The other morning, on my way to the mailbox in stained house-cleaning clothes, I thought to myself, “Oh, I should definitely know better by now.”
You see, not that long ago, in these same ratty clothes, I was caught on camera by the Bing Maps mapping car. Now that there’s a photo of me looking unkempt and startled, available to anyone looking for street view directions to our neighborhood, you’d think I’d put more effort into my appearance when I go to the mailbox. Clearly that hasn’t been the case.
A similar awareness bubbled up during a recent weekend to the beach, when I hurt my foot walking barefoot on wet sand for a couple of hours. My arches need support on the sidewalk and the dance floor, so of course they needed support on an uneven surface. Just last year, I re-iterated that very lesson to my feet, and here I am again, tending to an angry foot.
Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in health behavior change, so as informed on the research as I am, one would think I should be very effective at shifting my own behavior. But as often as they do, competence and self awareness don’t always lead to a positive behavioral outcome.
Like anyone else, I occasionally intentionally ignore lessons I’ve already learned!
We all repeat regrettable choices from time to time, even when we know (and dislike) the consequences that are waiting for us on the other side.
As I took off down the beach barefoot, I had a moment of self awareness.
“Emily, this maybe isn’t the best plan. Your ankles and feet have been feeling great but it took a long time for them to heal. Do you really want to risk injuring them again?”
Then, as soon as I’d acknowledged reality, the part of me that wanted an alternate, consequence-free reality popped in with a very compelling argument. “Oh, come on! Lots of people walk barefoot on the beach all the time. Remember how it felt to walk barefoot on the beach for hours in high school? It was fine! Besides, the sand feels soooo good and being on the beach is really relaxing.”
Rationally, I knew that my feet aren’t 15 years old anymore, nor are they someone else’s feet, but I wanted so badly to do what I was about to do that I was very willing to ignore my gut.
I’ve got a feeling you may know what I mean.
So why do we do things that we know are at odds with our safety and self care?
At the end of the day, what we do is usually less about the action itself and more about the feelings we’re chasing. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was seeking a very specific feeling when I walked on the beach. It wasn’t just the walking, although I do love being active. It wasn’t really about being barefoot either, even though I wanted to feel connected with the earth.
What I really craved was the meditative quiet of being mostly alone on an uncrowded beach, where I could focus on the sound of the water and watch the waves roll in and out. I’ve always felt at peace on the beach, and I wanted to feel the space of it.
I was looking for the feeling of peace. Walking barefoot was one way to get there, but not the only way. I could invite peace just as easily while wearing shoes, sitting on the beach, or standing in the water and looking out at the waves.
My gut would have told me that if I’d given it just a few extra beats to communicate without interruption.
In our scramble to chase feelings, it’s easy to talk over our inner voice of wisdom. It’s ok. We’re human! We’re still deserving of our own compassion, even when we make and repeat the same mistakes.
But most of the time, we do our best to grow from the lessons we’ve learned. By getting into the habit of listening for the feelings we’re going after, the more consistently thoughtful our choices become.
The next time you get that feeling in your belly that you’re stomping all over a lesson you’ve already learned, take a deep breath in and relax as you exhale. Take a step back for just a minute and ask, “What feeling am I really chasing?”
In a few minutes, I’m headed out to check the mail. As I ponder whether to change clothes, I’ve got to be honest. I probably won’t. As important as listening to my wisdom is for bigger matters, in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure I care all that much about this particular consequence. Does anyone even use Bing Maps anyway?