Writing Group Topic: Taking Action

I’m feeling a little unsettled (literally) as I’ve been moving around while waiting for my new place to be finished. My new landlord assures me that the weekend of 11th July is when I can move in. Until then, I’m house- and cat sitting for this week, then going to a small apartment my charity owns that has a basic kitchen and bed (but no laundry). Logistics are interesting as most of my belongings are boxed in my new house already, while I’m living out of a suitcase and discovering daily what else I should have packed.

I liked this week’s reading a lot. I love the AA idea that you change the way you feel by changing the way you act (not the other way round). Every self-help book I have ever read – and I have read many – will attempt to make you change the way you feel so as to prompt you to act differently. I have been to an OA meeting once and they had the same approach: “if only we work the Steps well enough, our desire to eat will go away”. I saw a lot of fat people there and one of the thinner ones was a practising bulimic, but abstinent. (?)

Yesterday I watched a programme on TV about a young mother who was concerned about her health, and doctors trying to help her live more healthily. She was a smoker, and had not eaten a single vegetable or fruit since early childhood. Not one. She subsisted on meat – mainly processed – frozen meals, anything processed. “Beige” foods, as they are coming to be called… and I think they are on to something: just don’t eat anything beige, that’s good advice for anybody. They did a bone density test and various other tests on her, and it revealed she had the bone density of a 71-year-old; she was vitamin and mineral deficient in virtually every vitamin and mineral there is; she was moody, tired all the time, feeling awful. So she did want to change. However, she seemed to have a real phobia about vegetables and fruits – they were unfamiliar to her tastebuds and with the doctors’ supervision she would manage to nibble a tiny bit of various samples, only to retch and spit it out again. In one interview she said that if someone were to say that you must eat dog turds to be healthy, would you do it? – and that’s how she felt about vegetables.

What I’m getting at is how the doctors approached the problem, versus what her expectations were. She expected (hoped) that they would make her like healthy food. That she would be eating it willingly. They, on the other hand, insisted that she force it down and try new varieties every day – against any feelings of disgust she may have. They advocated action first; she wanted feelings to change first. She was disappointed when their approach lacked “magic”… she did not come to like vegetables (in the short term that they filmed this), she still had to force them down. On the other hand: now she did force them down, so the net result was positive – action is what counts, isn’t it?

That got me thinking. It really doesn’t matter what I feel about things (AA saying: “feelings are not facts”). I don’t have to be a slave to my feelings. If I rationally, wilfully decide to do something – exercise regularly, for example – I may be in for a very long stretch of feelings not following action. I doubt that I will ever enjoy exercise; I’ve tried, and I just don’t. Perhaps I need to give up my expectation of the feelings and simply surrender this, because what counts is the outcome, the action. Whether I liked it or not, if I have exercised then I have done what I set out to do. If I try to psyche myself up until I want to exercise, a lot of time is going to pass in which there is no action – and no guarantee that it will ever happen.

It’s actually a very liberating thought. I can do whatever I wish – feelings notwithstanding. They may follow (which is great) or they may not, in which case I can still make my rational choice. Self-discipline: this is it, isn’t it?

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