The hard truth about buffets, portion control and not hating yourself in the morning

Welcome to the ranks of humans who are constantly + grossly overestimating our own abilities…in more ways than one.

First, let me set a bit of a scene

You’re 9 years old.

You’re standing in front of a holiday buffet table loaded with nothing but your favorite foods.

It’s fucking magical.

You grab the biggest plate you can find…oh, look a platter!…and eagerly begin crafting the world’s most perfect meal ever.

A piece of chicken. Ooh is that green bean casserole? Yes please! Sweet potato fries? And spaghetti too. Everything looks sooooo good.

What!? There’s ham too? Plus a small spoonful of mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, and ohmygosh cranberry sauce! A small piece of cornbread and just one of grandma’s world famous buttermilk biscuits. That’s perfect.

No, wait there’s a cheese platter. You love cheese…so a few go on the plate.

Your knees get a little weak when you notice the dessert table! Oh, you’ll definitely need another plate. Brownies, pie, cookies, cake? Why not a couple bites of each? On the plate it goes.

As you walk back to your seat, you’re so pleased with the meal you’ve concocted. It’s perfection. If you had to choose a last meal, it would be this.

Before your fork hits the mac-n-cheese, you hear a disapproving adult say those words every kid hates to hear.

“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!”

We hate these words because they come dressed as a total underestimation of our ability, our self-knowledge and our determination.

Your thoughtful reply:

Pfft! You don’t even know! I’m totally eating all of this.

Fifteen minutes later, there’s hardly a dent in your plate and you feel a little queasy. You know one more bite may send you over the edge.

Do you keep eating to prove them wrong?

Or do you stop eating and prove them right?

Now, consider the projects you’ve put on your plate for 2015.

Our eyes tend to get pretty big when we’re planning our projects too. Especially if you’re a multi-passionate maniac like me.

Every day. Making ourselves sick by overestimating our own abilities.

Why don’t we see it when our eyes are too big for the work we want to do?

With the year ending in a few short months, this has been the topic of many client conversations over the past few weeks.

This buffet table is frickin’ ridiculous! And oh so tempting. It includes all of the delicious things you want to do before 2012 slips away and all of the sweet somethings you want to get in place for 2013.

I’ve been known to lose my mind too.

I instantly turn into 9-year old Larah at a dessert buffet. I’m convinced I can eat every damn thing that looks good as long as I get just a tiny piece of each one. That feels totally feasible.

When I don’t….when I can’t possibly do everything I’ve put on my own plate…I label that a failure.

Not because I logically believe I should have been able to eat all of that food…or do all of those projects. My logical brain know that’s just not humanly possible.

No, this feeling goes deeper than logic. This feeling comes from being angry at myself because I should have known better.

Missing the mark so spectacularly opens the door to the monsters in my head. They get me questioning my ability, my self-knowledge and my determination. All of this questioning and doubting freezes me in my tracks.

I’m guessing you do this too.

Over-reaching brings out the monsters. The end result is guilt. That guilt leads to doubt. Doubt will make you fold up within yourself…unable to see your own value, much less shine it on the people who need you.

When we overreach, we feel like there are only two ways out: Admit defeat or do it anyway.

Prove them right or prove them wrong.

When you prove them right, you unfairly kick yourself for not being able to finish it all…even with something as logical as not being able to eat 4 lbs of food in one sitting.

I’m probably not the only kid who has secretly tossed a plate full of food I thought I could eat, feeling guilty about all the starving kids in Ethiopia and hoping no one noticed how ridiculous I was 20 minutes ago when I so optimistically filled that plate to the brim.

Guilt shuts you down and makes it that much harder to start moving forward again.

When you’re determined to prove them wrong, you eat to the point of being sick….or work yourself to death. In our work, this shows up as burnout.

When you’re burned out, you’re standing still, looking at all the things you need to do and realizing you have absolutely no desire to do any of it. Which leads to, you guessed it, guilt.

But where did the desire go? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you killed it.

Since food analogies are the order of the day (wink wink har har), bear with me while I get kinda graphic.

Imagine you’re given a huge chocolate cake.

You loooovve chocolate cake more than anything and boast that you could totally finish it all in one sitting. The gauntlet is thrown.

Less than halfway into the cake you realize you can’t possibly do this, but you have your pride. And you don’t want anyone to question your love for cake.

So, you take a deep breath and keep eating.

It doesn’t take long before you can’t stand the cake any more. The flavor, texture, smell, all of it is revolting. You force yourself to find a zone where you can detach from your senses to keep going. You’re robotically going through the motions to get it down.

You know you have a problem. You know it’s disgusting. And you feel disgusting while you’re doing it.

You’d be happy to never see chocolate cake again for as long as you live.

That thing you used to love…that thing that has always made your crappiest days a bit more bearable….you just killed it.

We can’t do stuff that doesn’t feel good for very long. We start to hate ourselves.

Most of us have enough sense not to do this with chocolate cake. But we do it all the effin’ time with our work. With the very thing that feeds our soul.

This has to stop.

I’m not saying we can’t do all the world-changing projects we feel called to do. I’m not even saying we shouldn’t eat all of the foods we love to eat.

I’m just saying we can’t do it all right now. We can’t eat all the things in one sitting.

This is the obvious thing we seem to forget when we’re wrapped up in the moment. Forgetting this, doesn’t make you a failure. It just makes you human.

No…scratch that…it makes you a brilliantly creative, optimistic human who wholeheartedly believes in your own ability to get shit done.

But, if you want to stay in love with this work, it’s time to employ some portion control.

Strategic Planning is your portion control!

A strategic plan allows you to take all of the things you want to do and space them out in a way that avoids over-reaching and over-indulgence. It keeps you sane. It protects the things you love from your occasional over-optimism.

How have you over-estimated in the past? How will you plan so you don’t do it again?

You can start pacing yourself now by downloading the free Strategic Planning for Wanderers guidebook. {Get it now!}

This is exactly the bit of portion control you need.

Originally published in 2012 at larahritchie.com.

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