One of my greatest life challenges lies in curating the apps on my phone and the contents of my inbox. This combined failure has indirectly produced the contents of this rant/editorial (rantitorial? TM - Tara Giller, 2015).
I have an app for counting calories and monitoring physical activity. I don't use it anymore because it's boring and I despise thinking about calories. The provider of said app sent an email yesterday that sent me half-way into a rage spiral. The email was titled something like "enjoy patio season without sabotaging your diet." It had a picture of a group of women sitting outside drinking wine.
Sabotage - "to injure or attack". A pretty negative thing to do, which hardly seems to apply to eating nachos on a patio.
My first thought was, eff you for trying to take something as magical as patio season and tie it to something that society says I should feel ashamed of. I live in a mostly winter wonderland, so eff you, stupid email, for suggesting that I be concerned about something other than enjoying delicious food and drinks, while feeling the air on my pasty skin for the few months of the year it gets to breathe in tank tops and swishy skirts.
I understand that this language is mainstream and that the word "sabotage," is often used with the word, "diet." Staying away from this kind of guilt & shame inflicting content is the primary reason why I don't read most magazines that are marketed toward women.
Maybe I'm also angry because the issue has come up in two books I'm currently reading, written by brilliant and hilarious women ("Yes Please," by Amy Poehler and "Hyperbole and a Half," by Allie Brosh). In both of these books there are passages where they write about how their negative, guilt- & shame - provoking thoughts pile on top of each other to provoke a giant sense of badness.
All of this together, the email and the fact that even these brilliant women are feeling this way made me so irritated with how much guilt and shame are things that drive our behavior and affect our thoughts about ourselves.
We are more than our thoughts. Yes, our thoughts reflect our transient urges, wishes and fears, but they can also be irrational and inaccurate.
We can let our thoughts go. We don't have to do the things our thoughts are telling us to do. Here's an example, still keeping with the food analogy.
I'm pretty into anything that has cinnamon and that's made of bread. There's this place by my house that makes the best cinnamon buns and cinnamon bread EVER. Like, for realz.
Now, I could easily consume half a loaf of bread and several cinnamon buns. I also would very much like to do that because of above-noted deliciousness. I could respond to such urges with a shame spiral...
Ooh cinnamon buns, and bread! So delicious. Now I want to eat all the cinnamon things. Oh crap, no one else wants to eat all of the cinnamon things, so why do I? Am I some kind of cinnamon & bread beast that will stop at nothing until all the cinnamon is in my belleh? I'm gross. Oh, no, I can't stop thinking about the cinnamon things because I am a gross cinnamon monster. I'm going to eat them all. I can't stop myself. Oh crap, I ate too many cinnamon things. I'm going to barf.
Alternatively, I can respond with...
Mmmm cinnamon things. They are very compelling, I am noticing that I really want to eat a lot of them. I am an adult though, with self-control so I will only eat some of the cinnamon things because they are delicious. I get to choose what I do, but not always what I think. I am excellent at self-control, I would have owned that marshmallow test as a child....
My point is this: Thoughts are not always controllable, they slide into consciousness and try to make us feel badly for not being able to suppress them. Research shows that trying to avoid thinking about something only makes us think about it more. Plus, all this attempted thought suppression is tiring and makes us more likely to give in to what we're trying to avoid. Our best bet is to use mindfulness to acknowledge the thoughts for what they are, transient whims that we can choose not to act on.
Now, guilt and shame do have a place. These emotions help us repair relationships when we hurt people or do something that's damaging to our own goals. We should listen to these emotions, sometimes, but they shouldn't hold sway over the thoughts and feelings that come unbidden.
Again, we are more than our thoughts and we get to choose what we do.