The Life Changing Question That Saved Me
The path from blame to personal responsibility is extremely difficult.
In my late teens and late twenties, I suffered from an eating disorder that literally took over my life. I was consumed with an obsession to be thin, beautiful, and validated.
As with so many exceptional women, I equated physical beauty with confidence, success, and achievement.
A typical day often involved restricting, bingeing, overeating, under-eating, overexercising, overworking, or not working at all.
The common denominator in all these behaviours was escape.
I wanted to escape my life.
After every binge, I would solemnly swear to “try harder” and control myself.
Inevitably, life would get hard, and again, I experienced that familiar craving. At the time, I believed the craving was for more food, but the truth, I later learned was that I craved an escape from my circumstances.
Hence, the vicious cycle of overeat, overexercise, restrict, binge, repeat, would return. Followed by guilt, shame, remorse and a newfound vigour to “try harder “.
This time will be different, I vowed.
After countless stop and start efforts, I met a woman who changed the entire trajectory of my life. This became a Crucible Moment.
She said to me, “Teresa, stop trying so hard”.
She went on to explain that it wasn’t food or thinness or beauty I craved. A woman of deep faith, she told me “there is a God-Sized Hole in your heart that all the food and exercise in the world won’t fill. Find out how to fill that hole in your heart without the escape of food, overexercise, and overwork”.
What I realized in that moment was nothing short of miraculous. A moment as clear as a glass of water. I craved escape. That was the day my eating disorder started to heal.
I stopped trying harder to control myself.
Instead, I started to fill my “God-Sized hole” consciously and intentionally.
The only thing I have control over is how I choose to experience my life.
Our default as humans is to look outside of our circumstances and blame others. It’s toxic and it’s also hardwired, as referenced in this HBR article. I can still remember “identifying” with colleagues and friends over a few pints of beer and complaining about work and the nerve of other person.
“Oh yeah, that person is the worst. No wonder you’re so angry. You have a right to lose your mind”.
I was right in there, venting, gossiping, and pulling people down with them. (Side Note: Not at all helpful).
But once I became a woman that started to question my own circumstances, I couldn’t identify with the same people anymore. I couldn’t be with that toxic energy. In fact, I still can’t.
The problem is not the circumstance. The problem is what you are making the circumstance mean.
That is the most empowering question I ask myself in every relationship, in every uncomfortable circumstance, and with every story I tell myself.
“Teresa, what are you making this mean?
That redirection from blaming others to personal responsibility is hard.
But that’s where we need to take a page from Glennon Doyle. We can do hard things. Armed with choice, we can truly do hard things.
I often say to my clients that it’s an “always” path, not a “temporary” path.
We get to decide what that relationship or that circumstance means. At home, at work, at play.
We decide, ladies.
If you are struggling with addiction, craving, overworking, overachieving, or over-anything, I implore you to “stop trying”.
Stop trying hard to “stop overworking”.
Stop trying hard to exercise.
Stop trying harder to wake up earlier.
Stop trying harder to assert boundaries.
Stop trying hard to stop.
Instead, lean into the discomfort, be still for 30 hot seconds and ask yourself these questions:
What is my mind telling me might or might not happen?
Am I willing to pay the price of overeating/overworking/overreacting?
What am I distracting myself from?
What is the relief I expect drinking/eating/overworking will provide me?
Is the craving physical? Mental? Emotional?
What is being triggered?
Get in touch with where it’s coming from. Don’t make a hard thing harder.
Most solutions to your problems will come with clear thinking, wisdom, and patience.
Know how to filter the inconsequential from the important. You can do that with a coach, a mentor, or even listening to a reputable podcast, such as The Gathering Pod with Martha Beck. There are resources out there. You can solve and overcome challenges only when you become super curious without trying harder to stop.
Stop trying. Instead, start creating a relationship with yourself that you are content in being with.