Many days, I wake up and feel like the person I see in the mirror is the exact same person that I’ve seen for what feels like my entire life. I don’t always see the 30 pounds that I’ve lost this year. I don’t see all of the struggles I’ve overcame. It can be a depressing thought. Self-examination can be hard because on a day-to-day basis we focus on the minutia of our being instead of examining the broader picture of ourselves and our progress that unfolds over weeks, months, or even years. This tendency to focus on the small details can cause us great anxiety and send us spiraling into a pit of despair. The good news is that it can be easy to avoid or alleviate these feelings by reminding ourselves that change is often a byproduct of consistent effort put in over time. As humans, our entire existence revolves around change. Certain aspects of our lives, such as our appearance or status in life seem to be set in stone, but change in these areas is inevitable. This is true of all things living or not. For example, to the naked eye, Niagara Falls looks the same today as it did fifty years ago, but we know that underneath the flowing water, the bedrock is slowly eroding away and changing constantly.
In a similar sense, our bedrock is eroding and changing much the same as that of the mighty, thunderous falls. The difference between us and the cascading waters is that we have a vastly greater amount of control over our erosion. While there are some factors that we can’t control, we can choose to “erode” with grace and become finer with age, much like the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon our parents are waiting until retirement to open. Part of that graceful erosion includes being patient as we seek change in various areas of our life. The changes that we’re often looking for are things that happen over weeks and months, and it’s important to remind ourselves that impatience is a door that leads only to failure.
A great example of impatience leading to failure is the quest to lose weight. Ask anybody that has lost a significant amount of weight in a healthy manner, and has kept the weight off, if it happened over the course of 3 or 4 days or 3 or 4 months, or most likely longer, depending on how much weight the individual lost. But flip that coin over and take a look at the coworker that we all have that is constantly trying to lose the same ten pounds over and over again. Instead of realizing that weight loss is a process that takes time, they’re constantly looking for the quick fixes and trying all kinds of crazy methods that claim to be magic. They get stuck in a cycle of yo-yo dieting and spend months and years simply spinning their wheels without making any real, measurable progress.
Reflecting on our progress and actually attaining the changes we desire will likely need to be approached the same way that successful, sustainable fat loss is- with time, patience, and consistency. This means that on a day-to-day basis, we need to cut ourselves a little slack when we don’t see the changes that we envision we will see in the future. Too often, we look in the mirror and question the process because the results aren’t immediate. Instead, understanding the time that it takes, and appreciating that time and the experiences that come with it as it passes will help reduce self-ridicule and unrealistic expectations. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, go look in the mirror and say, “I’m doing the best that I can and as long as I keep doing that I will achieve my goals.” Emphasizing a focus on winning small battles is the way that we win the war. Trying to win the war all at once instead of fighting each battle individually is how we lose and end up being forced to wave the white flag.
Psychologist Erik Erikson developed a theory that involved eight stages, and he believed that as human beings develop in a healthy manner, we should go through each of these stages. The eighth and final stage is labeled Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This stage is the level that we reach around retirement age, and this is the time that Erikson hypothesized that we look back at our lives and make a determination about how we spent our time. Did we lead lives that we’re proud of and feel that we accomplished what we wanted to (Ego Integrity)? Or, did we lead unfulfilling lives that left a lot to be desired (Despair)?
Right now, you’re on the path to Erikson’s eighth stage. There is nothing stopping you from reaching that stage and achieving Ego Integrity. Sure, some of us are dealt hands that aren’t ideal, but if Doyle Brunson can manage to win the World Series of Poker Main Event with a hand of 10-2, statistically one of the worst starting hands possible, then there’s nothing stopping you from making the most of your hand no matter how suboptimal your situation is.
Set small, attainable goals. Take steps towards those goals every single day. Appreciate the experiences that you have on the way to those goals. If we do this, then it’s a certain thing that we will be able to look into the mirror every night and be happy at the reflection looking back at us, and subsequently achieve Ego Integrity when the time comes.