Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Psychology of Improvement and Progress

Published: 27 Jun 2012

Last year I had a mole on my leg go bad. It wasn’t cancer, yet. That was still a couple years away. It was, however, needing to be taken out. Then more needed taken out. Now I have a quarter size hole in my leg. It’s a sizable scar.

I wasn’t done, though. My dermatologist said that I needed screenings every 6 months. Early detection is key. The alternative is cancer growing, and growing fast. That’s pretty frightening.

What happened next surprised me. The subsequent screenings were a typical pattern of some suspicious looking mole being removed, and then a biopsy with either bad or good news. However, the psychology was consistent and unexpected.

2 weeks before the appointment I started to feel some anxiety. 1 week before the appointment I started to feel something very different.

Nonchalantly, I stopped believing.

The prevailing feeling was that it was all unnecessary. I didn’t think everything was fine, just that it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t want to go through with it because I could feel myself, by the hour, convincing myself more and more that I was ok. Everything was ok.

I think I was, and still am, scared of the consequences. Rather than be honest about it, my brain lies to me. It tells me everything is ok and I believe it. I don’t have much option, it’s my brain after all.

Logically I knew it was wrong but the feeling remained.

We lie to ourselves to stay safe.

I didn’t realize this, but it’s true. I’m going to tell another story, this one is a bit more inflammatory.

I was standing around waiting for my luggage to drop into the carousel. A distinctly overweight guy runs up, grabs his bag and waddles off. Next to me I hear a very distinctly white trash voice exclaim, “Ha! Look at that fat ass!”

I look over. I blink. The guy was at least, quite possibly more, overweight as the one he was ridiculing. I blinked again.

His brain was obviously lying to him. He looked the very essence of unhealthy lifestyle. I would imagine he finishes, and probably starts, every meal with at least 3 beers. It exuded out of him.

He thought he was healthy. His brain convinced him that he was fine, his lifestyle was ok.

We are never as good, or as bad, as we think.

It works both ways I think. My fears and worries about myself that I try to keep tucked away are probably not as bad as I think them to be. If they were, I would be divorced and everybody would hate me. I really worry about that.

In the reality, it’s somewhere in the middle. I like to think I’m healthy. I can even compare myself to many other people and say, ”I’m healthier than them!”

Except comparisons don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you are healthier, happier, skinnier, more beautiful or the opposite. What matters is that you are you.

If I’m not living a life I’m happy with and able to achieve all of my goals, I’ve failed. Comparisons don’t matter. Two broken down cars don’t get to argue over who has the least rust.

Stay healthy and happy in comparison to the you of yesterday, not your neighbor. Focus on what you need to do, not what other people are doing.

Track your progress. Cut out soda and mark down every day you go without it. See how well you do, it’s probably not as good as you think. But over time, it will be as good as you think you are and you will be better.