Straddling: To Accomplish Your Goals, Check Your Feet!
straddle – verb
1.) to walk, stand, or sit with legs wide apart, stand or sit astride 2.) to favor or appear to favor both sides of an issue, political division, or the like, at once, to maintain an equivocal position
In my practice and in my personal life, I see – and am guilty of – “straddling.” This means that we take one position AND another about an issue. The issue itself isn’t as problematic as the straddling.
An example of straddling:
Lucy would like to lose weight. She believes she would be happier, healthier, her confidence would improve, and lots of other good things would come from these improvements. However, Lucy does very little to make this happen for herself. She eats when she wants, what she wants, and isn’t physically active, besides walking her dogs in the morning. Lucy has been told by trainers she has hired, read in magazines she bought to motivate herself, and completely understands that she won’t lose weight until she eats better and is more physically active. So, what’s the problem?
Dr. David Burns, who has done a lot of work in the field of psychology and specifically in cognitive-behavioral therapy, suggests that we tend to be resistant to change and stick with what is familiar. Or, simply stated, we resist discomfort. So when making changes in our lives involves discomfort, we passively resist those changes, make excuses, and then complain about our inability to “get motivated.” Getting Motivated – that old phrase – essentially means accepting our discomfort by wanting the change more than we want our comfort. This is why having a crisis leads to profound changes. Therapists know very well that when someone is experiencing a crisis, they are most ripe for change. The crisis makes the status quo more intensely uncomfortable, so the idea of change for the better – and all it entails – appears less uncomfortable in comparison.
When we are not in crisis, we don’t necessarily want to change. We want to be different. But to become different, making specific changes that challenge us and deprive us of other things we want? Not so much.
Our Lucy is STRADDLING. She is putting one foot in wanting to lose weight and have a different experience in this life. And she has her other foot firmly planted in wanting to not have to do anything different, specifically anything uncomfortable, like, being hungry, or hurting from more intense exercise.
You can apply this to nearly everything…
You want to save money, but that means spending less, and therefore saying NO to yourself and others when spending opportunities arise. You have to want to save money MORE THAN you want those boots, or that weekend away, or that toy for your child, or to enroll them in another activity that will enrich their lives.
You want to get out more, but that means challenging your shyness and putting yourself in new situations where you won’t know people or what to expect. You have to want a social life MORE THAN you want to stay safely cocooned at home.
You want to make more money, but that means working a part-time job, working longer hours, or gaining additional training to increase your value. And that means less free time, or time spent with family. You have to want to make more money MORE THAN you want your free time, at least in the short run.
You want to enjoy your friend and continue to spend time with him or her, but sometimes his/her behavior or opinions rub you the wrong way. If only they could be different. You have to want to be in their company MORE THAN you want them to be different.
You have to accept that you want cool new boots and that weekend away, and to give your kids things MORE THAN you want more money in the bank.
You have to accept that being social is more stressful for you than it’s worth, and appreciate your solitude and quiet.
You have to accept that your free time is valuable too and that your current earning power is sufficient for your needs. Maybe it would be better to cut spending…
You have to admit that you don’t enjoy this particular friend’s company as much as you’d hoped and you let the friendship go, holding on instead to standards for the friendship that maybe someone else will meet.
The Alternative: Getting Both Feet on the Same Journey
Straddling is something we all are doing at any given time about some issue. When an issue becomes more nagging, and occupies more of our heart and mind, then we might have to consider getting both feet on the same journey.
The relevance of understanding the phenomenon of straddling points us in the direction of the work we have to do. Back to the cliché of “Getting Motivated” – we have an honest discussion with ourselves about our resistance to discomfort and do we really want change more than we want to stay in our comfort zone? We visit the challenges we will encounter and whether we are ready to accept discomfort as payment for improvement.
Augusten Burroughs, bestselling author of the memoir of his childhood Running with Scissors, has a matter-of-fact style to life and its associated problems that I really appreciate. In This Is How: Help for the Self, he playfully challenges us:
“If you are no closer to having something you’ve been chasing for twenty years, your data is broken. Either you can’t get it, period; you already have it; you don’t really need or want it; or it’s not real” (pp. 31-32).
Put both feet on one side and great things can happen.
Put both your feet in saving, or accepting the joy your spending gives you. Put both feet in trimming down, or enjoy your food and wine with a smile and NO GUILT or SELF-LOATHING. Put both feet in reaching out to others bravely and effectively or respect yourself for needing a smaller circle.
You may still need the help of a therapist, trainer, coach, or loved ones in figuring out HOW to stand on one side. But in making the decision to not straddle, you at least get closer to the right questions to ask and the goals that are more productive. When both of your feet are moving in the same direction, instead of working against one another, it’s much harder to be stopped in your tracks.
And this always makes me think of dear old Dr. Suess in Oh, The Places You’ll Go:
“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You are who you are and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”