A few weeks ago I was talking with a young lady who shared with me her frustration at her lifelong battle with losing weight.
She explained that on an almost daily basis, for as long as she could remember, she has begun each new day with a pledge that this would be the day that she would stick to her commitment to refrain from eating certain foods and only consume those she knew would assist her in moving towards her weight loss objective.
She told me that every day started with resolute determination to stick to her commitment and that invariably, sometime between leaving her home at 7:30am and heading back to the office after lunch at around 1:00pm she would succumb to the temptation to “just have a little piece” of whatever was making its way through the office that day.
It might be the donuts that someone had picked up on their way in to work that morning, or the chocolate cake that was celebrating a birthday, or the candy that was “to die for” that her boss brought in, or the cheesecake that found its way to her plate in the restaurant at lunch that was made ok because of the small salad that preceded it.
As she described this to me the pain on her face was almost unbearable to watch. As much as she made light of her tale and kept injecting humorous, self deprecating quips into her story the tears welling up in her eyes told the truth of how tormented she was by this seemingly insurmountable struggle.
And as I listened to her I couldn’t help but flash back to Horatio, our four ounce Meyers parrot.
You see, every now and then Gimalle places a few small pieces of fruit in Horatio’s food bowl as a treat.
You may not know this but parrots have a sweet tooth, or beak as the case may be, and like many humans, he makes a beeline straight for the fruit and leaves his “real” food untouched.
And I asked myself what it is that humans and parrots have in common?
And the answer helped explain the tears I was seeing across the coffee table.
Neither humans nor parrots are particularly skilled at delaying gratification.
When we want something, we want it right now – even when that means we’ll be sorry later.
And it’s all because – and I know I sound like a broken record and that if you have to hear this one more time you’ll throw up – WE ONLY EVER DO ONE THING. WE DO WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT TO US IN THE MOMENT. PERIOD.
And the gratification that potentially will come with the weight loss is only going to occur at some point in the future and the donut, chocolate cake, candy, cheesecake is right here right now and if I eat it now I will experience pleasure now and if I don’t then I will have the pain of craving it and I won’t have to deal with the pain/guilt of eating it until later and I can’t feel the pleasure of having lost weight because that won’t occur until sometime in the future and the future isn’t here yet, which is why it’s called the future, and all I can deal with is the present moment so shut up and pass the cake.
And the definition of insanity- doing the same things over and over and expecting the result to be different – is as true today as ever it was.
And we talked of ways around this.
And what if there are none?
And what if immediate gratification is our lot in life?
I don’t think it is, but let’s pretend.
So I asked her how she would feel if she lost the weight.
And she used words like “fabulous’ and “proud” and “beautiful” and “confident” and “sexy” and “strong” and “glamorous” and “attractive” and “desirable” and “light” and “energized” and the more she talked, the more absorbed she became in those feelings and when she was finally finished she said something very interesting.
She said that she knew how to change her life RIGHT NOW.
She said that she was going to spend as much time as she could, and as often as she could, focussing on those feelings until they became part of her every day life.
And she called this morning to say that she has not deviated once from her weight loss program in more than two weeks.
And that each time she is confronted with a donut she does two things. She allows herself to feel how she will feel when she has lost the weight and how she will feel if she doesn’t.
And the donut doesn’t seem to offer pleasure any longer.
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Horatio isn’t buying any of this.
What do you think?
Till we read again.