Planning Ahead: The Annoyance Obstacle Course

Planning ahead is a crucial element in the whole-picture view of self-discipline and inner strength.  And though I usually am a little snarky about *cough* Facebook wisdom, the attached meme is thought-provoking for me this morning because lately I have been thinking about different ways to approach the subject of willpower and how it affects wellbeing and daily life.
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As a health coach and personal trainer, of course self-discipline and inner strength are part of the discovery process I am witness to in my clients’ health journeys.  In my own life, I too think about these matters and how I can focus and get my daily tasks complete and achieve my goals.  And in clinic recently–and this actually is something that comes up over and over in clinic–I had a patient with a relatively minor (yet stressful) health condition. Think: moderate insomnia or moderately overweight or moderately anxious. A common condition that can be unpleasant but in this case was neither serious nor simple. It was just there, in the middle of the range.  If the patient did nothing about it then the problem probably would increase over time but (and this is true for many busy adults) there was a lot going on in this person’s life.  There was enough going on to keep the focus off the problem and maintain its status as a nagging issue but not an emergency.
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So I said to the patient: When you look ahead to your week, do you have things that you know are stressful that occur every week? They (I’ll use generic “they” as the patient’s gender is not relevant) said yes, and described a situation that wasn’t necessarily reoccurring as a specific but instead, they related a generality (think: “I work a lot and don’t have time to cook” or “I spend too much time sitting in front of the computer”). I said, “Yes, but what about your annoyance obstacles?  If your week ahead was an obstacle course, where would the specific annoyance obstacles be?”
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When we plan a workout, we know what we’re good at and what is going to be a little more challenging and we prepare accordingly. If we’re busy, we also might plan for that too. Maybe we cook a few things at the beginning of the week so as to have something all ready for nights when we come home late.  If we know that one of our coworkers or family members is “difficult, bless their heart” then we mentally protect ourselves before engaging.  Whether or not we are conscious of it, we do plan ahead for the obstacles on our annoyance obstacle courses.  In so doing, we are proactive rather than reactive in order to save time and emotional energy.  With greater energy stores come better capacity to model self-discipline.  And in my conversation with the patient, the goal was to help the individual identify a couple areas where they could plan ahead so that they could do just this, thereby leaving them a reserve of self-discipline so as to then maintain a better handle on the nagging, mid-range condition.
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packing close 5-14

Mindful planning is like packing for a journey: What is in your suitcase for the week ahead?

If you ask Dr. Google about willpower there are no end to studies on the subject.  Self-help books abound on the subject.  Some studies show that willpower is finite, and that once it’s depleted for the day it is really hard to continue to rely on it.  Others will argue that belief systems (if you believe that you have willpower, then you have it) are stronger than the “willpower is finite” study findings.  Other theoretical approaches will include consideration of self-efficacy (again, the belief that one can and the ability to follow through on that thought) or–in contrast–learned helplessness (feeling defeated and responding accordingly).  Both culture and conditioning factor into one’s ability to have and to tap into inner strength.  What I’m seeing more and more in clinic is how baseline health also factors into this equation.  The vicious cycle of stress, emotional eating (or laying awake all night being tormented by a monkey mind), not making good choices, getting heavier or weaker or more tired, more stress, more [fill in the blank: sugar, insomnia, peach pie, screen time, etc.] and around and around it goes….all leading to poor health and more of a challenge to become and remain healthy.  And this depletes emotional energy and makes it harder to have self-discipline and inner strength.
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If you have time this weekend, look ahead to your upcoming week. Do you have weekly duties or experiences that you KNOW drain your emotional energy and self-discipline? Me, I drive up to North clinic on Tuesdays and I know the traffic is going to leave me outraged. I  absolutely have to leave early and plan for some meditation time when I get there otherwise I would be cranky with patients.  I also know that this term I have a class that leaves me very anxious if I don’t pre-prepare.  I mentally put on a protective psychological coat before I leave my house to go to this class.  In so doing, I am actually able to enjoy what is good about the class because I’m not wasting time reacting to barbs or surprises.  I know what it is and am not distressed about it or trying to change it.  The same goes for the drive to North clinic on Tuesday.  It’s not going anywhere.  I’m the one who has to put that on the checklist of things that need to be managed beforehand, I have done so, and its capacity to drain me is mitigated.  And so on.
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Planning ahead for things that are obstacles–in this case annoyance obstacles–can mean the difference between having extra energy to apply to your weight loss plans, your anti-anxiety efforts, and/or your insomnia. Some things are surprises that you don’t expect but others are there, every week, and maybe there really isn’t much you can do about them (I can’t teleport to North clinic and I’m not going to drop the one class, for example).  But…is it possible to plan to add some extra time either before or after a certain weekly event so that you can do some self-soothing then and there?  Can you possibly identify a treat that doesn’t involve sugary or high-fat/high-salt food and factor it in and use it as a reward for yourself for successfully navigating the stress obstacle?  Could it help you to visualize putting on a magic invisible coat before you go to that contentious weekly meeting?  If your schedule is relatively stable and you know ahead of time that there are some annoyance obstacles just waiting to trip you up and knock you off course, try mindfully planning ahead for them in a healthy, pro-active way and see what happens.  You may just find that you have extra stores of inner strength and self-discipline that you never knew that you had!
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Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine.  If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services.  If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.
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