Earlier this week I was reading a book about journeys on foot around the British Isles. The author, Robert Macfarlane, pulls together commentary from other travel writers and one in particular struck a chord.
At the time, Macfarlane was embarking on a walk across the mudflats of Maplin Sands in Essex. He was describing the dangers of navigating his way across a habitat of great danger. Now you wouldn’t think walking across a patch of sand would pose too much of a problem, especially one that contains a ‘designated footpath’ (albeit the footpath is not always visible). The problem in essence is that because there are no identifying features across the flats, if you get disoriented, you cannot tell between the way to shore and the way out to sea.
I had a similar experience myself in a very different situation. One night I got very drunk, almost as drunk as I have ever been in my life (in my defence it was accidental, maybe I’ll share the story another time). Now while drunk we went to an Indian Restaurant for a birthday dinner and while there I needed to go to the loo. Unfortunately for me, the toilet walls and ceiling were all tiled white and as you would expect the ceiling was also painted white. This wasn’t really relevant at all until I fell off the loo. And because I was drunk, and everything was white I couldn’t get off the floor because I did not know which way was up!
Macfarlane quotes the American artist, William Fox, who described his experience as ‘cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces; or ‘how we easily get lost in spaces that appear the same in all directions’.
And it struck me this morning when thinking about this blog post that there are a plethora of comparisons between this and embarking on a journey to lose weight or follow a life plan when there is so much information out there. It is easy to get lost when looking for the right path, especially when many of those paths look essentially the same and so as a result we become inert and make no progress at all or get lost looking for identifying features that we’re not sure we can identify if we did see them.
It’s telling that when Macfarlane walks the flats he takes a friend with him and leaves a trail of shells as he traverses the sand. In the same way, when at Lanzarote, the lovely ladies and gent and I set up what is for all intents and purposes a support group where we share our thoughts and experiences (and new to me… my actual weight to be plotted in a chart). It feels like we are laying shells in the sand so if we do get lost there are people to bring us back on track. The support group is not just about accountability but because some of us have got to the same place in a similar way – its also about shared experiences and reminders. And an investigation of the habits that we all have. It’s fabulous.
In a similar vein, G and I have been establishing our process of routine discussed in depth in the two or three blog posts prior to this one.
The conclusion I have come to there is to not think about it too much. To be neither too positive (I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m knackered from being so excited) or too negative (I really can’t be arsed!) and rather view it as a done deal without emotion, or to paraphrase a company we all know… Just do it!
I really believe ambivalence is a strength in these circumstances, it neither develops into inertia not disappointment. Just a routine appointment scheduled in the diary to be done. That’s not to say I do not love exercise. I do, it’s a passion. And it’s also not to say that I don’t get an emotional benefit afterwards, I really do. But, the amount of times I have convinced myself in my head that I could run 7 minute mile pace if I just trained enough and then felt disappointment when I’m still running 12’s. I figured that since I spent so much time dreaming of running faster that it should just…well…happen! And then I find I go out less to avoid the disappointment when I should just stop bloody thinking about it and more time running in the moment and enjoying it running it at whatever pace I wish. After all, consistency is king and fantasy is the jester that mocks the establishment.
In some respects, the same could be said of food too and one of the great benefits of settling back to a paleo lifestyle is that much of the thinking and many of the decisions have already been made. We have moved on from the junction where all of the paths looked the same and indecision became inertia and we’re starting to make progress. The cognitive dissonance is dissipating.