Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gentle Change is not TV Friendly

This thought has been percolating for a while. Our television is flooded with "reality" shows where people are prodded, insulted, and put through incredible pressure in order to bring about dramatic change. Along the way there are many casualties. I fear with so many models put in front of us that people may come to believe that this sort of drama is normal or necessary to bring about change.

On the contrary, I suggest that gentle change is the norm and my gut tells me it is much more successful. I have my own life to show for it, too.

So why does television do it? Because dramatic television depends on confrontation, conflict, and high emotion to grab the viewer's interest. Gentle change is boring to watch. From my own example though, slow personal change does have high reward. The bootcamp mentality even, set me up for a succession of failures through the years. So here I am, forty-eight, and I am finally catching on to my own rythm and respecting it. I'll share what I've learned so maybe you can gain new confidence that personal change is not out of reach.

So how did I get bought in to the bootcamp mentality? Dad did it. A graduate from the Army reserves, he believed in pushing us harder, faster. His revelation, which he tried so hard to share, is that one reaches a moment when all reserves are exhausted and you go on anyways. Why do you do it? Because your sergeant told you to. How did you do it? You find out that you have greater reserves than you ever imagined. You dig deep in your gut and make it happen. Dad tried dearly to pass on that lesson, but it fell off me like water off a duck's back.

I have a vivid memory of "doing laps" in the pool, and reaching a personal best, "Look dad, what I did", he smiled indulgently and asked me to do ten more. I couldn't do it. I wilted, and I lost what I wanted most in the world, my dad's approval. I am sure he felt the failure, too. It wasn't like he wanted me to feel bad. He wanted me to have that same experience he did. But it was not to be. I thrive on play and frequent rewards. The more often you tell me I'm doing a great job, the more I will do.

So finally, at forty-eight, I am putting that voice in my head to rest, "Onward, higher, more, more." I'm exercising and dieting with greater success. I've got a great support team for me, all gentle cheerleaders, and I have a new voice in my head.

Some of my great support people this time around, are all gentle in their suggestions. There's my doctor, who shyly suggests that perhaps a reasonable goal is to shed ten percent of my current weight, not to achieve my "ideal" size. As I consider what she says over the following weeks, I start building myself a new picture of what success looks like. I'll still be rotund, but how much more a svelte rotund I will be. With greater energy and mobility, too.

My massage therapist, as well, as she prods my muscles to new shapes, is an oasis of calm and reason. Massage is new to me but I already love it. I get all tongue-tied when I talk of the experience, though. Her fingers drum a message that speaks to the inexpressible parts of my soul. So I'll leave it at that. If you want to know what massage can do for you, try it.

My hubby from the first, approaches me with new habits with a gentle persistence that is disarming. His tidiness gene is much more activated than mine. He lives for an empty sink and a clear counter every day. Every day for the past eight years, he gently suggests we get the dishes done together. Every night I consider, and most nights I concede. Without really noticing, my kitchen and my home has gained a sense of order and tidiness. I only notice when he's gone for a few days. For whatever reason, he never tires of asking, and he is never angry or impatient in his request. The ritual of asking is part of our routine and is strangely soothing.

He also is part of my support team, challenging me when I choose to break my fast. By now he knows the dietary rules I have made for myself, and challenges me when I choose to break them. I'd like to say I listen, but most of the time I don't. But perhaps I cut the binge to one piece of toast instead of a half-dozen. He's the added voice of reason when I choose to live in a haze of denial for a while.

Nowadays I forgive myself frequently. Every day is a new day. Slip-ups happen to normal people, and every good choice is a success. I am enjoying myself, I am having fun, and I bask in the praise of small successes. It works, so why fight it? I'm not a television show "reality" contestant. I won't be voted off, no-one revels in my drama, and my ultimate success, though painfully slow to watch, is great living.

Dramatic interventions I also suspect have only limited success, whether it be to help an addict face his demons, or a cultist the danger of his religious choice. I've only watched "Intervention" once, but the story was terrifying in it's reality. The addict did finally accept treatment, but only for a short while. He died within weeks of leaving the treatment facility. I suspect as dramatic as an intervention is (and maybe with these extreme cases is the only hope) that a gentle coaxing to new ways of thinking and doing has more success. It's only "gut" now, but I'd like to search out if my gut is true.