I gave up drinking Diet Coke with the dedication I used to possess a few months ago. Mostly this happened because I found other sources of caffeine that make my body feel better than Diet Coke. But I used to have a ritual of going through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get a Diet Coke in the morning. It was a little, inexpensive treat to start my day. So today, I found myself driving past McDonald’s on my way to fill up at Costco and I felt this desire for a Diet Coke. I had a little internal dialogue about it (of course you did, Michelle!).
Michelle: I want a Diet Coke.
Michelle: You don’t even like the taste of it in the morning anymore. You’ll get it and drink like two sips and then be done with it.
Michelle: That’s true but I think what I want is the experience. I want the nostalgia of going through the drive-thru. Saying those words, Large Diet Coke with light ice, please. I want the feeling.
Michelle: So this isn’t about the Diet Coke? Then why spend a dollar on it?
Michelle: You’re right. I don’t have to do this. I can skip it. But that feels like resisting. I could also frame it this way: For one dollar, I can have the experience of reliving this past experience and I have permission, up front, to not drink the Diet Coke if it doesn’t taste good. In fact, I’m going to know up front that I will only drink a little and I’ll throw the rest away. And that will be fine because what I’m allowing myself, and what I’m paying for, is the experience, and giving myself that experience right now feels like love.
So went through the drive-thru, said those magic words and a Diet Coke appeared in my car. I drank a little. And I didn’t really like it. So I let it sit in my center console and ride around with me and then I threw it away when it got warm. And it was all fine.
Why am I telling this story?
Because I think it demonstrates an important principle I’ve observed. I admitted to having a life coach in this previous post and explained the skills I’ve learned from it. One of the aspects of Jody Moore’s Be Bold program is that you can listen to coaching calls, where other members of the community are coached over the internet. It’s a powerful way to learn the tools because it’s so easy to identify the errors and pitfalls in another’s thinking, and while being totally oblivious to your own.
Something I’ve observed while listening to these calls, and from observing myself, is that people are wanting what I wanted—control. Control is awesome because you get to feel like you have some power. You get to put your hands out and feel the walls of the box you’ve created around yourself. And it’s cozy!
Often what brings people to life coaching is that they don’t like the position of one of the walls of their box. Maybe their husband isn’t following the manual they have in their head on how to be a husband. Maybe they’ve lost a child. Maybe they have a mother-in-law that makes life difficult. Whatever it is, they keep bumping into the side of the box. So for someone looking for control, thought work is a skill that helps you to remodel the box. Maybe you can set that wall back farther or build a little outcropping over here. This is a great skill. It makes it so you can learn to be comfortable with less-than-ideal circumstances.
My observation is that a lot of people that get into coaching, learn this skill and stop there. And I think this is a travesty. Maybe that’s too strong of a word, but there is something so beautiful beyond learning to remodel a box—and that is to get rid of it completely.
That’s right! Burn the damn box. You don’t need it.
So let me explain with my Diet Coke story. Last year when I was learning about numbing and using food or spending as a coping skill for the stress of life, if I had to make this Diet Coke decision, I would have heard that voice in my head chiding me for a stupid desire. I would have gone on my way with the unanswered desire living inside of me, completely unvoiced (because it wasn’t really about Diet Coke anyway, was it?). I might have even counted this as a victory, an example of me being intentional in the way I was living by choosing to not waste money or drink something that makes me feel bad. I would effectively be pressing my hand into the wall of my surrounding box and feeling the sense of control that comes with that barrier.
The problem with this strategy is that I’ve found those unanswered desires build up. [Read here]. And that build-up becomes and untenable weight on my soul. Yes people!—even the desire for Diet Coke is too heavy to bear! I guess, for me, I lived from that place of absolute willpower and white knuckles and brute strength for long enough that I don’t want to do it—not for another moment.
Back to Diet Coke! I was still within myself. I listened. And the compassionate voice appeared (I’m getting to know her better all the time!). She was the one who had the presence of mind to explain what was behind the desire for Diet Coke: nostalgia, longing for familiarity and comfort. So reasonable, right!?! Honestly, after she spoke, I could have turned away from McDonald’s and gone on my way in peace. I decided to get the Diet Coke because I wanted to—that’s it. And the reward for going deeper, for listening longer, for sitting quietly with myself, is that I get to feel unburdened. I don’t need to drink the Diet Coke or resist it to feel okay. Either behavior is fine because I—capital I—am okay.
That is life without the box. That is finding the golden cord.
I think the fear in me would say to this—Well that’s great but if you’re always living this way you will waste all your money on partially-drunk Diet Cokes and you’ll never do anything hard because you’re not willing to do anything that requires willpower.
But that’s silly! I do hard things all the time. I am very interested in doing hard things. One of the hardest things I’ve done is to dismantle the box around me. One of the hardest things I’ve done is to begin learn to trust myself. One of the hardest things I’ve done is to learn to love myself. One of the hardest things I’ve done is to learn to accept this present moment in all of its imperfection. These are the hard things I’m interested in.
That doesn’t mean that food and beverage choices are irrelevant. Actually they are completely relevant. The way we choose to honor the inner voice is in these millions of tiny decisions. Food programs and thought work can strip away the bullshit reasons we give ourselves for eating and drinking the things we do. So do the food programs, do the thought work but let it bring you to consciousness. See the box, feel the box… then burn it!
I love how you make your thinking visible! This whole box analogy though. I’ve given it some thought and wonder if burning the box is a good idea for me. I’m not even sure what that would look like! The parts of my box that need work are getting worked on, I believe. I hesitate to say I am comfortable in my box, because that sounds like I don’t want to grow! But freedom is not my highest value, and maybe that is age appropriate? I don’t know! I do know that wonderful feeling you described about buying the coke JUST BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO! Yes, yes, yes! And at other times, saying NO, at least for me, allows me to say, GOOD JOB, you lived your commitment today. You can trust yourself to do what you committed to do! One person whose work I’ve also admired is Jodi Moore’s life coach, Brooke Castillo. Her podcasts are in a similar vein, but different. She has one on URGES, and she encourages us to feel the urge, not resist it, but also not to give into it. Huh? Not sure what that looks like either! I love thinking about these things, and I love reading how you’re using some of these same ideas. And now it’s spring and warmer and everything is so much better for me and my mental health! Sunshine and warmth (and getting outside in it) is worth a thousand intentional thoughts!!! Thanks for listening…and know that I think and consider so much more of what you write than I respond to. You are a wonder. Love you.
I really like your thoughts on this. So, the box burning is still controversial in my mind. Whether one can actually burn the box–if it’s even possible. Clearly this idea is not right for everyone, or maybe even most. I’ve wondered why it has been helpful for me. I suspect it’s a combination of my personality, upbringing and life experience. Burning the box has been terrifying but also very liberating for me–but it’s certainly not the thing for everyone. The thing I hold as universal truth is that we get to decide for ourselves if we want a box and what it looks like. God doesn’t love the box–he loves us.
And this is such a beautiful to know. Maybe the box helps some people find that. For me, burning the box brought me there. Love you!!!
Oh, Michelle, I love what you wrote here: “God doesn’t love the box–he loves us.” Beautifully said. I love you, too, and am so grateful you are sharing your journey.