I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the liberating experience of abandoning stale goals. (See last week’s Goal Post.) Today I went to tell you about the goal that got away.
For years, my weight-loss goal was to fit into a dress. Not just any dress…. THE dress.
In 1985 I was a (very) young foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia. I covered the 10th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and got to hang out with some fabulous old news hounds. One night in Bangkok, we ended up at a tailor where one of them was having a dress made for a friend, a night-club singer, who had sent along a mesmerizing design. I felt so extravagant when I had them make one for me. It was gorgeous, and it fit like a glove. It was lavender Thai silk, embroidered along the edge, off the shoulder, slit up the side.
Of course, not being a performer, I had no place to wear such a stylish creation; it went straight into the closet, carefully wrapped away. A few years later, I went to put it on for a special event, but the zipper didn’t quite close. And the year after, it wasn’t any closer to fitting. Soon, I was 20 pounds up and the dress was no longer a dress but a symbol, a beacon, beckoning me to my ideal self. These were the years when I would quit smoking, gain 10 pounds, diet and lose 6. Several times a year. The math was not in my favor.
I stopped trying it on but moved it from closet to closet in my travels: from Washington, D.C. to Oakland; from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
I aimed for that dress with Weight-Watchers, Dean Ornish, the Zone and then South Beach. I actually had quite a lot of success a few years ago – when hypnosis helped me lose 18 pounds AND quit smoking for the very last time. But the dress, by this time, was still many pounds away.
Every time I’d even think about re-committing to a fitness program, I thought of The Dress. “This time,” I’d think, “This time, I’m going to do it.” Last year I went to a trainer, determined once and for all to get into that damned dress. I pushed so hard I pulled a groin muscle. It was nearly six months before I could go back to the gym. That dress still hasn’t been worn.
That goal was so entrenched in my mind, I couldn’t imagine thinking about getting fit without thinking of the dress.
And then, something shifted. I was visiting my parents recently in Prescott, Arizona. My folks are busy in retirement – my mom knows nearly everyone in town; my dad is physically active. At 79, he has just decided to give up softball to focus on golf. “You’re my hero, Dad,” I said. “Aw, that’s nothing,” he replied. It turns out that two of his aunts made it to 104 – both of them active and alert up until the end.
104. One hundred and four? That got my attention. I looked in the mirror, where I can already see a self who is beginning to look a lot like my mom. I let the image get older. Older than my mother’s mother, who died at 64. Older than my father’s mom, who was 82. Even older…..
It suddenly seemed possible that I could make it past 100. I’ve always thought it would be great to live a long, long time – mostly because I’m just dying to see what happens next (so to speak).
But wait a minute. I have to be in THIS BODY for another 50+ years? Whew.
That’s when it hit me. I was energized. I was paying attention. I was committed. THIS is my fitness goal.
Because if I’m going to live to be 104, I want to be spry, active, alert, involved. I want to be comfortable. I want — no, I NEED — to be in better shape. My knees already creak like a door in a horror movie when I walk up stairs. If I’m going to be in THIS BODY for more than 50 years, I’d better take care of it.
And all of a sudden, my attitude shifted. Do I want that second girl scout cookie? No. Because it’s not just about eating something for this moment. It’s about wearing that “thin” mint for the next 50 years.
I’m not saying I’m perfect now. Or that staying on track is easy. But I am finding it a lot harder to resist the urge to get fit. Partly it’s because I’m now motivated by a push as well as a pull – as much as I enjoy the image of that slender, spry, funny little old lady, I’m equally horrified by the thought of her opposite.
So I’m using that. When I think of carrying too much weight into the second half of my first century, my dark imagination conjures up the horror of a bulging, sad, lazy and bedraggled creature too heavy to get out of bed. And, well, let’s just say I’ve been moving a lot more often – and there is no ice cream in the house.
I had clung to my goal of The Dress for so long I’d forgotten to check in. I didn’t even realize that I was striving for something I really didn’t think was possible — or even desirable. How often do I get really dressed up? Or even look in a mirror? Looking good is nice, but it doesn’t get me all that excited.
On the other hand, seeing the second half of the 21st century? Celebrating my birthday in 2064? Going for a walk in the low gravity outside my retirement condo on the moon? Count me in!
So if you’re goal isn’t getting you anywhere, feel free to set it aside.
When you’re ready, you’ll find one that works better. In January’s posting about New Year’s Resolutions, I mentioned the six secrets of successful suggestions. Take a moment to run through the list and make sure that your goal is Positive, Precise, Powerful, Present-tense, Personal and Possible.
You’ll know you’re on the right track when you feel a chill up your spine at the thought of how great it will feel to achieve your goal. And the urge to do whatever it takes to achieve it becomes irresistible.
I’ll report back before my century ends and let you know how I’m doing. Let me know how swapping new goals for old works for you.