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Fear of change

I recently started intermittent fasting. It’s partially an experiment (my husband is really into health and nutrition) and partially due to a genuine desire to lose a few pounds. Ever since I settled into my comfortable office job I seem to gradually gain weight unless I do something about it.

It’s ironic I chose intermittent fasting as my diet though. I’ve dieted only once before and what I liked about it was that I could still eat three times a day. Fasting, which means skipping meals, plays into one of my big fears: feeling hangry and potentially nauseous when I work or travel. I hate that feeling so much I don’t go anywhere without snacks or candy in my bag.

But when I realized my fear of skipping meals might be a bit irrational, I wanted to test it. Because I’ve noticed lately that getting over fears can be a really rewarding experience—not in the least because it got me the job I have today! But there are many other examples I hadn’t previously thought about that also have to do with overcoming the fear of changing things up.

Scary to me

For example, I was scared to become vegan.  What would people say? What if I missed meat too much? What if I’d die an unexpected death due to vitamin B12 deficiency? These fears felt very real. Six years later I’m about 90% vegan, I eat healthier than ever, and I couldn’t care less about what people say. It was challenging to go from eating meat daily to a diet that’s 100% vegan (I was really strict for the first three years), but there was definitely nothing scary about it. And being a part-time vegan is totally fine, too.

I guess humans just aren’t wired to change lifelong habits. Whenever we consider doing something radically new or different our minds play tricks on us making us feel discouraged. Irrational fears derail plans to get into sports or change diets, or find a better job, by reminding us that the last time we tried it didn’t really work out. Fear makes us believe and accept it’s better to keep things the way they are.

I don’t think about myself as a fearful person yet something is always holding me back from doing things that are good for me, or experience and achieve something amazing.

Running is also a good example. I became a running enthusiast around the age of 25, but I took long breaks from running due to pregnancy, concerns about the weather, getting enough sleep, and generally feeling like I’m not a good athlete anyway. Once I got over all of those things and I was starting to get good, I stopped because my knees hurt and I was scared of damaging them. Until I realized the cause of the pain was perfectly treatable: train more and pronate correctly! Now I’m running more races than ever, pain free. I’m even finishing at or near the top of my age group sometimes! It’s become a healthy habit and a fun hobby. I can’t believe I wasted so much time worrying and almost gave it up.

Stupid questions

Another example is about a 4-month intensive fitness program called Thinner Leaner Stronger I did a few years ago. It involved a ton of weightlifting and calorie counting. I lost 15 pounds and felt really strong. However, before I lifted a single weight I emailed the creator of the program with an URGENT question: what to do if my legs became too muscular for my taste? I cringe now thinking I was actually worried about this. Obviously, your legs don’t develop huge unsightly muscles overnight! And you can always just stop doing leg exercises…

I asked a stupid question, which is what people do. Last week I was at a literary festival attending a talk by a famous Indian podcaster. He was explaining he encountered a steep learning curve and that he tweaked his show a lot in the beginning. An audience member stood up and asked “How do you make sure you don’t lose yourself?“ As if a podcaster, just because he improves his format, suddenly doesn’t recognize himself anymore! The guy who asked the question has probably never made a podcast in his life but was already worried putting himself out there might change him.

Embrace change

My line of work certainly helped me to embrace change. As a diplomat, I like working in new countries in new positions because it keeps things fresh. But it took a long time for me to accept that even the challenging parts of these changes are okay, good even. Having to start all over with meeting people and being the new person in the office is deeply uncomfortable, but it’s also an opportunity to be a better version of myself than the last time. The more I can let go of the anxiety around having to make a good impression and proving myself, the more I can enjoy the fun parts of this lifestyle.

So what else is holding me back? What’s my next challenge? One thing I’m nervous about is getting my diving certification, which is on my agenda for next month. It’s been a year since I decided that’s something I really want to do even though I'm a little scared. Another thing is looking at my finances to make some proper investments. It’s surprising how often I’ve just put financial planning on the backburner, feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. But it turns out you can make some really smart money decisions with just a few well-considered moves.

Oh, and intermittent fasting of course! I’m four weeks into it now and it’s working well for me. I’m losing about a pound per week, which seems about the max you would want to lose on a diet. I should probably eat a little bit more, in fact, since this is not supposed to be crash diet. The point is: despite the fact that I’ve been eating breakfast my whole life, and I never went very long without junky snack foods, it took no time at all to get used to skipping it altogether. Who knew?



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