Inspiration, determination, self-acceptance
And how language shapes culture
This week's installment of Life Intelligence gets personal. Thanks for being here. Subscribe if you just found me. It will be fun, I say…
Inspiration is sexy. You see the Before and After pictures of random people-turned-coaches, and you want to be like them. So, you buy whatever they sell. That's inspiration.
Daily commitment is not sexy. Getting up and wanting pancakes but eating oatmeal, keeping your gym commitments, taking your yoga classes and daily walks, stepping on the scale, and not walking down the grocery store's booze aisle are the reality of determination.
Inspiration makes you want to change your life. Determination actually does the changing.
I was sickly as a child. It made me jealous of all the kids who could do things I couldn't do. I decided that I would never be limited again. Perhaps, that was the inspiration. I got involved with sports, and the rest is history. Inside, I am still that athlete with the same level of commitment to healthy eating, training, and staying in top shape. So, I don't have Before-fat-me and After-sexy-me pictures to inspire anyone. But I can still wear my clothes from the '90s. Does this count?
In about three weeks, I'll be 50, but few believe me. I don't argue with the non-believers. I just smile and thank them. I argue with the people who say, "I can't," and follow it up with a string of excuses, turning them into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because that's what it is. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I am not saying that everyone can be a top athlete. I am saying that everyone can do better, be healthier, and try harder.
I am also saying it's worth it.
It's worth it to wake up without aches, foggy, groggy, sluggish, and tired. It's worth not spending a portion of your weekly life in the doctor's office. But if you don't think you deserve it, don't listen to me.
It's worth hiking up a hill and marveling at the views from there, playing on the beach with your dog or kid, and walking up 1000 stairs to the throne room of an ancient castle. It's worth it not missing your kid's graduation because you're in the hospital with a triple bypass that barely saved your life. I mean, it is, isn't it?
And yet, judging by all the liquor people cart through the checkout line and the more than 20 cars in the Burger King's drive-through every day at 7 am and 5 pm, I wonder if many simply gave up trying. I wonder how it is that people get so far down the slippery slope that the only choice they see is to continue in the same direction.
It's not for the lack of inspiration. From Oprah to Tony Robbins and an army of health coaches, psychologists, and medical professionals, we are all well-informed about the consequences of our unhealthy choices and what to do about them. America probably has the highest number of inspirational figures per capita than anywhere else in the world, yet we grow fatter, more depressed, and unhealthier by the minute. But we are great at complaining about the healthcare system's faults. We neglect to acknowledge that the state of our healthcare system would not matter as much if we were taking care of our health.
OK, we do have to fix our healthcare system. AND we do have to fix our health! If you believe that when there's a problem, it is best to start with what is within your control, then start with your own health and well-being.
Instead, it's my impression that we've normalized "unhealthy" and called it "self-acceptance." I am all for self-acceptance, but how can people accept being in an unhealthy state other than to acknowledge it, so they can commit to changing it? I think we've gotten our definitions mixed up.
Self-acceptance is NOT the same as giving up and surrendering to bad habits. Self-acceptance is just the first step in a journey that's supposed to lead to a better, more refined understanding and relationship with all aspects of our being. On this journey, we are supposed to figure out how to eliminate personal suffering caused by unhealthy habits, poor life decisions, and our reactions to them.
So, unless your self-acceptance leads to becoming a better caretaker to yourself and others, you're likely practicing self-gratification and self-delusion. You might be calling it self-acceptance. I'm calling it "being lazy" because you're choosing the easy way out.
Go ahead. Prove me wrong.
A few last words…
You need an inspiration to get you going, but determination keeps you going.
Inspiration happens in a moment. Determination happens every moment, which is why diets don't work. They usually end. Programs usually end. Books end. Without a commitment to a healthy life, your unhealthy habits will return as soon as the inspiration wears out.
A lifetime of bad decisions gets you a bad life. Even under challenging circumstances, there are usually hard decisions that would bring about better outcomes. But being "hard" to make, you probably avoid making them. Excuses feel better. No judgment. Just saying…
Coming home yesterday, I saw a neighbor sitting outside her home, crying. I had to stop and check on her to make sure everything was OK. She's a quiet type, soft-spoken, and kind. I offered a hug. I let Lulu cuddle with her. I even shed a few tears. I couldn't help it.
It turns out she and her boyfriend were moving and separating. The landlords gave them a looong notice to vacate after being there for 12 years because they wanted to fix up the place. She has no place to go. She said she will be living out of her car, but not like homeless, more like going from family to family with all her possessions in her car. She felt loss and lost.
She's in her 50's. Obese. No job. No money. No place to go.
After talking to her, I went home depressed. Then my brain went to work, and questions erupted in a storm.
How is this combination of factors possible? Why no job? Why no savings? Why and how long has she been supported by her boyfriend? Is he using this situation to get rid of her? Why the weight?
How does one get to this place of loss, lost, and desperate?
I realized (again) that's my biggest fear. I've been working all my life to make sure I never end up in that situation. I haven't given up. I am scared to stop trying. I worry that something outside of my control could take me out of line, so I've been preparing to support myself if this should happen. I realize I've only increased my chances of not ending up destitute, that there's always a tiny chance of something huge… like a war started by a crazy person… but, honestly, I have a plan for even that! Believe it! I have plans from A -Z.
And every day, I eat my oatmeal, walk my dog, do my workouts, enjoy my work, appreciate my friends, and count my blessings because I know I've got resources and plans, and I make good decisions for myself.
That's self-acceptance, inspired by the good and bad in the world, motivated by not wanting to be a victim, and committed to being a good caretaker to myself and others.
Thanks for reading.
What's for breakfast at your house 😊?
What Science Can Tell Us About How We Express Ourselves is a great article about how language shapes emotion across cultures. It was of interest to me because I like writing. When I write, I think carefully about the words I choose. And because I am a transplant, born in Bulgaria, living in the USA. English is the third language I learned but the only one I can express myself fluently in. Yet, not perfectly… I still can't tell the Bulgarian jokes in America. They just don't work!
A child's learning of an emotion word is not so much starting to recognize their own deep mental states, to which a caregiver does not have access after all, as it is to connect a cultural concept.
Emotion words come with the emotional episodes from your culture's collective memory as well as collective insights about these emotions. You learn them by talking to others, by hearing the collective wisdom about these emotions, and by observing how they are used in public life. It is this collective knowledge that scaffolds your own experiences.
Not all languages have a word for "emotion" itself.
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