The other day I had an event for work. Events always feel reminiscent of athletic competitions for me. They are a lot of work leading up to a single moment of performance. So many pieces must come together for them to be successful. Then you have to be on that day–to speak, present, make sure everything runs smoothly–and inevitably there are one or two instances where 15 people are calling you or needing you at once, and you wonder what on earth you did to deserve this. But although there are many bobbles and learning moments, the event usually goes well. That should ostensibly give one a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. But more often than not, I am so worn out and exhausted from stressing and pushing myself that I often can barely get myself home, let alone celebrate and enjoy the accomplishment.
After this most recent event, I found myself in my car, stuck, unable to get myself to move to get the last load of supplies to pack up. I was talking on the phone, and the person on the other end was kind enough to ask me about how I was feeling about the day. I said the day felt like a race; I go into auto pilot and put in 110%. For those races, I remember fondly the glory in the victory of athletic competition, but there is no glory in sitting in your car like a 6 year old, crying because you are too tired to know what else to do. And come to think of it, many athletic events, especially those with multiple races, left me feeling sick and worn down from so much exertion. And here’s the thing; I’m not training for the Olympics anymore! I’m just trying to have a normal, balanced life. My all-out-effort mentality has been a gift at times, but it has also cost me greatly over the years.
I’ve come to view trying so hard as an evolutionary leftover of my disorder. There is a certain companionship the effort affords me; after all these years effort itself is my happy place. I feel warmed and somehow comforted by my own exertion. The way it used to work in the hay day of my eating disorder was that all my effort and control was applied to try to be better than, thinner than, nicer than, stronger than, you name it –than the other person. I believed only that extra effort would afford me membership in the normal human race. It was such a catch 22; it set me up to want food to fill the giant energy deficit I created. I have stopped that, and I have integrated balance into my life. I work out moderately. I value my sleep over getting one more thing done each day. I value connection with friends and family over work. But, I still tend to operate like I have to apply more than 100%.
So I’ve decided to actively pursue 85% instead of 110%. I’ve decided to back off a bit, conserve, try to arrive at the end of the day with a little gas in the tank, try to have more grace in the transitions in my day instead of seeing if I can fit a meal or a few phone calls into the spaces between point A and point B, task C and task D. I’ve started writing down at the end of the day all active choices I made towards my new goal of 85%. There are a million and one ways to invite in that extra 15% of ease, of mellowing, of pulling back, of allowing more humanness.
If you are a big fan of overdrive and feel your engine is a bit worn, I invite you to partake of the 85% experiment. You have nothing to lose. You can always take back the 15% – it is up to you to decide. But as for me, I hope you will find me at the end of my next big event having the energy to go out to dinner with friends, or take a long slow walk to unwind and enjoy the evening, as I plan to save a little energy for myself.
About the Author
Whitney Post is Co-Founder of the Eating for Life Alliance (ELA), which provides educational resources to colleges on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders. Based on her own experience as a World Champion, she specializes in athletes and eating disorder recovery. She served four years as the Director of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo! Boston, focusing on improving the health of inner-city girls through sports. As a clinician, she designed and implemented eating disorder treatment programs. As a consultant, she provides workshops and individual coaching to collegiate and national team athletes, as well as to area colleges. Walden is a treatment affiliate of ELA.