Recently I was at a restaurant and overheard a woman ordering her food by saying that she needed the items she was ordering. She wasn't being overly dramatic, she was simply using the word "need" in place of the word "want" and this was enough to get me thinking about how often people mislead themselves into thinking that their wants are actually needs.
For me, I live in what is perhaps the easiest time in human history. Those needs that my ancestors - even as recently as my grandparents - struggled to attain, take very little of my focus. In fact, the attention that it typically takes is not the need aspect but the want that takes the focus. I don't need to find clean water, as an example, I chose the water I want to drink based on taste or convenience.
I try to be mindful and appreciate these choices that I am lucky enough to have but in our society it is not easy. We are constantly blasted with examples of solutions that will fix whatever problem that we have been convinced that we have ( with great marketing words like "halitosis") and provided with idealized versions of life comparisons. Sometimes you can be lucky enough to have a clear wake-up like Chris provides in his article this month as an example of how easily the brain goes straight to the down-side comparison and how a simple realization switch can reset your thinking. And sometimes that reset button is hard to find because it is too hard to see objectively when you are buried under a whole lot of negatives.
Take a moment to think about balancing the hundreds or thousands of times every day that you are subjected to a message about something wrong with you or your life. Imagine telling yourself something positive for each non-positive message. It is almost ludicrous to consider that much positive reinforcement yet we know that our brains are far more wired to believe and accept negatives than positives, so really even that ridiculous level of equaling the amount of messages would still not be enough to balance.
Please don't take that to mean that positive messages are pointless, they are very important and part of the greater whole. They also need to be reinforced by placing the negative messages in context. Do you think that Olympic sprinters beat themselves up about how they aren't as strong as the powerlifters? I sure hope not but this, to me, is much the same as the mother of young children who also works outside the home and compares her fitness to others. Our life of choice requires trade-offs.
Since it is not realistic to become a world class gymnast and sumo wrestler it hardly seems logical to...well, we're not talking logic. We are talking emotion. All these comparative manipulations, regardless of where they originated, are using your emotions to sway your decision making. If you can gain some distance you can see that it is not possible to have it all. There are simply too many options and fretting over all of the choices you didn't take will detract from the ones you did choose.
As you might know, I am a big believer in doing the activities necessary to ensure your body is able to support the lifestyle that you want to have. For me, I like being strong, but if I chose to not lift weights then it doesn't make sense for me to fret about getting weaker - it is going to happen and worrying will not make that change. This is a choice and hopefully I would have chosen to do something with the time I wasn't lifting that holds as much, if not more, value to me than being strong.
Short term choices create long-term trade-offs and what you choose now is for the future, but in this rarified environment of choice it is far too easy to get overwhelmed and stressed through comparatives. If what you want is not obvious to you, start by choosing future needs. If in the future you want a lifestyle where you have maintained your health, strength and vitality then there are choices that you can make right now to support those goals.
As always, let me know how I can help.