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Learning it Again


There is an ongoing list of lessons I seem to have trouble learning. One, of course, is that if I eat whatever I feel like eating and only exercise when I want to, I’m going to gain weight. Some part of me continues to think that if I start that process at my comfortable weight, and I visualize myself as a healthy person, the damage will be negligible. This never turns out to be the case and I have to remind myself that I need to be mindful if I want to stay at a weight that feels good to me. This is apparently never going to change, despite my magical thinking.

I also have to frequently relearn lessons about the ill-advised decision to interrupt Jodi when she is telling me something important, trying to fall asleep early on a Sunday night, putting the dog outside for the day and then watching her as she turns and gives me her very saddest look, and believing that, overnight, all the morning commuters will have suddenly learned to use their blinkers. A quick read of that list should make it clear that most of these reminders come when I'm feeling a big grim. This week, though, one lesson has come to me as I reflect on life changes.

Relying entirely on my overly rational brain is not likely to lead to my best, most interesting life.

And here’s the big, apparently very forgettable reminder I cannot seem to hold on to for long: things are usually not black and white. What that means is that perseverating about how something might turn out is pointless. I say this because, in my pretense that I can predict the future (certainly another lesson there somewhere), I often focus on one possible outcome or another. And almost always—at least 98 percent of the time—the actual result is something that never occurred to me.

What I see now when I consider this way of thinking is that I’m often a little scared. But I'm also uncreative. My recent work/retirement situation is a good example. When I was reaching retirement age and simultaneously feeling uninspired by my job, the opposite of that job seemed to be stopping. My thought process was narrow because it didn’t occur to me to simply consider another job. I just thought, “Choose A or B.” Even on surveys, I am reluctant to select “Other” because having all those options makes me nervous. My brain seems to go immediately to, “Well, I could either do this, or I could do this.”

I’ve learned so much in the last few months since I’ve returned to work, though, that it probably did me good to have to live in such a narrow-minded way. Now, it’s as if once I opened the door of possibility, I can’t close it. For the first time ever probably, everything seems imaginable. It has made me realize that if I narrow my view, my choices seem small and thin. The broader my gaze, the more I have to consider and the more I get to enjoy.

The key as I see it, if I don’t want to continue seeing everything dichotomously, is to be mindful and make sure I stay as creative as possible. If I discover I'm choosing between A and B, I can at least urge myself to think of a C, D, and E before I make any quick decisions. I can also broaden the criteria for my decisions. In other words, I don’t have to always ask, “Do I want to do A or B?” l can also ask, “How do I want to feel when I do whatever I’m trying to decide?” Or, I can draw or find a picture that represents how I want to feel or what I want to do. Relying entirely on my overly rational brain is not likely to lead to my best, most interesting life.

More than anything, my biggest reminder these days is that there is always something new to learn and always many new ways to see myself. For that, I am eternally grateful.