Last week, I discovered 2 new-to-me podcasts. One was Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, where he takes an event that happened in the past and goes over it with a new angle, and Happier with Gretchen Rubin, where she talks about, amazingly enough, things you can do to be happier.
I’m happy to say that both podcasts have been very enjoyable and instrumental in me being happier, and in my seeing things from my own past with new eyes.
One of Malcolm Gladwell podcasts talked about soccer versus basketball, and how soccer can be viewed as a sport that the team is only as strong as its weakest player, whereas basketball is a strongest link sport that relies on the best player for its success. Gladwell applied this principle to large donations given to small universities versus giant wealthy universities (your Stanfords and Harvards) to see which would make the largest impact on both the university and the country as a whole. It was fascinating. It got me to think of my current life and the things I’m struggling with – mostly anxiety – in a light of the weakest link.
In August, I started food journaling. I know – it’s super, super sexy to journal all the food I eat! But late in the summer, I looked back and realized that I’d felt mostly shitty in the morning for months and months. It wasn’t anything that was easy to identify or point to as particularly upsetting, but most of the feelings that I tended to blame on anxiety – i.e., bad drives to work, dizzy feelings, a sense of unease, lack of emotional reserves – happened when I failed to eat early enough and/or drank caffeine on an empty stomach. Then, in August when my favorite oatmeal flavor was mysteriously and permanently gone from the shelves and I tried to eat something different for breakfast on the days I went to work, I had some really bad mornings. As I was blaming anything that felt strange on anxiety, I tried to pin two events that happened at work on it as well, but I wasn’t successful. Anxiety just wasn’t the culprit, although it didn’t hesitate in roaring into the limelight during both. So I decided to write down everything I ate, being totally honest and not worrying about the calories or judging my food choices to see if there was a link.
After about a week, I changed two habits – one, my years-old habit of waiting to eat breakfast until after I got to work to eating before work, and two, bringing snacks to work to have between meals. Now, it doesn’t seem like this would be a life-changing event, but it kind of was. Eating before driving to work kept me calmer in the moments that I’ve trained myself to feel anxiety on the road. Having snacks in the mid-morning and in the afternoon allowed me to eat lunch later and not be a raving b**** the moment I walked in the door after work. I even changed another habit of drinking hot chocolate first thing on an empty stomach to eating something small first – an egg or a string cheese or going whole-hog and eating all my breakfast and then topping it off with hot chocolate. Again, such a small change, but I found it made things better.
Eating (and blood sugar) is my weak link. I’m following Gladwell’s example and looking back to see patterns. I realized that so often, the times I get completely overwhelmed or freak out at my kids or husband or get angry for no reason or get emotional at a family function, I’ve usually waited too long to eat. It sounds so dumb. But if you know me or have been around me much in the past 5 or so years, you probably know what I’m talking about. I can have all the best intentions to keep my emotions under control, I can exercise to keep my stress level good, I can speak my feelings instead of thinking about them or pushing them away, I can meditate until my eyes change color – but it all, and I mean ALL, goes out the window when my blood sugar dips. I get hangry. Weak link gets me every time.
Anyone who might be reading this: I cannot tell you how much this helps. In the past year, when I’ve felt betrayed by my body at every turn, when I’ve felt my anxiety get every bit of limelight, when I’ve tried to find out why, why, why do I feel like an alien in my body – to have something that is easy to control that helps me manage is nothing short of amazing.
I know that it doesn’t solve everything. Just today while driving on the freeway where there was a ton of traffic and construction, I got anxious and had to pull off on an exit. But I dealt with it. I talked myself down and got my breathing under control and drove in a circle to get back on the freeway I’d just exited and finished my drive to work. I was kind to myself and wrote myself a note when I got to work and decided that it wasn’t a big deal and that I didn’t need to make any more of it than it was. All of the positive habits I’ve built up over the past year – remembering to breathe, being kinder to myself, taking a break if I need it, and then getting back on that horse – worked, because my weakest link wasn’t a factor. I doubt things would have gone as well if I’d been hungry. I'm so grateful and excited that I've figured this out.
Weakest links. They are important. Do you know what yours is? Do you have one? Tell me if you think this could be a good discovery for you, too.