“Janice settled,” Marlena declares to me.
We are sitting by the window at the Little Bakery, meeting for lunch on a sunny, cold day in January.
“That’s a judgment on your part,” I reply, finding her statement a little bit offensive.
“I suppose it is,” she says, “but it’s pretty clear.”
“I mean, how can you know what’s between them?” I say. “She knows him a lot better than you do.”
“Well, she’s way smarter than he is. And a lawyer. He’s what, a mechanic? And she’s beautiful besides.”
“In your view. Anyway, how can you know what’s between them, what they’ve gone through together? He might be the love of her life.”
“That would be love really blind!”
I feel the need to shift the subject.
“I think what’s really too bad are the things people settle for in themselves,” I say.
“What do you mean?” Marlena says, sounding defensive already.
“You know, you can’t change someone else,” I say. “But a person can change himself or herself – those things in our lives that make us unhappy: the way our body looks and feels, habits, relationships, excessive worrying, depression.”
“Hmm,” she says, still a little apprehensive that I’ll say something about her. “Why do you suppose people settle like that?”
“Well, they may think, ‘I really don't have a choice’ or ‘I'll just have to live with it - it would be too difficult to change this.’ Perhaps ‘I’m too old to change’ or ‘It would just be too hard.’”
“Or ‘Maybe there's a better me out there, but I will never get there,’" Marlena adds.
“I don’t know why that’s so difficult,” she says. “After all, if you know something is bad for you, change it.”
“I agree,” I say. “But just knowing that something is bad for you or not what you want is not enough. Every one of my smoking cessation clients know that cigarettes are bad for them, that they contain dozens of toxic chemicals, that they predispose you to cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and COPD and cut years off of your life.
“And regardless of how self-aware you have become through those years of psychotherapy –you know all the reasons why you hate your mother - it still doesn't help you feel better.”
“Sounds pretty grim,” Marlena says. “I know I shouldn't have that third cookie. But it's warm, it's soft, sweet and so good – I want more! I can’t seem to help myself. So what’s the solution, Doctor?”
“Well first of all,” I say, “it’s never too late, and the time is always right. You don’t have to put up with something just because you always have up until now. You can change to be the best you, at any point, at any stage of your life.”
“Ok, but how?” Marlena asks. “Once you know what you want to be different, how do you change it? And if it’s so easy, why doesn’t everybody do it? What’s the secret?”
“Well, I didn’t say it was easy, and it’s not about what you know,” I say. “People are stuck, but it’s not because they don’t have enough knowledge. The thing is, You can’t solve an emotional problem with a logical solution. To feel better – and change yourself – you have to transform your energy at the emotional level.”
“So why do we eat more than we need?” Marlena asks, staring off into space. “My stomach says I’m full, I don’t need any more food. So why do I want more?”
“What I would say is, there is a feeling, an emotion inside that is more powerful, at that moment, than what you know, that moves you to do that. Emotional eating – right?”
Marlena smiles. “Yeah, I’ve heard that term.”
“Or a man is arguing with his wife. He loves her, would never deliberately want to hurt her. But that anger rises up inside of him and he just can’t contain it – the venom shoots out and he says all sorts of hurtful things he doesn’t mean.”
“Not my husband,” she says. “But I’ve heard about things like that.”
“And even while he’s saying all these awful things, he knows it’s wrong,” I say, “but somehow he is unable to stop himself. Logic doesn’t work when it comes to changing thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are emotionally conditioned. You have to change it on the emotional level.
“And – you have to be willing to give up something. Nothing will come of nothing – it has to be an exchange.”
“I knew there’s a catch! So I’m thirty pounds overweight. And yes, I’ve been settling.”
“Would you like to live in a slimmer, fitter body?” I say. “What would be the benefits?”
Marlene pauses to think. “Well, I would look better, feel better, have more energy. I could wear smaller clothes. I would feel really good about myself. And I’d probably be healthier and live longer. But what would I have to give up?”
“Remember, you have to shift your energy on the emotional level. You have to change how you feel about food and eating, about exercise, the way you feel about and think of yourself. A better and longer life, feeling really good about yourself – in exchange for old habits, emotions, and self-image.”
“Hmmm – I’ll get back to you.” She smiles. “And if I need some help with this?”
“There’s that too.” I smile back.
See also my blog, Smoking Cessation Kensington
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