It Is Human To Stumble – Give Yourself Permission!
By: Skyler Tanner
Remember when you started your career? Fresh out of school, you showed up on your first day full of expectations, likely a combination of nerves and vigor. Do you remember how you did your first day? How about your first month? Probably not so great, especially compared to how competent you were after a few years on the job. Did you ever consider quitting because you had a bad day? Probably, but realized you’d go through the same learning curve at any job. Even now I’m sure you good days and bad days but strive to do the best you can given the circumstances. You went in expecting ups and downs, to participate in a process of getting better. Can you imagine how hard it would have been to be perfect from day one? Impossible, right?
So why does nearly everybody who starts a diet or exercise program expected relentless, unrelenting perfection?
It’s true: people rarely start a New Year’s with a resolution like “I am going to try to incorporate 1 hour more exercise per week into my schedule during the work week. My goal is to make this a habit by March 31st.” That’s flexible, allows for ups and downs of getting used to a new habit, allows room for the weeks where things aren’t perfect…basically accounts for the learning curve. Instead, people tend toward goals stated thusly: “I WILL perform 3 hours of exercise per week IN ADDITION TO completing my graduate degree WHILE ALSO raising 2 children OR I AM A FAILURE!!!”
If I talked to myself like that, I’d not like me very much, but it’s basically de rigueur come January 1st.
Give yourself permission to fail
We’re perfectly human, warts and all. That means we’re not perfect: we have ups and downs, periods of waning interest and ability, depending on circumstances, be it rational, emotional, or environmental. You will fall down sometimes; if you give yourself permission to fail, you’re more likely to get back up, stick to the process, and succeed in the long term.
A great example of this is from a study that aimed to look at how much weight a group of dieters would gain back when instructed to take a diet break. That is, they had lost some amount of weight on a prescribed diet and were instructed to stop their diet, with the explicit goal of causing a relapse. The thing is that since the break was prescribed (e.g. The dieters had permission to not diet), the result was that there was very little weight gain and that when the dieters went back to the assigned diet, they lost even more weight. They didn’t go crazy, they didn’t eat 3 pints of ice cream in 1 sitting, and they didn’t take on the emotional baggage of being a “failure.” In this sense, the researchers failed in their effort to see how quickly the “wheels come off” when a diet is broken. However, what they did show is that, if given permission, dieters don’t go crazy, they get back on their diet quickly, and lose as much as they would have had they not taken the break.
The takeaway is that you don’t need a team of researchers to give you permission to “fail” as a means to stick to your diet. Understand that, like your first months at your career, the learning curve is steep and you will make mistakes. Give yourself permission to make the mistakes, stick to the process, and marvel at yourself when, at some point down the line, you’ve achieved your goal by allowing yourself to be human…warts and all!
Skyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science. He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.