I’m a regular contributor and user of HealthMonth.com. I joined last April and have found it to be a great way to track health and fitness goals, and to find community with like-minded individuals. I look forward to the time each day when I play my turn and post my daily review. We have a great time on HealthMonth.
You can imagine I was completely taken aback a few days when I posted a comment on someone’s daily review. HealthMonth is made up of both individuals and teams, and this person is not on my team, although I often comment on daily reviews posted by others. Her original daily review said the following:
I said I’d track my meals, not that I’d stay within reasonable caloric limits, because I knew that this month would be tough up until the 17th. Today I was glad I’d been realistic about that as I pretty much fell face-first into a bowl of chow mein.
There are people from all walks of life and many, many countries on HealthMonth. Just from the way she worded her review, I figured she would be friendly, and just like most of the rest of us on HealthMonth, would welcome encouragement by someone on the same path working on fitness and nutrition. I could completely understand her trying to track meals, but having the realization that staying within caloric intake was something separate. So I posted a brief comment:
The tracking is reinforcing the habit. The portion control is reachable.
Now, I get emails all day long with responses to responses from HealthMonth. I look forward to them. But with this one, I felt like someone had shot a dart into my heart when I read her response:
You know, Susan Taylor, I’m glad you said that. Not because I think you’re making an ounce of sense — you just offered me a couple of platitudes without any supporting evidence and without any actual inquiry into my life, my weight history, my food history, or my caloric intake patterns. That’s thoroughly unimpressive and apparently almost entirely cognition-free. But it did lead me to recognize how similarly lazy and harebrained was my own decision to accept Fitbit’s idea of how many calories I should eat in a day.
I knew fairly soon after reading it that her comment was more about her than it was about me, but the comment still stung quite a bit.
I had to go to the movies that evening and lose myself in Anna Karenina and a small popcorn and let it all simmer on the back burner of my brain. I slept on it, and had two dreams which I recorded, and which, upon a short moment of reflection, were clearly related to the incident of having flames thrown at me with a double-barreled bazooka.
So far, this is a story that a million people can tell.
There seems to be plenty of harsh language, cynicism, and attacks happening on the internet day in and day out. The reason this story is even worth telling is because of the process that i went through, my reflection on it, and especially the contrast to how I would have handled it once upon a time. Perhaps my process will encourage someone else.
As I examined the dreams and considered what the parts of the dream represented about me, I felt my understanding deepening and growing. Suddenly, I remembered a coaching tool offered to me, known as WWG, by my excellent life coach, Dave Blomsterberg. WWG consists of three questions:
1. What is working?
2. What am I grateful for?
3. What do I want?
As I started into answering those questions, with the deeper understanding, I felt my emotional state slowly begin to rise and clear out the depression that had snuck in. And with the deeper understanding, and the clear emotional state, I knew what I wanted to say in response to her.
Amazing that inspiration can come from the lowliest of places! Glad to be of service. As I have told my husband multiple times, all assumptions are bad assumptions. (I’d Better think about that- it might be another platitude.) My assumptions: My comments on HM would always be understood in the spirit they are offered — as a fellow human on a similar journey. (Bad assumption) That the fact that doing a habit reinforces it would be common sense to everyone like it is to me. (Bad assumption) That I don’t need to know everything about a person to comment on their review and have my comment received positively. (Bad assumption here, but possibly ok in some instances) Thanks for your honest response. It stung, but I learned some things from the experience. Enjoy your banjo and I do wish you satisfaction in your health month goals. Take care!
I knew that I had responded in a way that expresses the best parts of me. Indeed, I received immediate positive feedback from other people who had witnessed this. I didn’t know if she would respond, but oh how she did. With this:
“The spirit in which it was offered”? I saw somebody I don’t know from Eve come in and tell me I’m Doin’ It Rong with neither evidence or inquiry. If your intention was something else, then I believe this would be a good time to to reconsider whether intention is magic. In my social circles, what you did was massively impolite, and you would be not just stung but stomped flat. My people are a fisking people. And yes: I think it is a bad assumption to imagine that the only appropriate way to tackle a large, complex life change is by doing everything at once instead of making a series of gentle, lifestyle-appropriate incremental changes coupled with observation of how those incremental changes are working. (And it is a worse assumption to imagine that it’s a good idea to declare an assumption like that to be true without some serious behavioral-science evidence to back it up.) I think we’re done here. Have fun with Paleo.
After this one, I decided not to respond anymore. I couldn’t really understand just what had set her off, but clearly something had. So I was very surprised when I got another notification a few hours later from her which said:
Well, damn, now I feel like a mean dork: I read “reinforcing the habit” as reinforcing my current eating habits including the occasional habitual chow mein faceplant, not reinforcing the tracking habit. That’s because I do not yet have a tracking habit, so there is no habit there to reinforce. If you meant the latter, I apologize without reservation. (If you meant the former, I still think you’re high.)
I don’t know what made her see it differently. Maybe she asked someone else to give her feedback about her interpretation. Maybe what i said stuck with her. Maybe some little seed of something got the nourishment it needed to grow. I felt a lot of relief that she had posted again, with her recognizing that perhaps she misunderstood in the first place.
This was the time to let her know where i had been coming from in the first place, which I did:
whew. i am glad to hear that you reread my comment the way I meant it! I started having a health month rule months ago of exercising 6 days a week. While I was busy stuffing my face and gaining some weight back in November and December, I kept up with the exercising, even as I continued to eat. When I got back on track in January, I realized that continuing to exercise, as pitiful and feeble as it might have been, kept me working on developing the habit of exercising. That’s what was rolling around in my brain when I commented about tracking, and how doing the tracking would be a reinforcement of the tracking habit, even as it was developing. I could really relate to your comment about falling face-first into chow mein and it reminded me of trying to figure out the exercise bit and the food bit. GO, [name]!
The last response in the series was hers, and her tone had clearly changed from one of harsh antagonism to friendly camaraderie (one of the things I wrote on my “what is working about HealthMonth” list, incidentally).
Oh, yay! And again, I am very sorry that I read your comment so totally wrong. Maybe one of my rules for next month ought to be “always get a second opinion from a level-headed individual before dusting off the flamethrower”. I’m a big fan of the pitiful and feeble attempt method, and I’ve had kind of the same experience. The P&FA method has helped me keep habits, plus it’s helped me keep in touch with a self-image as a person who does the thing, whether that thing is exercise or cooking or playing an instrument. I used to play a little game of thinking of old saws that contradict each other. My favorite: “Half a loaf is better than none” vs “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” I’m a half-a-loaf girl, for sure.
So, what? I remember many times in my life when I have felt that same sense of shame and disappointment when I thought I had let someone down, or been misunderstood. In those times, with my earliest religious teachings still in the forefront, I turned on the tapes reminding me that what I wanted was of no consequence, or worse, what I wanted was the wrong thing. That I shouldn’t feel anything negative, and since I did, it was time to beat myself up soundly. That I was failing somehow.
The experience of asking myself questions and finding my internal state changing was powerful for me. I knew I was saying what I wanted to say, and even when she responded with another attack, I knew my original response had been just right. What a contrast to my “religious” thinking which rendered me pretty much useless to actually solve the problem.
Without the constant pressure of those early teachings pounding me against the rocks, I was able to use a resource that transformed my experience, both my internal state and my ability to respond to her.
WWG. What is working? What am I grateful for? What do I want? Of the many answers to those questions in different situations, there is one answer that applies to all three questions: WWG.