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Path to Health - Day 19: How to Get Away With Doing Nothing

You may have noticed that there was no journal yesterday. Honestly, I feel like I'm running out of topics to discuss on the subject of improving health and losing weight. I may make one or two more journals after this one, but this series is fast coming to a close. My original hope was to make a journal every day chronicling some aspect of my approach to weight loss, and that each journal would have some sort of helpful insight for at least one other person. I don't know if I've achieved that with every single journal, but I've enjoyed writing this series nonetheless. And as for not writing one yesterday...well, today's topic sort of addresses that, and I'm thankful that I had the serendipitous mood to strike me this morning so I could write about this.

So what do I mean by "getting away with doing nothing"? Think about your normal day: you wake up, and almost immediately you have some laundry list of things to do (which may even include doing the laundry!). Get dressed, have breakfast, work out, get the kids ready for school, go to work, do all those work things at work, work on some hobby in your spare time, check email, check Facebook, etc. etc. The point is, we feel perpetually obligated each and every day to do things that advance ourselves in some way.

My own schedule looks pretty full:

--Wake up
--Immediately take nutritional supplements with 16 oz. chilled water
--Go to the bathroom
--While in the bathroom, reflect on picture of how fit I used to be as a visualization exercise
--Look at self in the mirror and say, "I accept and love myself unconditionally right now"
--Eat breakfast (30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking)
--Take a 30-minute walk outside
--Light vanilla-scented candle
--Work on music for at least 10 minutes
--Write daily blog on weight loss
--If Tuesday or Saturday, do exercise involving kettlebell swings and myotatic crunches

...And that's just my morning. That doesn't include me spending quality time with my partner, cleaning, doing some sort of research, going to work, anything I might have planned after work, and my nightly routine (which involves an ice pack, another round of self-affirmations, and some more nutritional supplements).

We get so entrenched in running around, feeling like we need to be constantly productive lest we get left behind in the dust. We've become so accustomed to the rapid, frantically-paced lifestyle of being jacked in, wired up, and logged on that we're constantly looking towards the next thing to check off on our daily To-Do List. This mindset creates a few problems for us:

1. We no longer are mindful of the present moment. I spoke before on the practice of mindfulness as an approach to eating, but it has so many other applications in our lives. Ideally, we should be mindful pretty much all the time, in any given task, but the world will never be ideal. Neither will we, and that's actually okay. But it's worth noting that we spend so much time doing tasks without even pretending to give our full attention to them. Be honest: how present are you with the task of washing dishes? Is it something that you do with your mind and attention completely immersed in the task, or do you distract yourself with thoughts of what you're going to be doing once this boringly tedious yet necessary task is finished? We treat so much of our day as an inconvenience holding us back from a few brief moments of pleasure without realizing that it's our mindset alone that dictates whether or not any given activity is pleasurable from the get-go.

2. We convince ourselves things "must be" a certain way for us to be happy. This isn't an easy one to overcome. Many of us have bosses, families, and general societal pressures breathing down our necks to get things done in a certain way, within a certain time frame. We're conditioned growing up to believe in the idealized versions of our lives as things that "must be" just for us to find any sense of fulfillment in our lives. Remember Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's "European Vacation"? He felt that the "best" and "happiest" vacation was one where he stood in front of every major world landmark, just so he could tick it off his list for having been there and seen it with his own eyes. And the sad truth is that so many of us treat our own lives in this same exact way.

Married? Tick. Homeowner? Tick. Job with at least a middle-class income? Tick. Kids and pets? Tick and Tick. Two weekly vacations a year somewhere out of state/country? Tick. Prestigious recognition in our field? Tick. Our political party of choice running things? Tick. Weight within a certain range? No cavities? Debts paid off? Tick. Tick. Tick.

But life is not a giant checklist, and if you keep approaching happiness as something that requires certain external criteria to be met, then you will never be fully happy. This doesn't mean that it's wrong to have external factors drive you to improve things. After all, all the advancements in human history have come from people who wanted to leave the world a little bit easier on everyone than how they found it. But once you convince yourself that things "must be" a certain way or else your world will start to fall apart, then that belief starts controlling how happy you are, instead of letting yourself manifest your own sense of contentment with yourself and the world around you.

3. This mindset causes us undue stress. When we constantly believe that we have to get thing after thing done in our lives to the point that we're berating ourselves for not moving quickly enough, that stress creates a constant cortisol drip in the background of our minds, sort of like being hooked up to an IV drip in a hospital. Only this drip harms you rather than helps you. The cortisol released by that stress causes us to gain weight and shut down much of our immune system. It makes us age faster, exponentially decreasing the enjoyment we can get out of life.

So what's the answer to these problems? How do we reverse this mindset? Slow down. This is the attitude I felt upon waking up this morning. (I find this kind of surprising, because you might imagine this is a mindset that comes from waking up after a deeply refreshing sleep, but the truth is that I kept waking up periodically last night, so I can't really explain where this mood came from.) For just one day, I want you to try taking a full day off from everything. No obligations. No To-Do lists. No work. No expectations of yourself or anyone or anything else around you. Just take one full day to let the day be.

I know this sounds like a bizarre practice, and some part of your brain is likely throwing up a handful of objections, but that's okay--it's part of the training of letting go. Letting go like this can be scary, because we're afraid of relinquishing control of our lives. We're afraid of all the bad things that might happen if we just stop caring, even for a moment. But until you finally release your grip on these ideas of how your life "must be," then you won't fully understand all the benefits there are to letting go and just letting the world unfold as it will.

We're taught to be afraid of the world, and there are certainly good reasons for that, but I promise you that the sky will not fall, and it's highly likely that neither will you. It's like Eric Hanson said: "There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask 'What if I fall?' Oh but my darling,..What if you fly?"

In all honesty, it is an entirely liberating experience, to just let go of all the worry and the compulsion for things to be a certain way, for our daily routines to act out in a certain way. This doesn't mean you just lie in bed all day, eating cheesy puffs and watching Game of Thrones (although I wouldn't blame you if you did--that show is WICKED awesome! Valar Morghulis!). If you feel the urge to go out and explore the world of the day, then by all means go out and explore. If you feel the urge to call up an old friend or relative just to chat, do so. If you feel like exercising, then exercise! But just make today about following what you feel like doing at any given moment, without having to justify it to anyone, without it having to reflect some plan of your schedule or life goals or anything.

And that's the real answer on how you get away with doing nothing: you get away with it against your harsher, more critical self that usually takes the helm and says, "No, we must do these things to make life this way!" You're telling that voice to just be quiet for a day, and allowing yourself to just explore and be present in each and every moment of today. And while your controlling brain may scream at you that this will be the ultimate off-day, you will know that it's actually the ultimate day off, because even if something unpleasant happens as you're exploring today, you'll somehow be more okay with it than you would be if you allowed yourself to insist that the world "must be" a certain way for happiness to be achieved.

Being gentle with your approach to the world can ironically yield stronger results than trying to force the world to bend to your will. So be gentle today. Let go of expectations and obligations. Just take a day off, do nothing except precisely what you want, and let yourself relax into everything. Don't worry about the obligations you'll have to meet tomorrow once today is over--that defeats the purpose. Just be, and be well.