It was vaguely familiar—and excruciating—that bleary awakening just a couple of hours after going to bed, to a vise clamped to my pounding head, preventing the pain from escaping into the pillow I seemed to be trying to suffocate myself with. I was suddenly overcome with a rabid thirst—and challenged with the daunting task of reaching for my Yeti cup of water on the nightstand without moving my head. Even exhaling hurt. But the thirst was like a screaming toddler in my brain. I pushed through the pain enough to roll onto my right side, prop myself up a little, and grasp the cup. The water tasted like liquid manna.
Next came hard pulses of nausea in cadence with the throbbing in my head, and I thought, “Good Lord, how the hell can this be? I remember this! This a hangover!”
Not fair. Not fair at all. I know that’s what all over-imbibers think after a bender, but in my case last Tuesday night, it really did seem like such an injustice. A hangover? Really? Now this really sucks.
See, I don’t drink. Not a drop in nearly five years. To arrive at a hangover, and not to have enjoyed the ride there is just plain wrong. But there you have it. I was experiencing a hangover despite my abstinence from ethanol. I had just used a different vehicle to get there, and in retrospect, I guess I did enjoy the ride there at least a little. But it wasn’t my fault!
See, my friend Casey did a really awful thing. She sent me a home-made hostess gift—a dense, delicious caramel and chocolate confection that got the dopamine centers of my brain blazing like the Bellagio. But I was clever, and knew how weak-willed I am when it comes to sweets, so I savored a few bites, then resolutely wrapped up the remainder in about 40 layers of tin foil and “hid” them in the freezer for a “special occasion.” (Which turned out to be some random Tuesday when I could no longer resist their siren call there from behind the frozen peas and carrots.) It only took me a couple of days to plow through the five-pound slab of yumminess, after which I emailed Casey begging her for the recipe. (Classic junkie behavior, Ha!)
Which brings me to last Tuesday. I had made a big ole batch of Casey Treats, and sat propped up on my bed, binge watching “Bloodline,” playing Candy Crush, and eating caramel and chocolate until my jaws ached.
And two hours later, the consequences—waking with a sledge hammer in my head and the Gobi Desert in my mouth. Damn, why does my ridiculousness always have to have consequences? I can’t “get away” with nonsense like that anymore. My body cannot metabolize carbohydrates the way it used to. I know this. I really know it.
So what is it that drives me to over-indulge to such ludicrous extremes so often lately? Why, just a few months ago, I ate four bowls of Blue Bell Butter Crunch ice cream. One bowl, right after the other. FOUR bowls! After the first bowl I wasn’t really tasting it, and after the second, my mouth was so numb, I bit my tongue. (Did you know a frozen tongue still bleeds?) But did that stop me? Oh, no, it did not.
Now I know that there are those of you out there reading this, feeling a little embarrassed for me that I would admit to such aberrant behavior. But I’m pretty sure that there is an equal number of you thinking—“Only four bowls? Rookie.”
I am not alone in my compulsiveness. Why, even my oh-so-disciplined husband jokes about “doing a line” occasionally—a whole row of Mint Oreo Cookies straight out of the bag. After the first five, his molars get all gunked up—cemented together with the black goo—but still he pries his jaws open and crams them in till the line is done.
And even those who rarely find themselves over-eating sweets, can find themselves in front of their TV’s binging on “Game of Thrones” for six hours on a sunny Saturday or—on the other end of the spectrum—spending three hours at the gym every day.
For as that brilliant 20th century sage Roseanne Roseannadanna said, “It’s always something.” We messy mortals just have a tendency to over-do stuff that feels good in the moment. We are hedonists at heart. We wanna feel good, and uncomfortable situations or emotions make it so easy to default to the Bluebell or the bottle or the boob-tube. Maybe it doesn’t always reach pathological proportions, but if we look at the etymology of the word “disease” we see that it means apart (dis) from comfort (ease). We don’t like to be apart from ease, do we?
So we seek comfort or stress relief in something outside of ourselves. It used to be alcohol for me. Y’all know how well that turned out. Ha! Now it’s sweets or screens. Yes, Ms. Roseannadanna, it’s always something with me.
But just like with alcohol, the truth of the matter is that I still get to make the choices—and evidence shows that it is within my power to make better ones. So why don’t I?
I have pondered this most of my life, y’all. And my last “hangover” really got me thinking and even researching why I so often do the very things that sabotage my happiness and health. Again, I know that I’m in good company here. I remember being at a Bible Study as a young teenager struggling with anorexia, and feeling understood and comforted by the words of the Apostle Paul:
For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7:18-19
Not that I equate eating chocolate with evil, but It does seem more than a tad bit “sinful” to go so ridiculously overboard with it. After all “gluttony” is number five of Dante’s Deadlies. And beyond that, such behavior prevents me from “honoring my temple,” (my body) as Paul urges me to do just a few pages later. And that’s not good. This is the only flesh and blood temple I’ll ever have, and I know that I need to treat it with much more respect. I actually apologized out loud to my poor beleaguered body Wednesday morning.
And that was a step in the right direction. After spending decades being angry at my “temple” for not being skinny enough, or toned enough, or agile enough, or strong enough (but mostly, I’ll admit, for not being skinny enough), I finally decided to give it a little love. I said, “I’m so sorry for mistreating you yesterday. You didn’t deserve that.”
And then, since I had humbled myself a bit, my body had the courage to ask me, “Well then, why? Why did you treat me so poorly yesterday?”
And a new thought occurred to me.
It wasn’t so much that I was mentally ill, or weak-willed or reckless or clueless. No, it was something far less dramatic, less sexy, than all that.
I was procrastinating. And in a flash of life-changing insight, it hit me. I’ve been procrastinating for months now. And to make matters worse, it is becoming a habit.
I had watched a great little clip by CNN commentator and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, on the subject of procrastination, and a light bulb of insight exploded in my head. I actually went out that day and bought her book, The Five Second Rule, to get some elaboration on her theories.
According to Robbins—and intriguing research out of Carleton University—“The main thing driving procrastination is not avoiding work. It’s avoiding stress. Procrastination is ‘a subconscious desire to feel good right now’ so you can feel a little stress relief.”
And y’all, ice-cream feels good right now. Casey Treats feel great! Never mind that I’ve gained eleven pounds in as many months. In the moment, that hit of sugar-spawned dopamine, does the trick.
Then backfires. Because, as Robbins says, “The more you put off what you know needs to be done, the more the work you’re avoiding builds and creates more stress in your life.”
More ice-cream. Vicious circle.
So, how did I get here? This time last year, eleven pounds ago, I was crazy busy preparing for my book debut on October 2nd. And actually, I was stressed to the max. But with a firm, immovable deadline, and a detailed, step-by-step, task list, I was compelled to deal with the stress by dealing with the work. I knew where I was going, exactly when I would arrive, and what I had to do in that time frame to get there.
And the next couple of months were a blur of happy activity. Book signings and appearances, media interviews, fulfillment of hundreds and hundreds of orders in a very short time, and maintaining my blog and website. Then we went on a long-planned family vacation for a month to Australia and New Zealand.
And I came home to a new reality. Books in a warehouse. Lots of them. Just sitting there. After the initial push, orders were no longer flooding my website. In fact, there was barely a trickle. I had been warned that this would happen, to expect it. But if I wanted to take this thing to the next level, I would have to continue marketing aggressively and fearlessly. And since I am neither aggressive nor fearless, this advice filled me with dread.
Especially since the number one thing on my to-do list ignited my very worst fear—the fear of rejection. If I want the book to be widely read, I have to submit it to national reviewers to critique.
Oh, good Lord. Just typing that sentence has me hyperventilating here at my keyboard. And I’m out of ice-cream.
So, for the last few months, I’ve been assiduously avoiding the necessary work—and getting chunkier and chunkier by the day. I feel really awful about not doing what must be done, and I hate it that I’m so afraid of criticism. I don’t like feeling awful and afraid. Ice cream helps.
Until it doesn’t. Waking up with a sugar “hangover” really sucks. Did you know that the byproduct of alcohol metabolism—acetaldehyde—that is responsible for your morning-after misery, is the very same compound that a diet very high in sugar can produce? Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal disturbances and disruption of sleep are some of the results.
So, what to do, what to do? Hmmm.
Well, Ms. Robbins to the rescue again. Since she so kindly pointed out the root of my problem (stress reduction through procrastination), I figured the least she could do was tell me how to fix it. And she did—in about 240 pages, in her book, The Five Second Rule. I’ll break it down for you. Her advice is simple (though not necessarily easy to follow at first):
Anytime there’s something you know you should do, (or shouldn’t) but you feel uncertain, afraid or overwhelmed…just take control by counting backwards 5-4-3-2-1. That’ll quiet your mind. Then, move when you get to “1.”
Robbins professes to have used this technique personally for challenges ranging from getting out of bed on time in the morning, to overcoming pathological anxiety, to calming her nerves before a Ted Talk.
She explains that The Five Second Rule is a form of metacognition—a brain hack of sorts—and that over time it rewires the part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) responsible for things like decision making and planning and working toward goals. By counting down, and then immediately (and habitually) taking action, you activate the principle of psychological momentum which propels you forward toward your goal. She stresses that we will never feel like doing the hard stuff—or in my case, refraining from doing the easy stuff (eating ice cream) in lieu of the hard stuff (sending out review copies of my book). This is true. I feel like scooping up a big bowl right now (and it’s 7:45 in the morning), but my “will-power” is generally strong in the mornings. It’s the afternoon that trips me up.
So, this afternoon, I’m gonna try it (along with another tool she suggests—If-then planning; I’ll explain that in a minute). Starting today, with 10 to 15 pounds to lose, I’m going to count down every time I feel the impulse to stray from my fitness goals, whether I need to do something (like get up and move) or not do something (like go to the freezer with my ice-cream scoop). I’m going to count down, 5-4-3-2-1, and then do something in line with my goals of eating more healthfully, trimming down and doing the hard marketing stuff.
I’m also working on another technique Robbins suggests, called If-then planning to get my eating habits back in line with what I know to be healthy (and I do know, y’all). The instructions are to write down all the triggers that make me eat ridiculously—basically, what comes before every “cheat.” Now, as I’ve already identified, the biggest contributor to my demise is the stress I feel when I procrastinate.
So, my “If-then planning” looks something like this: If I’m feeling stressed about not doing what I know I need to be doing to market my book, then I will count down—5-4-3-2-1—and immediately get up and physically move to another room, and do any productive thing for five minutes. Anything at all at first. Ideally, it would be best to do something marketing-related, but realistically, if I’m already poised to dive into a half-gallon of Bluebell, it’s not likely that I’ll be able to switch gears from the absolute easiest (eating ice cream) to the absolute hardest (researching reviewers) in a mere five seconds. But I can go for a quick walk, fold a load of laundry, reply to an email, or even call a friend to talk me off the ledge. With any of those actions, my stressful inertia is interrupted and forward movement is restored. Over time, that momentum may well propel me into my office to get started on the more challenging stuff.
Other examples are:
- If I come home from work, famished, and want to grab the absolute quickest snack or meal available (e.g. something processed), then I will open the fridge and pull out my “veggie flower” that I pre-pared, on Sunday morning, and make myself a big salad or omelet.
- If I’m frustrated that it seems I’ve gained this weight so quickly and it’s coming off so slowly, then I’ll read or watch or listen to something inspiring or encouraging. I’ll have my favorites handy, like this one: (click on it) Feeling Hopeless and Stuck Trying to Lose Weight?
- And if, as I do right this minute, I feel resentful and deprived because I can’t have pancakes for breakfast, then I’ll accept that I feel resentful and deprived because I can’t have pancakes for breakfast, and go make myself a veggie omelet.
Books are again available from this website for the Holidays at the buy-three-get-one-free discount. If you already know that you intend to buy several to give as gifts, let me know a rough count and I will reserve copies. I have a contract with a national distributor and will be sending a lot of my remaining stock to them after I get a rough idea of how many I should hold back for Holiday orders.
Books are available from this website, through Amazon.com, and from all of these retailers:
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Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
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Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
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Pensacola, FL 32503
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402 W Main Ave
Spokane, WA 99201