Sometimes we are what I like to call Culturally Disabled. Western culture is narrative-obsessed. Modern technology – social media, the 24/7 news cycle, DVR’s, etc. – have made this even more obvious and apparent to me.
As a kid, we had three major TV networks, a handful of secondary channels and got our detailed news from newspapers, which told stories that often lagged days or weeks behind the events they reported on. If you were busy and missed an episode of a TV show, you missed it. You could catch it again in summer re-runs, maybe, but by then everyone knew the end of the story. Movies were like that too. If some hit film was pulled from your local theater before you had a chance to see it, you might be able to catch it running as a matinee later in the year, but by then you’d know all about it.
Take The Empire Strikes Back, for example, in which Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker that he is Luke’s father near the end of the film, or the death of Spock in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, as another. Dramatic twists like these weren’t the point of either film, but they made them startling to watch for the first time. Such a reveal today is pretty close to impossible, as proven by the fact that pretty much every fan entering the theater to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness this past summer knew Benedict Cumberbatch was playing a new version of Khan, in spite of the filmmaker’s constant protestations to the contrary leading up to the movie’s release.
I have several good friends who are currently binge-watching Breaking Bad, knowing that I’ve seen the entire series, and can tell them exactly what happens. I was threatened with major violence by one friend this past weekend if I gave away even an ounce of plot. The effort this guy is putting into avoiding the multitude of spoilers all over the interweb is pretty impressive. When we were kids no one would go to this trouble because the opportunity to see something that had already been and gone wouldn’t have been available. Knowing the outcome wasn’t as big of a deal. If you missed it, you missed it. Might as well at least be somewhat culturally literate and know the ending.
[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]Every single day I encounter someone who is disappointed in their results. The needle on the scale hasn’t moved or it has gone in the wrong direction. I still can’t do a pull-up. I wanted to lose two dress sizes, but I only lost one. I wanted to lose more weight/more inches. Etc. Ad infinitum.[/pullquote]There was another thing going on though too. Like I said, Darth Vader being Luke’s father was startling, but it wasn’t the whole point of the movie. Spock dying was moving, and surprising, but again, not the point of the whole film. Knowing either of these things wouldn’t make seeing the films irrelevant.
Obsession with linear narrative though, has become an epidemic in our culture, partially because we’ve become addicted to dramatic reveals. No one watches The Biggest Loser for the sheer joy of watching the process – mostly because the process isn’t joyful, but that’s another topic altogether. The only reason to watch is for that final reveal of the winner. Storytelling is suffering from this too. Most TV shows and films are built around some massive twist designed to shock or surprise us. It’s as if that Darth Vader moment from The Empire Strikes Back was the only takeaway most people making films and TV got. They missed the part where what makes Empire a great film, the undisputed best in the Star Wars series, is that it has actual character development for each major character that draws us in and makes us care about them.
So, what does this have to health and fitness? Everything.
Every single day I encounter someone who is disappointed in their results. The needle on the scale hasn’t moved or it has gone in the wrong direction. I still can’t do a pull-up. I wanted to lose two dress sizes, but I only lost one. I wanted to lose more weight/more inches. Etc. Ad infinitum.
A lot of this has to do with unreasonable and/or unrealistic expectations. [insert name of celebrity here] lost 30 pounds in two months – declares the front cover of People or US magazine. “Drop 2 sizes doing these five minutes of exercises!” – boasts the cover of a big name fitness magazine. “Take this pill and lose 20 pounds,” says the ad campaign for some legal form of speed being sold at Walgreens or GNC.
I get it. You see some random Kardashian go from carrying lots of pregnancy weight to being right back where she started, just a month or two after giving birth, or you see an actor like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans (are all studly actors now named Chris?) get HUGE in six months to play Thor or Captain America and then slim down to nothing to play another role, and you think to yourself, “I’m smarter than her/him, so I should be able to do that.” And trust me, you probably are a lot smarter, more interesting and have way more to give to the world than any actor. But here’s the thing – comparing yourself to these folks will only make you crazy and force you to adopt a narrative for your own life that isn’t going to fit.
Why can they do these things and you can’t? Well, you can. But the path you’d have to take, that’s the problem. The Kardashians are in the business of drawing attention to themselves. They are professional celebrities. They don’t have jobs, or obligations, or, best as I can tell, interests. Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans make their living by looking the way the directors of their films want them to look.
To parse it down even further – If someone handed me $250,000 and told me I needed to alter my body composition to play a convincing action hero, and shooting was going to start in six months, I could do it. I’d hire a personal trainer and a cook. The trainer would work with me on a personally designed program to alter my appearance and body composition. The cook would feed me the only food I was going to eat for those six months, with the menu designed specifically to enhance the results of my training. And my job, my full-time job, for the next six months would be to achieve the physical changes necessary to do the job I’d been hired to do. Voila!
If I was a Kardashian, or Kardashian-like creature and I wanted to look different I would could hire a trainer… or do what they do and hire surgeons to alter my appearance, regardless of the long-term consequences of the surgery.
Somewhere out there someone is saying, “Yes, we know that. But I’m disappointed because I didn’t have crazy expectation, I had realistic ones. I wanted to lose 10 pounds.” Right. But maybe that isn’t realistic either. Maybe you’ve got a number in your head and you’re fixated on a narrative that concludes with, “And she lost 10 pounds and lived happily ever after.” What if you can’t lose 10 pounds because you’re not supposed to?
I weighed 120 pounds soaking wet holding a bag of bricks when I was 20 years old. I was young, and I liked the way I looked then. I developed an association between 120 pounds = my ideal weight. But here’s the thing – that wasn’t even an ideal weight for me at 20 years old. Why? Because at 20 I was weak. I got sick a lot (as in, if you sneezed near me I had the plague the next day). I wasn’t healthy. I was young, I got too little sleep, I ate terrible food and I had really tragic hair.
If I was obsessed with a narrative that concluded with me weighing 120 pounds not only would I be disappointed in every program I followed that didn’t result in that exact outcome, but I’d feel like a failure. I would also being ignoring the story as it unfolded, and that’s the real problem with outcome attachment.
If you are only satisfied by one, very specific, time-based outcome, well, I can’t help you. No one can. Not unless a couple of conditions are met. First, you need the resources to hire the help and make the time commitment a Hollywood actor does. Secondly, you need to be willing to be unhealthy for the sake of superficial results. If, on the other hand, you can embrace the process and have your goal be to be the fittest, healthiest version of you that is possible given the actual real life you are living… well, then, you can enjoy the journey.