We human beings are funny creatures.
Sometimes we feel the most motivated when someone tells us what we’re NOT allowed to do.
After a lifetime of being a regular Sporty Spice, I developed arthritis in my right knee and ended up with a total replacement in February of this year. Once I had checked some post-surgery milestones off the list, my kind and handsome doctor said, “Well, Michele, you are cleared to do pretty much whatever you want. You can walk wherever you want to go, you can play golf, or tennis. You can ride a bike or use the elliptical. You can ski!”
I silently contemplated the last time I had skiied (15 years ago) or played tennis (summer camp?), while he paused.
“The one thing I don’t want you to do, though, is run. Your new knee just won’t tolerate that.”
“OK,” I said, with relief. See, I’m not built for running. I have short legs and a long torso, and other than that three weeks about ten years ago where I put my heart into finding the runner’s high (eluded me), I’ve realized that I’m built more for rambling than running.
The rehab for my knee replacement involved a lot of walking. I walked to the post office. I walked my dogs. I walked just to walk.
I watched my step count climb as my knee got stronger and stronger.
And one day while walking across a bridge, the most powerful feeling overcame me. I felt the profound and urgent need to break into a run.
Me. A non-runner. A lifetime non-runner. A softball player who specialized in hitting homers because then I could trot around the bases rather than sprint.
On that bridge, I found myself inexplicably longing to do the one thing my doctor explicitly forbid me to do.
I longed, beyond all reason, to do something I’m not actually built to do. The thing I actually have never really liked to do.
I wanted in that moment, with my whole heart and soul, to run.
This is human nature, isn’t it? Whenever something is placed “off-limits”, it becomes tantalizing.
It’s like there’s a huge neon sign in our brains flashing “You can’t! You can’t! But you wanna!”
A friend of mine suggests that when anything becomes a taboo, our minds go instantly into a famine mentality and all we can think about is the thing we can’t have.
If you’re on a diet and constantly remind yourself that you can’t eat french fries, all your darling human brain will think about is the fries.
If your boss directs you to never have anything to do with the IT department, you’ll see those nerds everywhere. (And your laptop will constantly fritz out, too.)
You will fixate on the thing you feel you lack, even if the thing you lack is something you don’t really want.
So it seems to me that now may be the time to take a look at two things in your own life. One, what have you placed “off-limits” for the people in your life? Your partner, your kids, your friends? Your direct reports? Your co-workers? Are you setting them up, then, to fixate on the wrong thing?
And, two, where have you done the same thing to yourself?
The cure for this extremely human drive toward Longing For The Missing Thing, though, is deceptively easy.
Rather than say, “I can’t run now that I have a bionic knee”, simply say, “I’m the kind of person who rambles.”
This affirmative statement makes all the difference in where you put your attention. And makes your choices easier.
When offered fries on the side, you can come back with, “Thanks, but I’m the kind of person who eats leafy greens.”
See how focusing on what you have over what you lack makes your life get easier? And more full. And you feel more effective and engaged.
And that is especially true when you no longer feel compelled to do something you never really wanted to do in the first place.