15 Steps to Navigate Conflict – Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 3

There are plenty of good blog entries, books, and sermons about a Biblical look at handling conflict, and there doesn’t need to be another. This instead is a collection of practical steps I’ve learned to take when walking through conflict to achieve minimum blood loss. Each of these steps represents a lesson that I’ve learned in my life, many of them very recently.

I’m terrible at dealing with conflict, at least my natural tendency is to be terrible at dealing with conflict. Though I’m still not great at it, I think that over the last ten years I’ve gotten much better at dealing with conflict largely due to the fact that I’ve listened to lots of good advice on the topic. There are several related books I would recommend. In college I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which talks a lot about conflict, especially in habits 4,5,6. I also read The 5 Dysfunctions of at Team which outlines the way to diagnose conflict in its early stages. Pretty early on in my career, my boss recommended that I read Crucial Conversations and Leadership and Self-Deception. I also recently read Boundaries and Daring Greatly – which I’d recommend for everyone as well. All of these books have contributed to my understanding of conflict.

Before I jump in I do want to say that I’m not really addressing the issue of abuse in this entry. This list is about necessary conflict, not unnecessary rude and or hurtful behavior. So when I talk about staying and fighting it out, I’m not saying that a person should stay in an abusive situation. I’m saying that you shouldn’t give up on a necessary argument when it gets heated. the book Boundaries is probably the best book about dealing with emotionally abusive people and I recommend everyone read it. If you’re in a physically abusive relationship don’t bother with the book; find help and get out now.

The reality is that in adulthood you need to fight your own battles. If you call yourself and adult, never let a parent, a boss, a friend, a spouse, and definitely not a child fight a battle that only you should be fighting. Aside from the fact that getting more people involved in a conflict rarely makes it easier, if it is truly your battle then the easiest route to its resolution is going to be through your involvement – not through someone else’s.

I’m addressing conflict between coworkers and friends, but I believe most of these could apply to marriage as well. I just can’t speak to that from experience. I will say that a major difference in a relationship is that the relationship has to take precedence over who is “right” whereas in a work situation, you can’t have a productive environment if you can’t first agree on basic truths – and to do that you might have to have some conflict.

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[home_callout2_line]#1 CHOOSE[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]YOUR BATTLES[/home_callout2_line]
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This one is pretty cliche, and, at least in my experience, Christians are more likely to avoid conflict entirely than to be overly aggressive, but it is a challenge for some. One of the things that is important to realize when dealing with people is that everyone has an emotional bank account with you. Not that everyone keeps score, but everyone has a natural need for there be a balance of trust versus questions, of compliments and criticisms, of endorsements or arguments. Keep this in mind when choosing which conflicts to pursue. Just like with a fiscal bank account, you don’t want to spend all your equity on something and then realize later that you need it for something more important. Be sparing with your choice of what to challenge and how far to take it. Ask questions before you dive headlong into it. It’s never bad to respectfully ask a person why they’ve made a choice from a point of curiosity and then explain why you might’ve done something different, but recognize that if you go further you’re entering into a conflict. If you spend your emotional equity well then managing conflict can become very easy and over time heated conflicts will become very rare.

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[home_callout2_line]#2 ACCEPT THAT CONFLICT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]IS OFTEN NECESSARY[/home_callout2_line]
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I was in an argument with someone on a Christian facebook group. It was civil, but when I referred to our exchange as an argument, the other guy said that it wasn’t an argument, but rather a discussion. I told him that I was presenting an argument, that he was presenting an argument – so what do you call that? We’ve come to a place where the very word “argument” denotes something bad. In reality sometimes you have to make arguments to get to the truth. A court case is a slow, drawn out argument that is often totally necessary. At times people will refer to certain scriptures about unwholesome talk and say that it means we’re not supposed to get into arguments which is a flagrant misuse of scripture, and a spiritual manipulation tactic often used to squelch disagreements. At times the only way to get to where you need to go is to wade through some tough conflict.

No, not all conflict is necessary, but in the church there seems to be a really messed up idea that a lack of conflict is a measure of success. Conflict doesn’t have to be heated, it certainly doesn’t have to be unkind, it doesn’t have to be violent. But one of the ways God reveals his will is through the fellowship of believers. Part of that fellowship is going to include disagreements. And while not all conflict is necessary conflict itself is a given in life and a lack of conflict is NOT a sign of success.

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[home_callout2_line]#3 DO NOT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]Overreact[/home_callout2_line]
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If someone blindsides you with a passing challenge, or sudden bit of negative feedback it is tough not to jump into a heated conflict. It’s especially tough if the person was inconsiderate in the way they addressed it. Often times a poorly worded thought or thoughtless comment is just that – thoughtless – and because it hurt, your lizard brain wants to either run away or hurt them back. Take a deep breath and don’t create a conflict where there isn’t one yet. I’m terrible at this. If someone says something that bothers me I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut about it. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was how to recognize when I need to respond to something and when I can just let it pass. It was amazingly freeing in meetings when I realized that I don’t have to respond to every mild criticism or every sideways comment. If someone’s inconsiderate remark is really bothersome it’s probably better to address in private, after a meeting and do so in a way that doesn’t assume the person was trying to be hurtful. Plus, given some time you may realize that it’s not a battle worth choosing.

Not overreacting and addressing things in private is a great way to avoid unnecessary conflict and in many ways will help you choose only the important battles. This is often hard to keep in mind because we have a tenancy to only choose one of two options when we’re faced with conflict.

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[home_callout2_line]#4 CHOOSE THE [/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]THIRD OPTION[/home_callout2_line]
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In Crucial Conversations the larger part of the discussion is on the fact that our natural tendency is to either run from conflict or to dominate our way to the conflict’s conclusion. It’s animal instinct; fight or flight. Neither way will really get you what you need. Running away will just make the conflict worse in the long-run. Dominating things will make other people resent you and will make other conflicts worse. Notice I said “dominate” not “shout” that’s because you don’t have to be super aggressive to dominate an argument. Mentioning your position on the org chart might be enough to dominate a conversation in the work place. “Well, let me remind you I’m your supervisor…” That’ll end the conflict, but it won’t help you with the next one.

[pullquote animation=”fadeInUp” align=”left or right”]”When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth” – Patrick Lincioni[/pullquote]

The third option is simple, but often difficult – stay and reason it out. The process is long and it might get heated, but if you stick with it and don’t let them stop talking and don’t stop listening until they’re finished, you might find out that your position does actually need some alteration, and they might as well. It is much, much harder than the other ways of doing things, but once it’s done, it’s done for good and each conflict gets easier because as Patrick Lincioni says, once you’ve established trust, conflict is just getting to the truth.

Sometimes knowing there is a third option is the key to avoiding unnecessary conflict. I remember how huge this revelation was for me. After I read Crucial Conversations, I was in a meeting where I got some negative feedback. I felt my pulse quicken and blood rush to my face. I then remembered that I could choose not to react. I took a deep breath and listened. Basically what was said was fair, but I also knew the story behind the scenes justified why it all had happened, but I realized the people in the room didn’t need to know that, they just needed to know that I heard the feedback. I thanked the person for their feedback and the conversation moved on.

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[home_callout2_line]#5 LISTEN[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]AND VALIDATE[/home_callout2_line]
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The greatest and first thing you can always do to diffuse tension is to validate the other person’s feelings. You can validate them without agreeing with their reasoning. If someone says “I feel depressed because you don’t care about me.” and you immediately say “I don’t care about you? Of course I do! I bought you dinner just last night!” then you start arguing about whether or not you actually DO care then you’ve missed the most important part of that sentence. “I feel depressed” is what you must address first. Tell them that you don’t want them to be depressed, and that you understand how hard it is to feel that way. Try to ask them why they feel that they’re not cared for and then you might kindly remind them about last night’s dinner. If you validate a person’s feelings before disagreeing with them you’re more likely to get them to listen to you when you explain your feelings.

In Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the 5th habit is “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” He talks about how some psychologists believe that the most basic human emotional need is to be understood – not even agreed with, but understood. By listening, repeating their position back, agreeing where you can, empathizing where you can, and asking if they feel understood, you can often end the conflict outright. Covey also says that most conflicts in relationships come about because of unexpressed thought about roles and goals.

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[home_callout2_line]#6 FIGHT FAIR, KEEP YOUR COOL[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]AND APOLOGIZE[/home_callout2_line]
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There are whole books on how to argue in a fair way. Keeping to the matter at hand, not bringing up past arguments, being reasonable, and not interrupting are all important parts of this. When debating someone, getting heated isn’t always avoidable, but there’s no need to loose your cool completely. To avoid this, make sure that you’re only ever addressing the problem and you’re not attacking the person. “You always…” and “You never…” are generally untrue statements and they will not help the discussion. If you do loose your cool, apologize. Don’t say the word “But” after apology. Use statements of feeling and word pictures. “I’m sorry that I reacted. It was wrong of me. I think the reason why I got so upset is because when you’re late I feel like I’m just an extra in your movie.” Once again you have to listen and hear when you’ve hurt a person.

Some people think apologizing denotes a feeling. This is totally false. Some people think that apologizing for your actions means that you’re conceding the argument. Also false. Apologizing in the midst of conflict is primarily admitting that your actions (whether by intention or not) may have caused hurt and that you don’t want that hurt to get in the way of the discussion. You can apologize for hurting a person’s feelings and still discuss the truth. It is important that you clear the air before you get to the truth. Otherwise they’ll probably not come to you next time and they’ll just hold a grudge instead. I’ll say it again: Apologize if you caused hurt, otherwise you may totally win the argument and lose the person, in which case you have actually lost the conflict. “Winning” is more than demonstrating your right to the point that the other person doesn’t have a response. Oh, and “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology, and if it is said to a person attuned to that kind of manipulative language it will only make it worse.

On keeping your cool: Just because you don’t raise your voice doesn’t mean you’re keeping your cool. If you interrupt, take a condescending tone, or make sideways comments about the other person’s opinions being less valid, then you’re not keeping your cool. Also smiling and/or laughing during a serious conflict DEFINITELY does not mean keeping your cool. It communicates to the other person that you’re scoffing at them or you’re not taking the discussion seriously. Keeping your cool means being totally in the moment, being serious without being angry, and being respectful and sympathetic to the person.

The easiest way to maintain your cool is to make sure you don’t demonize the person or over-simplify their argument. You really need to try to understand what they’re disagreeing with you on before you can find a resolution. Which leads us to the next item…

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[home_callout2_line]#7 TRY TO[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]GET TO THE ROOT[/home_callout2_line]
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Try to figure out what the real cause of the conflict is. If someone is getting heated there is often some emotion involved and usually what you end up arguing about is only peripherally related to the actual issue at hand. You might ask: are they afraid of something? ashamed of something? In Daring Greatly Brené brown talks about how being vulnerable is one of the best ways to avoid conflict, and the thing that keeps us from being vulnerable is feeling ashamed about something in our lives.

Sometimes people don’t want to admit what is causing them to get emotional because they’re afraid of how they’ll be perceived. This is why it’s so important to keep your cool and establish trust. If someone feels like they can’t speak their mind around you, they’re not going to say what they’re really going through. To get to the root you have to have already established trust so that people can voice their thoughts on things.

Often times people have their own pictures of what is happening in an argument that may or may not be accurate. So often times to get to the root you first have to determine what those narratives are and whether they’re accurate.

This one is tricky, because if you’re dealing with a mature person it is a very effective way to diffuse an argument. But in real world application you’ll find some folks who are dealing with their own insecurities, being vulnerable could shock them into overreacting, or they may just be flippant in response to your vulnerability and basically give you a “that’s stupid that you feel that way.” If you find that people don’t respond to vulnerability in a mature way, you aren’t likely to find a quick or easy end to the conflict and you need to be careful that you don’t start arguing with them about their reaction to your vulnerability. Just back away, try not to feel to hurt and reengage through another path.

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[home_callout2_line]#8 WEED OUT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]FALSE NARRATIVES[/home_callout2_line]
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One of the greatest problems that we have with people is getting in a state where we have contempt for them – and usually to get to that place you have to build a network of false narratives. In Leadership and Self Deception a great deal of the book addresses what happens after we do something that we know we shouldn’t – something the book calls a “self betrayal” and how after a self betrayal our mind goes into over drive to justify that behavior, to do this, we often have to make up a series of false narratives. “Well sure I didn’t do what I said I would, but she didn’t listen to me when I was trying to tell her my opinion on the next project the other day and so she doesn’t really care about me and probably wants me to die anyway.”

Catch yourself when you start to make up these false narratives. Stop them at their root and realize that they’re often the cause of unnecessary conflict. Again, apologize for when you’ve behaved poorly. It is amazing how often conflict just ends when you apologize.

Brené Brown talks about this and says the best way to address it is often to tell the other person the story that you’re making up in your head. “Hey, yesterday when you rolled your eyes in the meeting it seemed really dismissive, and the story I’m making up in my head is that you don’t think I’m qualified to be here.” Sure, they might confirm that they don’t think you should work there, but more than likely they’ll respond with something more like “Oh gee, no I wasn’t even thinking about you at the time. I was responding to a lame joke someone on my side of the table had told earlier.” Conflict ended.

Similarly . . .

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[home_callout2_line]#9 DON’T ASSUME[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]YOU UNDERSTAND[/home_callout2_line]
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Sometimes the thing that keeps a person from entering into a conflict is because they think they know what the other person will say, or they think they understand what the other person’s reasoning is. These are often false narratives that are keeping a necessary conflict from taking place. And even if they’re not false narratives, at the very least you can’t fault a person for something they haven’t said yet.

I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a needless grudge and in pretty much every case the reason why the offended person doesn’t bring it up with the offender is because they think they know what the other person will say. If you are arguing with that person in your head then you’re probably making it into something worse than it is and you are already making up false narratives to support your claim. There might be a conflict there that needs to happen to get something sorted out, but you’re keeping it from happening because of your assumptions.

It’s also possible that, if addressed in the right way, the person will simply agree with you and you’ll find out that you had no clue what was in their head all along. If you’re so sure that you know what the person will say, here’s an exercise, write it down before hand and then go talk to them. Go back and see how different it was afterwards. Unlike the characters on TV shows you can’t really predict exactly what people will say.

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[home_callout2_line]#10 DON’T MAKE IT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]ABOUT YOU[/home_callout2_line]
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Before proceeding into any conflict ask, “Is this just about my pride, my way, my wants, and my expectations?” If yes, then you’re only arguing about you and you’re being selfish. It’s not wrong to say you’re not getting needs fulfilled; that’s different, but if this argument is taking place with a coworker or boss keep in mind they’re not there to fulfill your needs. Arguments about needs are reserved for spouses and friends.

If you’re working toward a common goal with a group and you don’t get what you want, I think you have to ask the question; can I truly make the argument that what I want is really what we need as a group? If not, then you’re making it about you. If so, then argue for that, not because you want it, but because you believe it’s what’s best for everyone – and explain why you believe it’s what’s best. Simply saying “I’m not getting what I was promised,” is an argument for something being unfair to you, but the sad truth is sometimes what’s best for everyone might actually be unfair for you. Again – go talk it out with your family, don’t expect your coworkers to be sympathetic when your reasoning is “I’m not getting what I want.” Does something being unfair factor in? For certain, but it shouldn’t outweigh everything else. If you feel that it’s unfair you can express it (I encourage you to), but not in such a way that shows you believe fairness toward you is a greater need than the ultimate goal of the group. Do so in a way that shows you recognize that it’s all for the greater good, even if you don’t get what you want. Example: “I don’t want this to be a determining factor, but I do think we need to recognize that this was not what was originally discussed and I feel that it is unfair. However, as long as we agree that this is what’s best, I can accept it, at the same time I hope we can all work together to be consistent with plans in the future.” Done right it could earn you respect.

One of the simple truths about Christianity is that we have to become more concerned with God’s kingdom than the little injustices in our lives. If you find yourself at the center of the conflict then you’re probably doing it wrong. If someone attacks you, try to look where you can apologize and focus on steps 6,7,& 8. Once you’ve rooted it out and thoroughly understood each other you should both have the maturity to admit if you’ve made it about your own wants.

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[home_callout2_line]#11 SOLVE IT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]FOR GOOD[/home_callout2_line]
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Don’t leave anything unsolved – if you have lingering feelings say them and get them out there – and make sure they do too. Not choosing to share something now doesn’t give you license to dredge up old conflicts back up. Let me say it again: If you don’t bring it up during that conflict you either forfeit your right to be angry about it or you cannot call yourself a mature adult.

I was in a conflict with someone I was close with not long ago. We talked about it off and on for the better part of a day. The great thing was when it was over it was totally over. If you leave something unexpressed there is a tenancy to also assume that they left things unexpressed and that will give way to false narratives. You don’t need to belabor the argument unnecessarily, but until you get to the place where you feel like you have resolved it don’t stop fighting.

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[home_callout2_line]#12 don’t hold on to the past[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”] LET IT GO[/home_callout2_line]
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Sorry. Now it’s stuck in your head.

Once you’ve solved it resolve to forgive. The phrase “let it go” often denotes a dismissive tone, but you must recognize that when someone has hurt you during a conflict that got heated, letting it go is often a multi-part process. You have to choose to not dwell on it, to stop writing more false narratives, and to give up your right to be judgemental. This doesn’t mean you have to forget and not learn from it, but it does mean that you must move past it if you’re going to be successful in navigating future conflict. Not dealing with the problems you have in your past allows you to smuggle past baggage into future conflicts where you will have no hope of getting through it clean.

[pullquote animation=”fadeInUp” align=”left or right”]It is the height of immaturity to hold a grudge against someone for something you refuse to discuss with them.[/pullquote]

If you have reasoned that something is not worth bringing up then you MUST let it go. It is the height of immaturity to hold a grudge against someone for something you refuse to discuss with them. You give up your right to be angry if you don’t discuss it with them. If it is truly not worth bringing up, then you must forgive and move on. If it is worth discussing then discuss it, even if you think you know what they’re going to say; remember #9.

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[home_callout2_line]#13 be sure to[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”] Follow UP[/home_callout2_line]
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If there is amends to be made after the fact, make that amends. If there is other action to be taken, take that action. If you decide to go in a specific direction with a plan go into that with gusto, especially if it wasn’t your plan. If you argue about it and come to a conclusion but nothing happens then all you’ve done is throw gasoline on some wood because the next time a match gets lit that thing is going up in flames instantly. If you don’t take the steps you agree to take then no matter how the argument ended you didn’t actually solve the issue and you’re setting yourself up for a much worse one next time.

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[home_callout2_line]#14 Thank them[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]for working it out[/home_callout2_line]
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this is so, so, so important, especially if the other person came to you to discuss a conflict. You MUST thank them for working through it. The more difficult and long the conflict, the more you have to acknowledge that it was hard for them to work through it with you. You have to acknowledge that they were taking a risk by coming to you. You have to say that you’re grateful that they were willing to discuss it to your face rather than letting it fester behind your back. Hopefully you haven’t reacted, or tried to dominate the discussion, and hopefully you’ve apologized where you needed to, so they shouldn’t feel like it was an awful experience. To reinforce that this was a good thing for both of you, you have to give a sincere “thank you” to them for being willing to duke it out.

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[home_callout2_line]#15 learn from[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]your mistakes[/home_callout2_line]
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There was definitely something in that conflict that you could’ve handled better. If you got heated ask why, and ask yourself how you can respond better to that trigger in the future. If they got heated think about how you might’ve triggered that and how you can be more sensitive – were you being condescending or scoffing? Were you actually listening? Did you interrupt?

As long as you think you handled it perfectly every time then you miss out on the reality that the only mediator who is capable of handling conflict perfectly is the Holy Spirit. The more you are willing to let Him influence your life the better you’ll get at this, but if you’re not willing to let Him do the work of transforming the way your view others, then you’ll always be stuck in cycles of unhealthy relationships at work and at home because of your inability to grow.

That’s it.

There are probably more that need to be added to this list. There are definitely more lessons I need to learn in this area. Handling conflict at work and in our major relationships is a major step toward health in every sphere of our life. Embracing necessary conflict is the sign of a mature person and handling it in a loving, unselfish way, is the sign of a good leader, which is a role that every adult must embrace: our place as a leader, a leader of self, in our family, of friends, and in our churches.

Food, Obesity, Weight loss and Apparent Irresponsibility. Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 2

I chose the name “Ice Cream For Breakfast” because it’s both a metaphor and an example of the struggle of adulthood.I lost a lot of weight recently and I want to talk about how I did it, but first I want to talk about my weight and what being overweight was like. But if you want to just skip to the end and read my conclusion – the real meat of this thing – just skip to the last paragraph.

On being fat:

Several years ago I was walking through Publix one day, I think I was on the cereal aisle – I was probably picking out something sugary – when one of my sisters called me to talk to my then-four-year-old nephew. His mom was talking to him about college and he was intrigued at the thought of living someplace without any “mommies or daddies.” So she called her little brother who was only a few years out of college to talk to him. He excitedly asked me if it was possible to eat pop-tarts and Doritos whenever you wanted. I laughed and confirmed this for him.

I grew up in a home where we didn’t often have pop-tarts or Doritos – at least not the real, full-fat kind. If we ever had anything it was probably both the generic brand and the low-fat version my dad was looking to save money and mom was looking to save calories – both, by the way, are good traits and somehow, I survived. I did get enough of that concern for calories instilled in me to be concerned when I saw a picture of myself after my junior year of college, which caused me to work to lose 20 pounds over the summer. Losing weight as a 21 year old is easy. You eat salad for one meal instead of a burger and fries and go jogging a couple of times a week and you’re good. This tactic doesn’t work once you get past 27.

you know those little subtle hints life gives you that all say “might lose a few pounds, buddy?”

Last fall I was at my heaviest – at 237, I wasn’t absurdly over weight by most standards, but I’m only 5’7″ so that puts me in the “obese” category easily. By the way, the word “obese” often gets used when people mean “morbidly obese.” I once referred to myself as obese and was chastised for being self-deprecating. I then explained that I wasn’t being figurative, that I knew what my BMI was and I was actually well into the “Obese” range for my height. The person, who thought they were being kind, then argued that those scales don’t take body type into account. She’s right; they don’t – but considering I was more than 30 pounds into the “obese” category – I knew that the categorization was accurate. Something had to change.

I didn’t have any discipline in my life as of last fall. For no good reason I’d fallen out of lots of habits of personal maintenance in most areas of my life and I felt it. The weight was one small part – it just happened to be obvious to everyone around me.

Deciding to Lose the Weight

In the past six months I’ve lost almost 40 pounds. And I feel . . . a bit better. I won’t lie I’m happier with my appearance, but when skinny people ask me “but how do you FEEL?” They say it like they expect me to say “Well, most of my life’s problems are solved and now I can’t be harmed by conventional weapons.” I don’t feel any more energetic, my mood hasn’t altered – I’m actually more apt to be cranky because I’m hungrier most of the time and I’m more aware of how I was dealt a bad hand with my metabolism in comparison to some of the people around me. At the same time I’ve learned more about the amount of calories that are in the foods I’m eating – which has changed my eating habits. And my body has adjusted to eating fewer calories.

Just having an idea of the foods I was eating that were higher in calories than I realized, gave me the ability to keep better track of what I was eating

But to me it’s more about the discipline. Being a little overweight isn’t a huge deal to me, but to some people it’s a big indicator of your whole life – people might even subconsciously extrapolate that an apparent lack of discipline in your diet means you have no discipline anywhere. They might think that if you’re over weight then you likely have no discipline, no self control, or you’re just plain lazy. In my case they’d basically be right, but still, these are superficial assumptions. Regardless, to some people fitness is next to godliness. Don’t be that guy. Don’t tell people they need to lose weight. Overweight people KNOW they’re overweight. They feel it with every step. They see it every time they look in the mirror. Being overweight is it’s own punishment – no need to be mean to these people.

BUT if you’re a Christian, then weight is a bigger issue than something superficial. And I’m not just talking about the sin of gluttony, though that is definitely an issue that the western church doesn’t address often enough. I’m also talking about the fact that your body is a temple. Yes, it’s Christian a cliche, but it’s also scriptural. Even if you have moments where you don’t respect yourself enough to put the ice cream back in the freezer and have kale and eggs for breakfast instead, you need to start with at least enough respect for your savior to want to keep his temple in some kind of shape. Not out of guilt, but out of love for him. Not out of shame for your appearance, but out of a desire to be a good witness.

Remember what happened last time Jesus showed up to a temple and didn’t like what he found? He went first century on their tails.

How I lost the weight:

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In February of this year I bought a refurbished fitbit from Groupon goods.

It would be kind of funny to just end the entry there. Really that was basically it. I started keeping note of my steps and taking challenges with friends and family. I kept track of my calorie intake and while I’d tried this before – the difference with fitbit that it kept track of my calorie output. So if I wanted ice cream for breakfast I knew that I would have to walk an extra mile or two to burn off those calories (I eat low fat fro-yo anyway.)

I then started finding time in my day to get in steps, climb stairs, and to just stay active. I found meals that I enjoyed that were reasonably low-calorie and when I knew I wanted to have a bigger meal I’d budget my day around it. Since my small group fasts on Mondays anyway, I don’t have to worry as much about the calorie in take that day.

I started having sautéed kale, scrambled eggs and coffee every morning. I keep grilled chicken strips in my freezer all the time and throw them on a salad with a light dressing for a low calorie meal at home. Or I make my own chili. I still eat everything that I love, just a little less often and in smaller portions. I certainly don’t force myself to eat foods I hate.

I once had a doctor ask me about my diet – I thought he was going to get onto me and say I needed to lose weight. Instead he proceeded to say that I shouldn’t be on any of those “weird diets” that cut out whole categories of food. I say this to say that shock diets may help you lose weight, but most doctors don’t endorse them because they’re not healthy for your body in the long-term. There was never any danger of me trying one of these. The issue with most popular diets for me is that they’re more about what you can’t eat than what you can. I would hear about someone losing lots of weight on the slow-carb diet and think “well I’d never be able to do that.” and just say that I guess I can’t lose weight. Or I’d have a friend hang out with me and I’d fix dinner – he’d then tell me that he couldn’t have normal human food because he’s on the (fill-in-the-blank) diet. This bothered me as a good, southern boy, who was taught that it is rude to turn down food you’re not allergic to, so it further turned me off to fad diets.

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I actually haven’t cut much out of my diet entirely, partially because I had a pretty nutritious diet – I was just eating too much. I’ve always avoided foods with lots of preservatives and other chemicals that make food harder to digest. I do avoid foods sweetened with high fructose corn syrup as studies indicate that it increases cravings and may contribute to several diseases. I’ve found that removing HFCS has helped  curb my cravings for sweet foods. I keep apples around and just decide to eat those any time I’m hungry.

I stayed active on a daily basis; this was the biggest change. My goal is 12,000 steps per day. When I started my diet I was very strict about getting it every day. Now, six months in, if I have a day where I don’t get it once or twice a week I don’t worry too much as long as I’m careful with my calories. I work in a large building, so 1-2 times a day I take 10-15 minutes and get up and walk around the building. I’ll also take 10-15 minutes around lunch to run the stairs in our worship center; I do enough to get 25 floors. When I get home I’ll walk my dog. Between all this it’s easy to get in 12-20,000 steps in a day. Obviously, I don’t have time to do this every day, but if I can make time to at least run the stairs and walk Zeus when I get home – that usually does the trick. I found it was less about getting “cardio” every day and more about just staying active – getting up and dancing alone in my office is not out of the question.

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One of the unexpected things was I found myself being more productive; even though I was taking time out of my day to walk or run stairs, the rest of the time I was more motivated, and because I took some time away to think about ideas I found my head was clearer.

What I learned

  1. Anyone can lose weight – If I can do it, you can do it. I’m not an athlete and I love sugar more than anyone I know. If I can learn to curb my cravings, and can add a little more activity to my day, then you can do it. If this is a spiritual struggle, I’ll add that you and the Holy Spirit can do it, even if you can’t. I know I’m not a parent, nor am I married – but if you’re not healthy, you’re not doing your family any favors. If your job is keeping you from being healthy, you need to be working toward getting out of that situation. Nothing is worth your own health – not your job, your friends, you family, or bae – especially not bae.
  2. You don’t have to be a jerk to be healthy – Honestly one of the things that made me not want to work on my own health was the people I met who talked about their diet or exercise plan. Either they complained about their weird diet or they turned down the perfectly healthy food I’d made for them. For people who really struggle with their weight, you might have to be more regimented at first, but once you get in the swing of things you should be able to function normally without complaining about/criticizing  the food you’re offered at a friends house. And you shouldn’t be eyeing your friend’s plate at a restaurant, either judgmentally, or because you can’t stop complaining about what you’re having to eat because of your diet.
  3. But you will have to make sacrifices – If you want to have a doughnut, you can have a doughnut, but you might not get to have much of anything else if you want to have a calorie deficit for the day. The first few weeks were the hardest for me, but they were also the ones wherein I lost the most weight. You may have to be a little hungry some times until your body gets used to fewer calories. At first you may only get one meal a day where you really love what you’re eating. You may not get to eat everything you love every time you want to. If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right, but it gets easier.
  4. It’s not fat shaming – I believed this before, but I feel I need to say it now more than ever. People who are overweight need to lose weight. I still need to lose weight. There’s been a recent movement against encouraging weight-loss that claims you can be “healthy at every size.” This is a lie. While you can be healthy with any body type, and you certainly don’t have to be rail-thin to be healthy, being overweight puts you at risk for tons of diseases and puts pressure on all your various body-systems. You don’t have to tell everyone they need to lose weight, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by telling them they’re perfect.If a friend says they need to lose weight you don’t have to say “HECK YES YOU DO.” But you don’t have to say “no! you look great.” You could invite them to go walking with you a few times a week, or suggest some healthy meals.

    I saw this image of two different women’s MRI and it showed me the severity of things – look at the fat around the organs, imagine what that does to a person’s body.
  5. You know when you’re healthy – If you’re honest with yourself, you know when you need to lose weight. You also know what weight is the happiest medium for your lifestyle, confidence, and physical health. You might not be “perfect,” but you’re healthy and that’s more important. Don’t get overly obsessed with hitting a “target weight.” It’s good to have goals, but your main goal should be to be healthy and find something manageable.
  6. Being just a little more fit gives you more credibility – We’re superficial people, and when I was over weight I knew it made no sense for me to be talking about discipline, scriptural truths, or advice on how to order other people’s lives, when I so clearly didn’t have my own personal life under control. Who am I to talk about sin when it appears that I give in to gluttony constantly?
  7. Its on going – it never really ends, I currently am almost 40 lbs down from where I was six months ago, but I’d love to lose ten more pounds. At this point, though I feel pretty good and I think I’ve found a balance that works for me. It’s a constant climb, but it’s well worth it. As I said in the blog entry last week, there are no after photos in the christian walk. And really that’s the case in all life-long pursuits; it may get easier, but you don’t reach a point where you’re totally done. That may be discouraging to some, but when you realize that the alternative is to deal with heart disease, diabetes, joint pain, low energy, and numerous other health risks – you begin to realize that you’re choosing between applying some will power on a daily basis or shortening your life and being uncomfortable in your own skin.

On Health and Adulthood…

So the bottom line is that adulthood is about taking responsibility for yourself and being disciplined. Kids don’t have to think about their diet- they have a mom that’s keeping them from over-sugaring themselves. Children don’t have the authority or ability to control their own diet. When you as an adult don’t choose to take care of yourself, you’re essentially saying to yourself that you don’t have the ability to control your own diet, even though you have the authority. Regardless of your age, embracing the best for your adulthood is taking control of the things in your life that you can control and – unless you’re in prison – you can control what you put into your body. As with all acts of discipline it just starts with deciding to do it, and then having faith that the Holy Spirit is going to be available to help you with the follow through.

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It’s not an after photo, but it’s a during photo that I’m kinda proud of

 

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

What is Adulthood anyway? Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 1

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

Welcome to adulthood. Yes, I know you might be in your late 20s to late 60s as you’re reading this, but regardless of how old you are you probably haven’t had anyone actually welcome you to adulthood. Unless you grew up in an African tribe or you’re Jewish, there was no ceremony. If you’re like me, you subconsciously expected to gain some measure of knowledge and confidence between the ages of 17 and 22. That it would just fall on you one day in a burst of sudden enlightenment. Maybe it would be a bit like that scene in Dragon Ball Z where the Eldest Namek puts his big green hand on Krillin and suddenly he’s better at fighting?

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and then Krillin dies because that’s what Krillin does.

Or maybe it would happen like fraternity initiation, after the “hell week” that is being a teenager you get abducted and pulled into a group of other adults wearing robes and all the guys get hip holsters for their phones & a book of dad jokes while all the women get short, layered haircuts and mom jeans.

I hear they're back in style!
I hear they’re back in style!

Hey, apropos to nothing – don’t you think it’s super lame when someone starts a speech on a topic by giving you the Websters definition of the topic? I mean how lazy and boring a way to start a topic right?

Full Definition of adult

  1.  fully developed and mature :  grown-up

  2. of, relating to, intended for, or befitting adults <an adult approach to a problem>

  3. dealing in or with explicitly sexual material <adult bookstores> <adult movies>

 

That third one gets me – and I have to say, when I hear the world “Adult” to describe anything that’s where my mind goes. I was outside of a Supercuts the other day (insert bald joke here) and I saw a big sign that said “Adult Haircut $9” I found myself thinking amusedly -“Wow, what does that entail?”

Anyway – back to the topic at hand, you’ll notice that among the definitions there isn’t anything about being prepared for life, contributing to society, or not being a jerk. The closest we get is the word “mature” though given the context I’d suspect that Mr. Webster probably meant biologically rather than emotionally. No, there is no part of adulthood that includes the preparedness for what is to come. No one comes to your door to make sure you’re not having ice cream for breakfast. Nor does adulthood come when you are prepared. Adulthood sneaks up on you . . . you don’t even see it coming . . . and then one day . . . you find yourself  . . .

reading the home depot circulars like its your new Toys R’ Us. Or the first time you get a “late on your rent” notice. Or when you’re in a room full of teenagers who are laughing at a fart joke and you’re just angry at them all for not appreciating what you’re trying to teach them. Or you make your first payment on a retirement plan. Or maybe its when you turn 25, or 30, or 35 (because then you start checking a new box on forms and that’s crazy.) Or maybe it’s the first time you notice that you feel sore after a day of moderate activity or you start feeling tired around 10pm instead of 2am.

Did you pause and read it? Congrats you're an adult now.
Did you pause and read it? Congrats you’re an adult now.

Whatever it is – you’ll have that moment – and that’s when you have to admit, that childhood is over.

So are your best years behind you?

Maybe.

I want to be honest with you. It is quite possible that you have peaked already. Some of you might read this and say “i knew it!” Others will defiantly say “not me!” Or “That’s never true!” But we all know people who peaked in high school – they were big fish in little ponds – usually they were well-liked decently successful people by high school standards – but they just haven’t realized their potential.

But the good news? You don’t have to peak in high school or college. You can move on and keep growing, but you also need to accept that the growth is going to look different – slower, even imperceptible. This is tough, because for most of us up until around age 17 or 18 you were having to buy different size clothes because you were actually growing up so it was easy to measure your growth visually. Plus your environment changed every year. You “Leveled up” and got a new set of teachers every year and a new school every few years. Your daily activities were varied, because once you learned one thing you eventually moved on to something new.

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Now life looks wildly different. You’re going to look about the same for 10-20 years, but somewhere in there your body will start to work against you. In my case I went bald by age 29. I think I might accept it by age 32. Your metabolism slows, and unless you have a good work-out ethic you’ll probably gain some weight. Your schedule will become mind-numbingly repetitive. You’ll wake up the same time every day, go to work, leave around the same time, come home, once you set your mind to being healthier you’ll eat a lot of the same things over and over again. You’ll shop at the same places – and for the first time your atmosphere won’t change unless you choose for it to, and make a major life change.

Now, some people will get more interesting jobs that let them travel and do cool stuff – but probably not you. You’ll see them post about their travels on facebook and you’ll think that you made the wrong choice settling into a career like the one you’ve chosen – you should’ve done something more interesting riskier. Or perhaps you like the regiment – the same-ness is comforting. You feel content with life – you don’t need all that adventure. You’re happy to view the photos on facebook.

It’s no wonder some people peak in high school – this adulthood thing is pretty boring most of the time.  I mean no one opens a fortune cookie expecting to find a message that says “Things are basically going to stay about the same – and that’s really ok” but that is often the case with adulthood. It goes on with only incremental change and while you may not accomplish your dreams you’re still alive and contributing to society, and that’s something right? Right?

Well, not really. Most of us want something more, but the trouble is that we don’t know how to get there. We’re so busy rolling the boulder up the hill every day that we never stop to ask what the end goal is, or evaluate how close we are to actually accomplishing what we set out to do. And yet we do it, over and over again. And we call it being a responsible adult. If we see someone who isn’t rolling their rock up the hill every day we tend to get incredulous. And often for good reason – many of them are just saying at home on the couch, rolling a virtual rock up a cyber-hill, claiming it makes them happy. These folks are often avoiding adulthood, and who can blame them? Adulthood looks boring and pointless from the outside, especially if you’ve only ever been around people who’ve been doing it wrong their whole life. Maybe people who are rolling the “real” boulders up the hill are on a metaphorical couch; sitting comfortably in their own mediocrity, doing the same tasks without thinking of what’s coming next. Shhh; don’t ask me about next year, I want to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones this weekend, not plan for the future. (Ok sure you can still binge watch something once in a while and still be productive, but at the very least the two are diametrically opposed unless your job is to review Television)

These days all of society is avoiding adulthood in many different ways. Some people avoid adulthood by embracing something adjacent to adulthood apart from actual maturity; employment, parenthood, or simply having a few glasses of wine in the evening, you know, for your heart. None of these things are bad, but chasing after any of them alone will not guarantee you’re being a responsible adult.

Trouble is you can’t get the freedom to eat your ice cream for breakfast without reaping the results. So when someone is sitting on their couch late in the evening re watching the same show in netflix for the 100th time, overweight, bored, and yet somehow content in their unhappiness, wondering why their best years are behind them; I have hope and a challenge.

Are you best years behind you? Only if you let them be. If you spend your years living in the “glory days” of high school or college then you’ll never move on. You’re so busy wishing life had turned out differently that you don’t stop to think about what you could to make it turn out differently for you in the next stage. If you play your cards right you’ll get to have an important role no matter watch age you are. For the first 20 years you’re a student. For the next 20 years you’re a worker. For the next 20 years you’re a leader and for the last 20 years you’re a mentor. Some people only like one stage. Some people want to skip stages. Others have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from one stage to the next.

If you decide that your best years are behind you, then there are and there is nothing anyone can do about it. If you want the best to be ahead of you, you need to get off the couch and go be (choose your inspirational closing line from below)

A. the change you want to see in the world

B. the magic that makes dragons take flight in the mind of a child

C. the hero we don’t deserve, but the one we need

D. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria

(PS. Don’t be D, cause all you’ll do is get assassinated and start WWI and no one else will remember you for anything else)

We need a New Definition of Adulthood

The New Adulthood is taking responsibility, but isn’t just taking responsibility, it’s also adding value to the world by being a good friend, and informed citizen, and an over all wise person. Having children doesn’t make you an adult, thinking about the entire next generation and how you can leave a legacy for any and all of them to benefit from your life – that’s real adulthood. Having a job, even a well-paying one, doesn’t automatically give you passage into true adulthood. Being someone who is pursing a calling that makes you come alive, that will awaken the fire and passion that drives you to seek out wisdom and maturity and contribute more than the minimum. Truly realized adulthood, is as NT Wright talks about truly realized humanity; It’s when we’re fully alive in Christ as we’re meant to be.

So over the next several entries I will be discussing from the view of a Christian Millennial, how I believe we all can take responsibility for our lives, how we can pursue our calling and contribute to society, and how we can interact with each other in this postmodern, social-media, over-connected, information-addicted, frustrated, confused, and divided world.

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

Ice Cream For Breakfast: An Introduction – Part 0

I’m starting a new 17+part project entitled “Ice Cream For Breakfast: musings on so-called ‘adulthood’ by another white, middle class, male, millennial.”

Just as it sounds it’s a dystopian futuristic teen thriller starring a plucky female lead. . . Actually, I wish I could pull that off because apparently that gets you a four movie deal faster than you can say “abnegation.” On the reals, this will be a look at the modern state of young adulthood. While I make no promises as to how this experiment will turn out, I hope that it will be a fun exercise for me as a write, a letter of encouragement to other young adults who feel a little disillusioned with world, and only at rare moments, totally self-indulgent pontification.

It will be a collection of essays in which I’ll discuss various struggles that I’ve encountered over the last 12+ years as an “adult.” I want to explore what adulthood is, what is was meant to be and why is it something that my generation has avoided. As always I’ll be looking at scripture, current events, modern research, maybe some science, maybe some fiction, maybe some science fiction – all of which will be partly of me just organizing my own thoughts on life as I’ve discovered (for myself, not for humanity) some hard truths. What remains I hope will be thoughtful and encouraging, and even helpful. In this day and age where cynicism and self deceit are so often is the common tongues, I would like to speak encouragement and truthful introspection.

Blah blah blah, I hope it’s funny too. Sometimes. I make no guarantees. Wow, I hope this doesn’t suck. Well here goes nothing. (click to see it all so far)