On Slowing Down and Being Present
After years of struggling to lose weight, I’ve lost 30 pounds this year. My number one takeaway has been realizing I need to be mindful of what I eat all day, from eyes open to going to bed.
For years I’d been giving up single things. No soda or juice. No desserts. No chips. No fries. Yet incredibly, whatever I did it didn’t make a dent, at least not for long. Which seemed totally impossible.
I’d just cut out thousands of calories! And… nothing. Eventually, I realized it was like pushing down on a waterbed. I’d just end up eating the calories somewhere else. Automatically and without fail.
Maintaining good posture is easy: when you notice you are slumping, sit up straight. The hard part is noticing. What’s going on at that moment when you start to slump? The exact moment when your head tilts down or your back starts to curve? Where is your mind right at that moment? How are you letting this happen? I mean what the hell, who is minding the store here?
I feel like that’s exactly where my mind was when I was making a late-night snack, or grabbing another handful of chips, or digging into another piece of pizza. I was there for those moments in a way, but also not there.
Honestly, sometimes I felt like a spectator. I’d look at the snack I fixed myself and say, “Boy I should not be eating this,” then I’d sit down and eat it. Afterward, I’d say, “I should not have eaten that”. Can I talk to a manager, is there no one in charge here?
What finally worked was pushing the desire to lose weight down deeply into every fiber of my being, so in those moments I was present, the “I” that I wanted to be was present. Once present, the choice was actually easy. If I’m trying to lose weight, which I am, should I eat this handful of M&M’s? No, no I should not.
How to stay present? I did mindfulness meditation for several years, and I think mindfulness is what we are talking about. It’s the opposite of mindlessness, and mindlessness is the enemy. What they don’t advertise is there are ways to increase mindfulness without meditation. They are just… a little weird.
When you have an itch, even an intense one, just observe it for a while. See what happens. Often it will go away. If it’s unbearable then scratch it, but not every time, and not right away.
If you are doing anything rushed, like writing or cleaning or typing your password in wrong, once in a while do it really slow. Like impossibly slow. The other day I was tearing a perforated piece of paper such that I waited for each single pop, then pulled it a bit more. One time I shaved so slowly that I was enjoying listening to the individual whiskers snap.
The goal is not just “do things slowly”. The goal is to catch yourself doing something on auto-pilot and intervene with some deliberate action. To be aware of what you were doing, then modify what you were doing mindfully. It’s best to do this for different activities, sporadically. Sense that the auto-pilot has taken over, then do something to disrupt that automatic behavior.
Sometimes if I’m on a mostly empty road, but I’m following someone too closely, I’ll slow WAY down, until they are far in front of me. I’ve learned that for me this “following behavior” is very automatic.
After there’s a gap I resume my exact same speed, but now I’m a constant five seconds behind. It’s less stressful and safer, and the only downside is I’ll arrive a whopping five seconds after they will. Notice you are doing something, then modify what you are doing.
When I finally put it together there was no grit-your-teeth effort required, it was just being consistently mindful of my goal, and therefore mindful as to whether my behavior was aligned with my goal. It required a light touch, not a heavy lift.
If “I” was there, I’d make the right decision. If I was on auto-pilot, I’d make the wrong decision. So my goal was no longer really to lose weight, it was simply to always be there.