When it comes to our health it is all too easy to be our own “near enemy”—to act and think in ways that make us feel that we are working toward a goal, when really, we are sabotaging our success.
All too often we are both Caesar and Brutus and jab a knife into our own backs. I want you to be your own best sidekick. I want you to be both Batman and Robin!
Cheesy references aside, adopting a healthier lifestyle is hard enough in the best of circumstances. No one needs to get in their own way.
Have no idea what a “near enemy” is? Missed part one of this blog series? No problem. You can read the initial blog here. Or, here is my Cole’s notes version: “Near enemy” is a Buddhist concept. It is a state of mind that appears like the desired state, while undermining it. Near enemies are stealthy; they masquerade as the desired emotion, state, belief, mindset, etc. The opposite of a near enemy is a far enemy. Far enemies are easy to spot. They are the opposite of the desired state. In the last blog I detailed typical near enemy nutrition choices that undermine the health progress. Today we talk near enemy mindsets.
Why Should We Care About Near Enemy Mindsets?
Your mindset is literally how your mind is “set.” As such, it dictates your inner dialogue and your perspective on everything.
When it comes to health, mindset is critical. It determines if you can make yourself implement health knowledge. It doesn’t really matter if you know you should be eating more vegetables or doing lunges if you can’t actually make yourself eat veggies and lunge yourself fit.
Too many of us think we have mindsets that are aiding our health journeys when in reality we hold near enemy mindsets. After 20 years in the field, I know how common it is for people to inadvertently undermine their own success. It is one thing to knowingly buy into a far enemy. If you decide to live on fast food for a year, you probably wouldn’t question why you didn’t reach your health goal, but nothing is more demoralizing than the feeling of working hard yet staying stuck. To add insult to injury, because we think we should be reaching our goals, when we are not successful, we blame ourselves instead of analyzing and tweaking our belief system. Let me give you an example.
A perfectionist mindset is a near enemy of health; it suffocates our spirit and poisons our self-image from the inside while also impeding long-term sustainable success. It kills our self-concept while simultaneously making us feel that if we live, love, and achieve perfectly, other people will respect us… that if we dance in just the right way, we will be successful. As Brown states in her book Atlas of the Heart, perfectionism feeds on people working to avoid shame and achieve success by trying to please and perform for other people. Perfectionism is other focussed. Perfectionism is fear based. Perfectionism revolves around avoiding shame. Since we can only control our own actions, trying to control other people’s thoughts, actions, and reactions by acting “perfectly” is a perverse form of torture.
The biggest problem is that being perfect is not possible. Perfect is a mirage. No matter how fast and well you dance you will only burn out the floor or your shoes. Perfection is unattainable. Thus, too often, a perfectionist mindset just drives life paralysis—we put off what could be done today in hopes of a perfect tomorrow. This procrastination just leaves you with a bunch of yesterdays.
Something is always better than nothing, but not for a perfectionist. Starting allows you to build forward momentum, but perfectionists can never just start. Doing nothing while waiting for the perfect moment just keeps you stuck where you are.
Not surprisingly, perfectionism is positively correlated with loneliness, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. Perfectionism is not only self-destructive but also addictive. When we don’t succeed and/or we feel shame we think “If only I was more perfect, I wouldn’t have experienced this shame.” We work to be more perfect instead of changing how we are analyzing our success and actions.
Work to adopt a more productive mindset. Aim to become a healthy striver. Healthy striving is self-focused. Healthy strivers have a growth mindset. They work toward mastery while being non-judgmental about their cracks and imperfections.
In Kathleen-speak: Have high standards but make them realistic. Make yourself proud. Work to live in your integrity. Strive, but do it in a productive way. Embrace your little wins. Work on getting great versus being perfect.
As I always tell clients, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to get great.”
Main Take-Away Thus Far
Your near-enemy thoughts and beliefs are not your fault, but they are your responsibility.
Step one: Pinpoint the thoughts and beliefs that are throwing you off your health path. You can’t fight your enemies until you are aware they exist!
Step two: Strategize next steps. How will you slowly work to adopt a mindset that is more productive?
Okay, so we already know that perfectionism slowly erodes long-term motivation and consistency. Next let’s chat about two other common health near enemies: disappointment/
remorse and anxiety/worry.
Disappointment and Remorse: Past “Should-ing”
Berating yourself for what you should have done feels productive. Notice how I emphasized “feels.” You can’t change the past by feeling disappointed in yourself. Ruminating simply allows you to put off ‘til tomorrow what you should be doing today.
Stop spending your time and energy fixating on what you wish you would have done. These past-focused thought patterns are near enemies to health. Instead of ruminating on what you wish you would have done, act in this moment in a way that will make your future self proud.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time to plant a tree is today. Stop “should-ing” your past self. Instead, plant a health tree today. Go for a walk. Food prep. Make a fitness date with a friend.
Anxiety/Worry: Future “Should-ing”
Worry and anxiety are interconnected near enemies of productive healthy action. Worrying about the future is the thinking part of anxiety—the ruminating part of anxiety, the all-consuming monkey mind that causes you to stay stuck in your head.
Worrying either makes you feel like you are acting when you are not and/or births the “why even try because I will never be successful” thought pattern. The only way to create your fitter future you is to ACT. Stop staying stuck in your own head. I am not asking you to suppress your worry and/or pretend that you are not anxious. Both would be untruthful and unhelpful.
What I am suggesting is that you learn to recognize your anxious thoughts. Name the thoughts so you can tame the thoughts. Name the anxiety so that when you are “in” the anxiety you can talk to yourself kindly and walk yourself off that thought ledge. In those moments, you need to remind yourself that anxiety is unhelpful, that it often leads to avoidance and stems from a need to control our external world. A need to control comes from fear. Avoiding the experience can make you feel comfortable and less vulnerable in the short term because you don’t have to address what you are afraid of, but long term it makes you feel more vulnerable because you never actually take steps that make you feel healthy, happy, and in control.
I love this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert: “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control, but you never had control, you had anxiety.”
Surrender to the truth that as humans we will never have all the answers. We can’t wait until we know it all to begin because we will never know it all. Start. Then analyze your choices. Act again based on your analysis.
Again, I am not telling you to never worry or to eliminate anxiety and fear. Worry and fear have protected our species through the ages. Caution helps us resist the temptation to act impetuously.
What I am saying is don’t let worry, anxiety, and fear make you feel as if you are moving toward your health goals if you are not.
Don’t “should” your future self into so much anxiety that you don’t act in the moment you are in.
You must ACT. You must go for a walk. Go to bed at a good time. Do some squats.
Are you seeing a theme? You must ACT.
Health is a process. You are on a journey. The cool part is you are both—to paraphrase Brown in Atlas of the Heart again—the map maker and the traveller. You get to create your map as you follow the map. You get to create your map, use the map, and then tweak it as needed.
Luckily, your goal is not to be perfect on your journey. The goal is to keep learning and growing. The goal is consistency. The goal is awareness and intentionality. Brown says make your goal be to “get it right not to be right.” In Kathleen’s words: ACT, analyze, rinse, and repeat!