Be Prepared

When I was thinking about what I should write about this week, I decided that it would be a great idea to talk about my routine…like what I’m actually doing in order to bring down my blood sugar levels and lose weight.  I was going to talk about the importance of establishing a routine, a plan.  I am still going to do that, but that is not the focus of today’s blog post.

But before I start, I know you are all wondering if I finally broke the magic ton.  I am happy to say Yes!  I did!  Yay me!  I am now officially under 100kg and weigh in at 99.5kg.  I have not been under the ton for twenty years so this is a pretty significant moment for me.  Now, back to the post…

If you’re like me and have gone through periods of life where you know you need to change or maybe you have had a personal revelation that the way you’re doing life isn’t working or maybe you just suddenly understand something about yourself that you never really knew before then you have had, what I like to call, a Life Lesson (yes, the capital letters are required.)

Inevitably when you stumble into a Life Lesson, you will be tested – ahem – challenged – um… given an opportunity to practice your new knowledge.  We can look at this negatively (read – throw a tantrum) or we can take it for the opportunity it is to get better at our brand spanking new Life Skill.  To PRACTISE

I’m going to segue here just for a minute.

Hands up any gamers out there 🖐🏼.  I once heard a podcast that talked about helping nerds – I mean people of the technologically advanced kind – get healthy by imagining their life as a video game.  Each time they achieved a fitness goal, they gained a skill.  Do you know what else happens in video games when you gain a skill?  You get the opportunity to practise that new skill by fighting a Dungeon Boss.

So back to that Life Skill you just learned when you stumbled into your Life Lesson.  Now you get to practise that!  Yay!  So guess what happened to me this week?  I had lots of opportunities to practise my new Life Skill!  Yay me!

Nothing absolutely terrible happened.  It was just life stuff.  The biggest of which was I had to face a situation that is an anxiety trigger for me and I’m an anxious eater sooo… you can see the problem.  I read somewhere once that emotional eaters eat to smother the feelings.  When I am in a full blown panic attack I can’t eat but leading up to panic attack?  Oh yeah, I’m all about stuffing those feelings down in an attempt to smother that panic attack before it gets started.  But not this time!

My psychologist is always telling me that I have a choice in almost every situation I face.  It’s not something I like to hear because, well, if I have a choice then I am responsible.  If the choice is taken away from me then I am blissfully blame-free.  Blaming my anxiety for my irresponsible choices is my way of not taking responsibility.  So the very tempting choice was there for me to reach for the comfort food while I tried to stave off the physiological manifestations of my anxiety.

I’m not sure if anyone else has experienced panic attacks like I do but they are brutal.  I shake uncontrollably, I cry and I am pretty much a hot mess.  Avoiding those physical symptoms is always a top priority for me.

So as I am walking through the local shopping centre hoping that I don’t become a blubbering mess on the floor, I realise that I have a choice.  I can abandon all the good I’ve been doing by eating healthy and exercising for a cheap, nasty, sugar-laden treat or I can try something different.  I am proud to say I chose something different.  Instead of eating my feelings, I went to the gym and walked them out on the treadmill.

Okay, don’t roll your eyes.  I am the first to say that choosing exercise over cake is not something I can guarantee I will always do, but in this instance it’s what I chose.  I am also not one of those people that experiences an ‘exercise high.’  Usually by the time I’m finished my workout I am ready to crawl onto the lounge and lay flat out like a lizard drinking for the rest of the day.

Why did I choose the gym?  Because I am a firm believer that we can rewire our brain.  I am not a scientist but brain chemistry fascinates me.  I have heard people smarter than me explain how our brains make neural pathways by associating certain behaviours with feelings and situation so that the next time you do that thing it happens faster and more automatically.  Like learning a new skill (hehe see what I did there?)  There is also evidence that we can rewire those neural pathways by associating new behaviours with old emotions. (Okay, disclaimer time.  I am relating all of this anecdotally and by that I mean I am talking about this from my memory.  As I stated earlier, I am not a scientist and I don’t know all the ins and outs of what I am describing here just that I believe that we can rewire our brain – it’s how new habits are formed.)

So that is why I chose the gym over cake.  I want to rewire my brain so that when I get stressed I don’t automatically reach for the immediate gratification (cake) which is another Life Lesson I am learning.

Did I love my workout at the gym?  Hell no.  It was one of the toughest I’ve ever done and I quit early.  But the fact is, I didn’t eat the cake and instead I got half an hour of exercise which was much better for me and it helped reduce my anxiety levels.  I can’t say that the exercise was the cause of my reduced stress levels, but having the power to make the choice definitely did.  I was empowered where my anxiety normally leaves me powerless.

Here’s where being prepared comes into it.  If I didn’t have a regular routine at the gym then I wouldn’t have been able to choose that as an alternative to cake.  If you are learning a Life Lesson then you are going to need to practise your new Life Skill and to do that you need to Be Prepared.  Give yourself options.  If you have never walked into a gym before then don’t expect to have that choice available to you.  There are other alternatives of course (you could go for a walk, or a swim, or a bike ride for instance) but the main point is that you have to give yourself alternatives to choose from.  Think about your go-to responses to stressful situations and then think of some different ways to respond.  My husband has a favourite saying and that is ‘respond don’t react’ which is a really clever thing to keep in mind.  But in order to respond then you need to have choices.  You need to be prepared.

What’s the worst that could happen?  What if I’d gone to the gym and did my work out and I still found myself reaching for the cake?  Then that’s okay because at least I tried something different first.  Nobody is going to master a new Life Skill the first time they use it.  That’s why we have to practise.  The more we practise, the better we get.

So how can you respond instead of reacting?  What alternatives can you give yourself?

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