lots of tools for turning around a foul mood and bad attitude--some I've written about and some I haven't yet. (Be forewarned!) I wouldn't have these tools if life didn't throw a few frustrating curveballs sometimes. The real challenge is not so much to conquer my waistline or recapture my strength and aerobic capacity (though I ain't giving up!). The challenge is to feel happy and engaged and energized about whatever I'm tackling, and I FUCKING HAVE CONTROL OVER THAT.
Though sometimes, apparently, I forget.
How are you guys doing? Any tips for getting yourself back out of a discouraging place?
(Note: While I'll be gone a good part of the day I WILL come back later to reply to comments! But I can't say enough about the readers who add supportive replies to other peoples comments, they are much beloved).
Also, I understand the comment form has been acting up again; if you've been a victim you may want to copy your comment before hitting publish. Are you guys having the trouble on Apple iThingies? Or is this a cross-platform problem? OK, I'll shut up now... )