Every time I go to the supermarket I battle with myself as I walk past the jars of peanut butter. I love peanut butter. I’m usually pretty restrained, but I know if I buy it I’ll end up eating it by the spoonful in random moments of hunger or boredom.
I convince myself that it’s a high protein snack, compatible with my dietary regime but I know in truth that having it around is a bad idea. In spite of the self-evident pros and cons, I’ll often grab a jar on the premise that the kids like it too.
Often they don’t get a chance though and within days, the jar is empty thanks to me. Bring on the guilt and the minor self-loathing.
Why do I do it to myself? I exercise regularly and don’t struggle with my weight but I know that I’d be better off without it.
The answer — I’m responsible for putting the temptation in my own way. I’m complicit in creating conditions within which I’m destined to fail.
I may claim that I want to live healthily and eat sensibly and consciously but I’m responsible for there being tasty, high-fat high-protein treats in the house, that I can’t resist.
It’s on me.
I’m an avid listener of the Tim Ferriss Show and recall enjoying his interview with ‘The Coach with the Spider Tattoo’ — Jerry Colonna. The discussion came up in a recent episode too, reminding me of a quote that struck me as relevant to my life when I first heard it.
It reminded me of the many ways in which I have invited problems into my life in the past, and continue to do so to this day.
“How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” — Jerry Colonna
The question is posed by Colonna to prompt self-reflection. In the interview, he unpacked the rationale behind the question itself and the specifics of the language.
It is intended to prompt reflection on aspects of our life that we find challenging or unpalatable. By focusing on our complicity in creating those conditions (rather than making ourselves responsible for them) Colonna’s premise is that we should be better able to understand the ways in which we may alter the situation for the better.
I appreciate that some will find their resolve to change is lessened if they can’t see beyond their responsibility for things. To be complicit in creating those conditions rather than solely responsible may be an important distinction for these individuals being able to see their way out of the woods.
Personally, I feel that the question is equally valuable whether I’m complicit or responsible. Either way, it ends up with me being the person who is on the hook and who has the power to change at least something about the situation.
The buck stops here.
When I first heard the question it unlocked an uncomfortable train of thought and reflection. In every situation that I’ve categorised as difficult or unpleasant throughout my life, I see numerous instances where I’ve been responsible or complicit for things.
- I chose to enter into the argumentative, volatile and toxic relationships that veered between romance and bitter conflict. I played my part in the arguments and filled a role in the process of making up and pretending that things would be okay and somehow different ‘next time’.
- At times when I’ve allowed my fitness to wane and gained weight, I chose to neglect exercise and make the poor dietary choices. I conjured up excuses and let myself off from applying the discipline. I may have blamed others for buying the beers and junk food, but I’m the one who consumed them. I chose to self-medicate and compensate for emotional hurt with food and alcohol.
- The burden of debt that caused sleepless nights and hours of anxious procrastination came about through my own reckless spending and living beyond my means. These were intended to offset other unhappiness in my life rather than confront and deal with the issues at root. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
I could go on but you get the point.
In each situation, there were undoubtedly other factors, circumstances and individuals that played their part. At the same time, there were ways in which I was complicating things, adding layers of difficulty to my own life through my actions, choices and behaviours.
I was complicit. I was responsible.
Focus on the solution, not the problem.
When the big picture of life seems insurmountable, too big and scary to break down or overcome then it’s easy to slip into despair and despondency.
Using a question like the above can be helpful in breaking bigger problems into smaller chunks. It diverts attention away from the whole, and forces us to look instead for the bits can be controlled and changed for the better.
The approach aligns with Stoic philosophy which I find so helpful and applicable in my life. I’m reminded to surrender to the fact that there are events in life that I cannot control, and to focus my energies instead on what I do and how I respond to things.
I can spend my time griping, feeling that the situation is unjust or too much to bear or I can focus instead on the aspects of it that might be mine to rectify or change for the better.
If I’m bothered by the soreness and stiffness that follows for days after a workout, maybe I need to stretch more often, focus on my posture while sat at my computer and devote more time to yoga than to weight-training.
When I feel frustrated at my kids for having their smartphones perpetually in hand, swiping and pawing at the screen then maybe I should consider whether I’m modelling the right behaviours in my own usage? I may legitimise my use in that I’m browsing email and the news rather than Instagram or Snapchat — but they see me doing exactly what I complain about them doing and the weight of my argument is lost.
If I’m concerned about the stability and longevity of my employment in times of economic uncertainty then perhaps I should focus more time on saving money and building a second income stream rather than fretting or distracting myself with doom-scrolling through social media.
If I know I’m going to struggle restraining myself when there’s peanut butter in the house then I’m better off not buying it in the first place.
When I’m complicit in creating the situation that I then lament, it’s my responsibility to do what I can to change it.
Take some of your own advice.
We all know that it’s easier to solve others’ problems than to tackle our own:
- You’re stuck in a boring, demoralising or lowly paid job? Retrain, learn a new skill and look for something better.
- Feeling neglected, unloved or unappreciated in a relationship? Take steps to confront and resolve the issues, rekindle the fire or bring it to a dignified end.
- Overweight and unfit? Start eating more healthily and take some exercise instead of lamenting the fact.
When it comes to diagnosing and rectifying our own issues things suddenly feel more confusing and nuanced.
Taking a prompt like that provided by Jerry Collona has been useful to me in viewing my own problems through an alternative lens to figure out what I could actually do to change things for the better.
Maybe it will help you in trying to see aspects of your own challenges that are of your own making and which can be tweaked and changed for the better too?
How are you complicit in or responsible for the struggles that you are now facing?