Fish and Chip Therapy
It’s been over six weeks since I’ve been out to a shop or interacted face to face with others outside my COVID-19 bubble. This week our lockdown restrictions enabled takeaways to open up. Whoop whoop - throughout the previous six weeks I had thought the one thing I wanted to enjoy was fish and chips. I could just imagine how delicious they would taste. The chip buttie with dripping butter and tomato sauce. And so with great anticipation the fish and chips were laid out on the table and consumed, savouring the flavour, texture and aroma. And it wasn’t as good as I had anticipated.
Which got me thinking - how often do we miss something because of the anticipation we create rather than the reality?
When coaching clients one of the first things I get people to do is write down what their life will look like in 10-15 years. They need to describe the details of this life, the kind of place they will be living (colours, shapes, size of house), the type of people they spend time with, the types of activities that they do on a daily/weekly/monthly/annual basis. What clothes they are wearing, the smells that surround them, the music.
I then get them to break the vision down into single items eg beautiful art on the walls. Most people end up with a list of 50 - 100 “items” and each week they do three things. One is for today - to create immediate action, the second is something that they will do everyday that week - to create consistency and good habits and the third is something that is a gift to their future self.
The reason that this is the first step, no matter what, is that most people don’t actually know what they want. They have a vague idea of some aspects, but tell them they have a magic wand that expires in an hour and panic would overcome them as they try and figure out what it is they want their future to be.
So once someone has that vision sorted is that it? Hell no! We, hopefully, are always growing, through new experiences and knowledge gained. As we grow, what we once thought we wanted, often changes. And this is fine - change is good. It means you are growing. It means you are expanding yourself and hopefully creating a life that you actively participate and thrive in.
Too often though we resist the change. We create these “expectations” about something or someone and cling to this often incorrect perception of what it would be like to have/be with. Our minds are wired to seek out information that confirms our beliefs and ignore, or place less weighting on, information that contradicts these beliefs. It does this because it takes less energy to reinforce existing knowledge. “Yup - seen this before and this is what happens” done. But change and growth do require energy and effort. It requires us to question our initial reaction or conclusion. It also requires us to stop the “story” we have going around in our heads.
Take my fish and chips. When I was growing up fish and chips were a real treat - so my brain filed the fish and chip experience into my reward centre. They represented fun, special times. Just the smell of a packet being ripped open and the salty vinegar smell hits my nostrils induces a feeling of “ahhhh”. Fish and chips were the meal we were enjoying when my husband proposed to me - yep fish and chips are associated with wonderful things. As I got older and was a parent myself, the fish and chips still rewarded me - they saved me time, no cooking, no dishes so again the fish and chip experience was reinforced as a reward. My brain was ignoring the downside consuming fish and chips has on your health. It ignored that feeling of brain fog and lethargy that inevitably followed this meal.
“Nope I don’t want to take the effort to acknowledge those facts - I’d then need to reevaluate something I currently don’t have to think about!”
Reflection and readjustment are two habits we should all get good at. When we do this we need to be careful that we don’t create a vortex of self loathing due to past action though. Remember you were doing the best you could with the information and skills you had. You now know better so can now do better. My latest fish and chip experience has moved it from the reward part of my filing system to something I really don’t need. My reflection identified it wasn’t the fish and chips themselves that were the joy and reward trigger - they just happened to be part of those experiences.
Take some time to think about something or someone you’ve been missing and try and take a clear slate to what it means. Is it the thing or the person - or is it the experiences you’ve had with them that you associate with good times. I’m not for one minute saying this thing or person isn’t what brings you joy. If they do make sure you make time for it/them and be grateful they are part of your life. No one is promised tomorrow.
So I’ve now had an adjustment to my own future vision and perhaps it doesn’t include as much fish and chips as it had before but I’m certain it will involve those same people creating more memories to cherish.