When faced with a problem or other imperfect but improvable aspect of your life, do you bend yourself, or bend the world?
Let’s say you want to eat less and better food, but your response to stress is to indulge in unhealthy snacks.
To staunch your stress-eating you can simply stop buying those snacks and avoid places that sell them, which puts up walls between you and your habit so that it isn’t an option. You can also get an app that helps reinforce not eating such things, or ask a friend to keep an eye on you, giving them permission to call you out when you break your positive, non-stress-snacking habits. These are external solutions to an internal problem.
Alternatively, you can step back and ask yourself what the root cause of this unhealthy reflex might be. You can exercise your willpower muscle and stop yourself from eating the snacks that seem to be everywhere and readily available. You can recognize that you’ll fail a bit in doing so, and will have to suffer through weeks or months of imperfect eating as a result, but over time will become capable of fighting your negative reflexes mentally, controlling your own habits and your own body, rather than depending on external factors to keep you from doing things you know you shouldn’t do.
This latter concept runs counter to much of the self-improvement dogma that abounds these days. It won’t sell any self-help books or New Years resolution apps. It won’t move high-end step-counters or graphical weight-trackers.
But it does help improve our lives and reduce our dependencies.
When you think of dependency, what probably comes to mind are addictions to things like drugs or alcohol. But leaning on external crutches of any kind can become a dependency.
Bending the world around you, rather than bending yourself to the world, works really well until it doesn’t and you find yourself in a place where you can’t help but be exposed to snacks or ideas or routines or responsibilities that are toxic to the lifestyle you want to enjoy. These are toxins to which you never built up an internal resistance, reliant as you were on outside factors to protect you from them. You never took the time to build up your own immunities.
Some of these world-bending technologies and externalized habits can help us get to where we want to be, but many are one-size-fits-all gimmicks that are meant to sell products, which in turn sell lifestyles that don’t actually fit what we want; they instead tell us what we’re supposed to want. When we fail to fit inside the well-branded, cookie-cutter shapes we buy into (or monetarily buy), we berate ourselves for being weak or incapable, and end up less confident and more fragile than before.
Ideally, these tricks and tactics are just small parts of a larger strategy. Ideally, we build ourselves up internally, ensuring that we needn’t lean on gimmicks or gizmos to make it through life and to become better versions of ourselves.
Ideally, to avoid snacking when we really don’t want to, we should possess the willpower not to indulge, rather than merely avoiding the source of our craving. Avoidance and dependency are not stable, long-term solutions: they’re crutches. And like crutches of any kind, they’re not things you want to lean on your entire life. You use them until your muscles are strong enough to hold you, crutch-less, and then set forth on your own, unbound and unaided.
If there’s something in your life that’s holding you back, that’s keeping you from attaining a goal or becoming the person you’d like to be, pay careful attention to what you’re bending in order to alleviate the issue and attain a more ideal shape.
Are you bending the world, relying on the involvement and cooperation of infinite variables and other people with other needs? Or are you bending yourself, slowly building up the psychological musculature to understand and control your own desires, reflexes, and responses?
One of these is sustainable over time and helps us grow as capable, confident individuals, and one is faster, easier, and branded to be sexier.