Interning at a design firm with a group of creatives obsessing over the minute details and fielding questions like why I used a particular color of tape to hold up a cord that was invisible to 97.5% of people has me beginning to think more about how I design my workspace. Last week I focused on the ergonomics of that workspace—my chair, or lack thereof, and experimented with the combination of a standing desk and exercise ball to see if the latest office health kick was worth the uncomfortable adjustment period.
Heading into this week, I decided to focus on something a little closer to my heart, food. In particular, I’ve been disappointed with my inability to control my office snacking habits. Finished an assignment, oh, better grab a handful of Peanut M&Ms. Stuck on this project, oh, better grab a handful of Peanut M&Ms. Finished a healthy and nutritious lunch, better fix this sweet tooth with a handful of Peanut M&Ms. Why Peanut M&Ms? I’m not sure exactly, maybe it’s because they’re an awesome combination of sweet and crunchy chocolatey goodness, maybe it’s because there are four two gallon bags in our office kitchen that sing my name in unison every time I walk past. Here I am, the founder of No Bad Apple, a company making high quality local and organic foods more accessible, and I’m still eating too much candy. Sugar doesn’t discriminate.
But is it really about Peanut M&Ms? Am I thinking about Peanut M&Ms when I’m home? When I’m out with friends? Absolutely not. So this week I set out to ditch the candy kick—one week, no Peanut M&Ms. How hard could it be?
To be clear, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo. I’ve set plenty of small lifestyle change goals and although it sounds cheesy, I’ve found it helps to use some sort of framework. Here are a few questions I’ll ask myself prior to diving in.
- Do you have a higher purpose? Why is this important?
- Is it a SMART goal? Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound
- Are you procrastinating? Get off your ass and do it.Are you trying to do too many things? Can you break the goal down into mini components?
Not to underestimate my small chocolate-covered opponent, I took a little bit of time to run through these questions.
- Higher Purpose: As someone who has very recently recovered from refractory Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a disease that scientists are beginning to understand as a disease of inflammation, I know that avoiding regular intake of sugary treats is paramount for keeping the disease at bay.
- SMART: Don’t eat sugary snacks at the office for 1 week. Simple.
- Procrastination: I’ll take on this challenge beginning Monday, 6/20 and ending Friday, 6/24.
- Is the goal too broad to take on at once? Absolutely not.
Destined for success, right?
Day one went rather smoothly. After a weekend visiting a friend in Durham, eating and drinking liberally, I was ready to get down to business. Sure, the cravings came, but my willpower was strong.
Tuesday rolls around and not wanting to let down its reputation as the worst day of the week, mounted a strong offensive. Clients bringing in warm chocolate goodies, Peanut M&Ms singing my name opera style from the kitchen, fatigue, inability to focus, I struggled through the afternoon and walked out of the office at 5:30 wondering how much time I had spent working vs. daydreaming about food.
Busy with much to do after a less than productive Tuesday, Wednesday morning was a breeze. I wolfed down a good lunch and contently soaked up my break time outside the office. About an hour after lunch was wrapping up the planning stage of a project when my sugar craving came on hard. In a fog, I moved towards the kitchen. I knew what I was doing but I pretended not to notice, as if someone else was controlling my body and I was just an innocent bystander. I’d battled through Monday and Tuesday but none of that mattered now as I observed this schmuck chomp down on a couple handfuls of Peanut M&Ms and walk back to his desk. Cue the feelings of self-worthlessness and disrespect. Sure, I knew it was far from the end of the world and that in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t those specific handfuls that would mean my demise, but crap, I really couldn’t stop myself from eating Peanut M&Ms for one week? One measly week!
It’s amazing how hard failure hits you. I mean here I was attempting a small lifestyle change that impacted no one else but myself. No one in the office even knew I was doing the experiment. Literally zero people aside from myself knew or cared about whether I succeeded or not, and yet, the failure was all too real. I wasn’t curled up under my desk crying, but I definitely experienced a strong sense of ineptitude.
Days later when I was discussing my failed experiment with my colleagues, they began asking pointed questions about how failure can lead to learning and in turn, to personal growth. So I started thinking about what I learned… For one, bosses aren’t always supportive of candy kicking experiments—after learning of my attempts, Elliot has proceeded to leave small cups of Peanut M&Ms scattered around the office. I also learned about the influence of habits and how seemingly harmless daily routines shape how we act and who we are. As a young professional entering the workforce, I feel this insight is particularly relevant and is something I’ll explore in more depth in next week’s posting as I make my second attempt to go sweets free at the office.
What’s struck me as particularly impactful, though, is how I’ve gone from failure to learning. If you had asked me what I learned in the minutes after I had caved and stuffed my face with M&Ms, I likely would’ve given you a very cynical outlook on the addictive power of sugar and its destructive influence on society at large. And while this foodie perspective may not be totally false, it’s not exactly newly acquired knowledge or evidence of personal growth. What happened between my unwanted chocolate binge and this constructive conversation with my coworkers?
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and you know that, but there’s a reason it’s become a cliché: time gives us the space to process our experiences without overwhelming emotional influence. As social beings, our brain is hardwired to devote an incredible amount of resources to perceiving social well-being and when something disrupts that status-quo—whether it’s a loss of someone close to us or a break-up it’s hard to do anything but feel. Likewise, when we experience failure, something we know is frowned upon by society, we internalize those feelings of inadequacy. Time, though, gives us distance from the paralyzing effects of feeling and allows us to reflect on other elements; the great moments we had with that loved one, why that break-up was necessary for personal growth, or what that failure has taught us.
Sorry I’m getting all deep here, it might be the chocolate withdrawals taking effect.