A lesson in honoring choice

As a Certified Health and Wellness Coach one of my core philosophical beliefs is that people can attain their desired level of wellness when they make choices with intention and purpose. This philosophy came into my life at a very young age and I credit one event with planting the seed.

I was a Girl Scout, and around the age of 10 my Troop was working on our various merit badges, one of which (I have no idea which one) brought us to a retirement community in Boulder Colorado to spend time with the elderly residents. We were each assigned a resident and a nurse walked us to their rooms. As I walked down the hall the nurse grabbed my shoulder and said “Mr. Smith has diabetes, and cannot eat any sugar. If he asks you to go down the hall to buy him a candy bar, you must say no. Because if he eats that candy bar he will get VERY SICK!” I had no idea what diabetes was at that time, but her warning scared the hell out of me.

I can remember his room, his deeply lined face, and his soft kind eyes. He was 89, and wheelchair bound. He had been a hard working farmer his whole life on the eastern plains of Colorado. In many ways he was like my grandfathers and it was easy to talk to him. We talked about school… did I like it? No. I liked to swim and play with my dog.

After a little while he very casually asked me if I wanted a candy bar. AND I went on full alert. I was ready. I was not going to buy him a candy bar, and make him sick. I had a job, and the nurse had entrusted me with that solemn duty. I politely said ‘No thank you’ hoping that he would let it drop. I must have had panic written all over my face. He got this mischievous little smile and said ‘well I’m going to have one.’ He rolled over to his dresser, which I was sitting next to and opened the bottom drawer.  Tucked underneath an old jacket was a treasure trove of candy. Full sized candy bars, shining in their brightly colored wrappers. Like any kid of 10 I was astounded by this collection, but the rule follower in me quickly kicked in and I said. “You are not supposed to have candy, where did this all come from?” And he laughed, not a mean derisive laugh but a laugh of true enjoyment. He said “Sweetheart, I’m 89 years old and I love candy. It is one of the few joys I have left, and so I choose to eat it. My son brings it to me, because he knows I would rather enjoy my days than live to be 100 but totally miserable.” I told him I was worried it would make him sick, and the nurse had told me not to let him eat candy. I was upset and confused. And he took my hand and said. “Sweetheart this is not your responsibility. You are not responsible for other people’s choices. We are only responsible for our own choices. I choose to eat candy, knowing it might make me sick.”

It is amazing how frequently I think of this man. A profound lesson taught with kindness and for that I’m deeply grateful. It took me years to understand the importance of this conversation, and how deeply  it would influence my life. We are always at choice whether we choose to recognize that power or not. We are solely responsible for our choices, and no matter what we are making choices why not give ourselves the gift of making those choices with purpose and intention.

What is your boiling frog problem?

We’ve all heard that if you drop a frog into boiling water it will hop out immediately, but if you put a frog in a pot of water and bring it to a boil, the frog will boil to death. So a boiling frog problem is one that happens gradually over time, creeping, creeping, creeping getting slightly worse every time you turn around.

In my work as a health and wellness coach I help clients with boiling frog problems all the time. The professional working mother, who keeps thinking ‘yes, I should be taking better care of myself, but I don’t have time. I’ll do it when things settle down.’ Things never settle down when you are a professional woman with children. (I know this from personal experience!) The former weekend warrior who looks fondly at pictures of past running races, and wonders when did racing become a thing in my past? The middle manager who is bored at work, but the thought of making a change is too daunting, so he convinces himself that bored and secure is better than the alternative.   To the woman who knows she should go see the dentist, but can’t seem to find the time to make the appointment, until she cracks a tooth.  We notice the boiling frog problem, but the water is so nice and warm it’s easy to minimize it or convince ourselves that we’ll get to it later.  And the temperature keeps rising!

We are all busy. We all have many competing priorities screaming for our attention, energy and time. For many people the easiest place to find a bit more attention, energy and time is to steal it from the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. In doing so we allow what might be an 8 pound weight gain over the last two years to become a 23 pound gain in the next two years.  The time between dental visits expands from 2 years to 5 years, and now we can add embarrassment to our list of reasons why we don’t call and make an appointment.  And the temperature keeps rising!

When people think about changing their boiling frog problem they usually do two things. The first is they ‘should’ themselves. I should do this. I should do that. There a mountain of research into motivation that says ‘should’ should be the new ‘s’ word, because it is really shitty as a motivational technique. The second thing we do is we try to tackle the whole problem at once. Rather than just swimming to the side and looking up, we expect to be able to jump clear of the pot, spring to a lovely stream and have the problem behind us. We are just setting ourselves up for failure when we try and tackle the whole challenge at once. And the temperature keeps rising!

It’s time to hop out of the water before you boil to death.  What is your boiling frog problem? Is it at work? Is it in a relationship? Is it tied to your weight or fitness? Pick one thing where you habitually say, ‘I’ll get to it later’ and ask yourself why might I want to start working on this thing today? What would a change in this boiling frog problem give me, and why is that thing important to me? By connecting to what is valuable to you now is a far better motivational technique, and one that will serve you well as you swim to the side of the pot and reach for the lip.

If you have a boiling frog problem, but it seems too daunting to tackle or you don’t know where to start I would love to have a conversation about how I can help you out of the boiling water.