Wanting Two Things at Once

Several years ago, I facilitated an ongoing leadership development program that had me traveling the Washington DC at least once or twice a month. I enjoyed everything about this program except the 15 pounds I gained over the 18 months of the program. What the heck?

The pounds crept up slowly – and they didn’t happen because I was out eating big high calorie dinners all the time. The weight gain was the result of me wanting two things at once.

I will say this was before I started paying much closer attention to my health. Being tall, I can get away with carrying a few extra pounds, and when the pants get tighter…well, that’s what happens after a few times at the cleaners. Seriously? I couldn’t even blame the clothes dryer.

When I finally got on a scale and realized the extent of my weight gain, my jaw dropped. How had I let this happen? And what could I do about it? The next time I was teaching the program in DC, I caught myself reaching for a Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate. The organizer of the program provided bowls of candy throughout the room and these delicious nuggets of goodness had been part of the program from the beginning.

Surely have a chocolate or two hadn’t been a problem? During that session, I didn’t change anything, but I did pay attention. By the end of the two-day session, I had only one bite of chocolate. Or so I thought. With my new awareness, I realized that I had upwards of 5 or 6 over the two days – and it would have been more if I had kept with my pace prior to getting on the scales. As I left for the airplane on that trip, I quickly decided no more chocolates for me.

My resolve felt good, and I was sure I was on the way to weigh much less. Wrong again.

Two weeks later, I was back for another session, sure that I would be able to avoid reaching for the chocolate. Nope. I kept reaching. When I was honest with myself, I had been eating more chocolates and sweet stuff at home as well. The thought of NOT having the chocolate really irritated me.

I was caught in two competing priorities. I wanted to stay at a healthy weight AND I wanted to eat what I wanted when I wanted it.

If I kept this up, I would be buying more and more bigger clothes.

With the help of the book Immunity to Change (Kegan, Lahey), I saw my competing priorities differently. The next time I was faced with a bowl of chocolates, I applauded myself for wanting to be fit more than I wanted the momentary satisfaction of a bit of chocolate. Within 6 months the pounds came off and stayed off.

I’ve found the same awareness to be incredibly valuable in writing my books. In order to navigate the complexity of a book, I need focused work blocks where my attention stays with the task at hand. But I also love to scroll Instagram and Linkedin and pick my phone up at every ding.

When I ask myself which one I want more, the book is the answer every time. So I created a rule for myself to protect my work blocks. I turn off notifications and Wifi and applaud myself for honoring my commitment to finish the book.

What are your competing priorities? Where do you want two things at once? How do you handle distractions that take you away from work that matters to you?