I Used to Weigh Five Hundred Pounds

Photo: bear.org

Well ok, I never literally topped the scale at 500 pounds.  In fact I'm one of those boring fitness bloggers who completely lacks a triumphant story of dramatic weight loss. At most I was maybe 20 pounds heavier than I am now, so I'm talking metaphorical obesity.

But it occurred to me the other day as I flailing around on the elliptical, grinning like a deranged person from the endorphin rush, that I've actually been losing a lot of emotional "weight" over the last few months.  Is it possible for a lifelong pessimistic worrywart to transform herself into a happy, hopeful, live-in-the-moment, greet-each-day-with-gratitude sort of optimist?

Well, I ain't completely there yet, but I've been on a crash "happiness" regime, and it's really working!  I'd say on the emotional obesity scale, I've already shed well over half my excess worry and negativity.  And I'm totally psyched to keep working hard on all this sappy self-improvement crap until I'm so blissed out that I'm completely insufferable to be around!

So what combination of lifestyle changes and self-help initiatives has created this bizarre change in my outlook and mood?

Well, there are lots of components, some of which have to do with awesome life and career changes.  Life Coaching and bicoastal living really agree with me. And on the self-help front, it's been a lot of different things, which of course means there will be a ton of blog posts about it all coming up. (Lucky readers!)

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Rick Hanson from the get-go, since he was the inspiration for this whole Rewiring Crabby's brain project. His book Buddha's Brain led to my doing the Enlightened Brain review, and his wise advice is a big part of my new and possibly irritating positive outlook. So blame him if one day you come here and the blog has been rechristened Perky Fitness. Oh, and FYI, he's just starting a new telecourse on "Taking In the Good" in mid-March which I suspect will be quite worthwhile.

But anyway, whatever the reason for this sudden self-improvement orgy, it strikes me how similar my Personal Development journey is to the stories I hear on so many great weight loss blogs.  So many of you have been down that road and reached your "happy ever after" goals, so I figure there are some lessons I can learn in my quest to make life one big freakin' all-you-can-eat cupcake buffet.

Note: your version of paradise may include slightly fewer carbs.
Photo: rosebengal

Overcoming Denial About Health Consequences

I was born a worrywart, and I suspect even in my crib I was anxiously conjuring up possible worst case scenarios.  (Is that spoonful of baby food infested with worms and spiders? What if the vacuum cleaner escapes from the closet and sucks me up?  Will the cat chew my leg off while I'm asleep?)

Photo swiped from learnvest

Over the years I've tried lots of stuff: deep breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation, self-hypnosis, positive self-talk, yada yada yada.  But after a while I'd usually give up again and I'd spend all my energy focused on the healthy eating and exercise part, which came naturally, and ignored the psychological stuff, which felt way harder to deal with. (And yes, I am a licensed psychotherapist, and yes, this does serve to further reinforce the notion that therapists can be every bit as f-cked up as the clients they treat. Sorry, non-neurotic therapists of the world).

So many folks who have struggled with weight issues finally get serious when they allow themselves to face the health risks, and it was the same for me: I think my first post-menopausal physical was a bit of a wake-up call.  Numbers were not what I was hoping, despite eating boatloads of veggies and working out religiously.  (And my crappy family medical history doesn't help either--my father and maternal grandparents all died in their early 50's, and at least two of these early departures probably could have been prevented with lifestyle changes). It's not exactly a big secret that stress is bad for your health.

Though now that I'm sufficiently motivated, I'm forgetting all about medical threats and concentrating more on all the positive benefits I'm seeing. Somehow worrying about what will happen if I start worrying again strikes me as a bit counterproductive.

Not Giving Up When Results Aren't Instant

Some tricks I've tried have helped me quickly and dramatically; others takes weeks and weeks to have any impact.  Still others that research says will be helpful eventually now just seem like hopeless tedious time-sucks. I still can't meditate to save my life, unless I do the easier guided kind that is isn't really building up my brain's ability to focus the same way as the hard kind.  Whatever.  This time I'm going to experiment with lots of different kinds of meditation, and try to do something every day, and keep at it even when I continue to suck.  I notice that almost all tales of successful weight loss seem to involve fits and starts and slippage and stuckness, so why should I be any different?

But Getting Excited About Incremental Progress

Another trick I'm stealing from weight loss champions is to borrow some of the energy and excitement these folks bring with them all the way through the journey.  They don't wait until some final ultimate "goal" weight is reached to celebrate success; success happens every time a thought or behavior is different and a tentative new habit gets carved deeper into the brain.  I've been taking the time to notice the many ways I'm thinking and behaving differently than I used to, and examples are everywhere! I can't help noticing that I'm happier than I've ever been in my life.

Ditching Perfectionism

I know that the struggle to be perfect is the Worst Weight Loss Mistake one can make. So I'm hoping to take some inspiration from all of you who've mastered the art of staying positive and not giving yourselves a hard time whenever you screw up.

Finding Your Own Path

Holy crap, the need to customize your approach to what works for YOU and not someone else is absolutely crucial to either losing weight or finding bliss.  The same way that "primal" or "vegan" diets don't suit everyone, approaches to finding happiness are not one size fits all.
In fact, most psychological self-help literature is wildly enthusiastic in tone, dismissive of potential obstacles, and tends to promise amazing changes with ease if you only follow a few simple steps. Self-help literature is basically designed for sunny suggestible optimists who don't need self help!   If you are a skeptical cranky pessimist like me, you need to tailor an approach that is research-based, realistic, and sensible in tone and content.

Again, more detail later, but I've been finally finding the "right" kind of self help resources, and learning how to sift out the helpful nuggets from books and CD's that might otherwise make me feel barfy. 

Becoming a Proselytizing Pain in the Ass

Yes, this is the unfortunate side effect of experiencing powerful personal change.  Like the formerly obese person who is now fit and trim and goes around lecturing helpless bystanders about the wonders of kale and egg-whites and interval training, it's hard not to find myself preaching the happiness gospel.  I have to resist the temptation to run around sharing "helpful" insights with people who really don't give a crap. However, I believe that's why they invented blogging--to keep those of us prone to climbing up on soap boxes far away from the general public!

Anyway, does anyone else work on psychological self-improvement?  Got any other lessons from the weight loss or fitness arena that may help me on quest for perpetual bliss?

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