There was a line in the movie Jerry Maguire: “A breakthrough. Breakdown? Breakthrough.” It came when the protagonist realized the fundamentally flawed trajectory of his life. I don’t have a strong opinion of the movie itself, but I did always like that short line there. And it is a very fitting line for my life recently.
The past three weeks have been a real roller coaster. Seemingly out of nowhere, I was confronted by my own lack of professional, musical development, and the realization that without a change in my habits, I’m heading straight for a life of poor blood sugar control and ill health. While feelings of self-doubt are nothing new to any of us, and brief periods of bad numbers happen to all of us, there was a connectedness about this breakdown that was different. It wasn’t just aggravation over a few bad numbers, or frustration over a few music gigs I didn’t get. It was the realization that I have not been doing my own part to ensure my life reaches its fullest potential. That feeling was almost across the board (the exception being my beautiful wife, who is by far the biggest blessing ever to come into my life).
I don’t need to go into the details of it all (to do so would make this nothing more than an online journal entry). Instead, I’ll give you the summary takeaway. My breakdown came with the realization that I have been coasting through a whole lot of areas in my life, settling for “good enough,” falling into habits of comfort and complacency, and ignoring the path I’m walking through life. On the diabetes front, this was manifested by an almost complete disregard for exercise, weight, and the increasing likelihood that this would lead to insulin resistance, complications, and a nightmare scenario down the road.
To get a very clear view of it, just read my previous two entries. Now three weeks on, I can report that I have been biking to and from work almost every day and have drastically cut down my calories. My numbers have, of course, been stellar with the introduction of regular exercise and better diet, and my insulin ratio is going down. The musical side of my life has seen a similar turnaround and a rededication to the hard work of real practice, but that’s a topic for another blog.
The fundamental questions that this all leads to are these:
1. What causes a transformation? What is the anatomy of it?
2. How do you take a breakdown/breakthrough and turn that realization into sustained, ongoing change in your life?
These are the questions I’m asking myself. And as people living with a serious disease that requires us to manage every part of our health very closely, they are questions we should all be concerned with.
No real change without real destruction
The Hindu religion has a god of destruction, Shiva. Shiva is not a demon, or a devil, or an enemy. Shiva is part of the holy triumvirate, and considered integral to the ongoing functioning of the universe. Shiva is a fundamental part of transformation. Without tearing down what is false, wisdom, truth, and progress are impossible. And so Shiva brings us back to Jerry Maguire (not that I’m trying to put the two on equal footing — a major world religion dating back thousands of years certainly trumps a 90’s romantic comedy in importance). A breakdown is the first step toward breakthrough, because a breakdown is the full and conscientious realization of what is no longer working.
So we might say breaking through illusion is the initial cause of transformation. And the deeper the realization goes, the more fundamental the transformation can be. Think of an old, decaying building. If you remove the top half, but keep the foundation, what you build on top will still be rooted in the decay of the old building. It is only when you tear down completely what is decaying that something truly transformative can be built.
Of course, there is a second, vital step here. If ALL we had was the destruction of what is old, we would be left with nothing. Once the realization takes hold, we need the capacity to pause, reflect, and then to create. Once we have destroyed what no longer works, we must build something that DOES work. What works for me is biking to and from work, and eating meals that provide nutrition, not a thousand extra, empty calories per day!!
This is the real kicker. We’ve all been down this road before, haven’t we? We realize we’re on the wrong path; we realize we’re not taking care of THIS part of our lives or THAT part of our lives; we make resolutions; we make changes. And then…two months later we’re back to our old habits. Years ago (and I mean years — at least six or seven), I was the healthiest I have ever been in my adult life. I was exercising just about every day, eating right, and taking great care of myself. Every part of my health was where it should be. And that was all thanks to a change I made in my lifestyle that helped me LOSE a great deal of weight and shift my day-to-day habits. Prior to that change, my habits were pretty much what I find myself confronting now!
And so six or seven years later, I find myself at the bottom of an uphill climb to get BACK to where I was. All of this begs the question: What the heck happened? Where did that transformation go? Why was it so easily erased, and what can I do to ensure that THIS time around I don’t regress?
Obviously, I don’t KNOW the answer to that. If I really knew it, I wouldn’t be facing the same scenario now that I did six or seven years ago. But I have a theory. And the theory is a paradox. I believe the answer is not to “hold on” to the changes we hope to keep, but to “let go.” I don’t think Shiva’s role ends with a one-time tearing down of old habits. I think the key is to examine our lives each day with an eye toward letting go of what doesn’t work; letting go of what is unhealthy; an eye toward destroying habit and living consciously rather than trying to hold on to what we deem to be our “good” habits. Sustaining what is healthy is a matter of living consciously and letting go, not building a new fortress and holding on (I think…).
Fittingly, it seems to me that the recipe for sustained transformation is the same recipe we use for daily management of diabetes. We constantly monitor. We don’t monitor once on Monday and tell ourselves, “Well, I’ll just eat that exact same meal at those exact same times every day this week, and assume the numbers will stay the same.” No, we monitor. We check back each day. We don’t trust habit; we don’t fall into complacency. We consciously monitor and confront the reality of our condition minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day. We understand that there is no endpoint, but rather an ongoing resolution to be conscious and aware.
And so, fittingly enough, the answer to sustaining transformation might just be right at our fingertips: Do it like a Diabetian would! Here’s hoping I can pull it off, and you can too!