It must be human nature. As a species we’re quite adept at taking something good and, in an effort to extract greater rewards from it, we manipulate it, mold it, stretch it to become a more extreme version of itself.
And we screw it all up in the process, losing sight of what made it good in the first place.
Making better food choices is good. Taking eating well to an extreme (e.g., obsessing over every piece of food that passes your lips) is not. But it’s a common progression.
Someone starts making smarter food choices, they see positive results in the mirror and feel fantastic from their improved lifestyle, so they escalate their efforts: they avoid entire food groups, restrict calories to low levels for an extended period, label foods “good” or “bad” and feel guilty for eating the “bad” things.
For many, unfortunately, these good-behaviors-gone-extreme lead to binge eating, disordered eating habits, or full blown eating disorders; stress increases from constantly obsessing over food. Food must be earned through vigorous exercise.
Something good (making better food choices and thereby improving health, body composition, performance) was destroyed by taking it to an extreme (obsessing over food, avoiding entire food groups, rigid dieting, etc.). What once made you feel great about yourself and provided positive benefits was twisted, contorted, and mangled into habits that are more stifling than rewarding, and become difficult to break.
Eating well is a worthy endeavor. But don’t ruin it by taking it to an unhealthy extreme wrought with obsession and guilt.
Moving your body frequently is good. Strength training, in particular, is great because it not only builds muscle but increases bone mineral density (especially important for women), boosts confidence, and provides a host of other benefits.
Exercise should make you feel great about yourself, make tasks of daily living easier, provide positive health improvements, build muscle, and alleviate stress. But when taken to an extreme, its benefits are masked. Using exercise as punishment for “eating something bad”; because you missed a week of workouts; because you want to fix your flaws; because you think being exhausted after a workout is mandatory.
This extreme transition takes something that should have made you better — your life better — and destroys it.
Exercise is great in frequent doses; we should all move our bodies in some form every single day. But make sure it’s something that builds you up for all the right reasons. It should never be done as punishment.
The concept applied to possessions — own what you need and what brings you enjoyment — is simple, and appealing. I love having a clutter-free home and being able to find anything I need at a moment’s notice. The way I practice minimalism, I buy what I need, or what brings joy or improves the quality of my life. I’ve sold possessions I no longer used, whittled down expenses (like satellite TV and expensive cell phone plans), sold my house and moved into a smaller home. These things improved my quality of life and are classified minimalist-lifestyle actions.
Yet some die-hard lifestyle minimalists would scoff and say I’m not “doing minimalism right” because, for example, I have a traditional coffee maker, a French press and grinder, and a nifty espresso maker. “Pick one because you don’t need more,” some purists would say.
I think they’re missing the point of minimalism. It’s not about owning less for the sake of owning less or paring down to what you need to survive and nothing else; it’s about owning things that bring you joy, and I enjoy many different types of coffee.
Some people lose the beauty of minimalism when they force it to an extreme. They get rid of every electronic; they refuse to have decorations or photos because it’s deemed clutter or unnecessary; they constantly trim down their possessions and scrutinize every item they own. The goal is no longer distinguishing what you need and enjoy from the superfluous — it becomes about possessing as little as possible at the expense of all else.
In this sense, minimalism has transitioned from something that improved their life (less clutter, getting rid of rarely used items, saving money) to something that dominates it, and perhaps makes their life more stressful from constantly scouring for things to get rid of (“I must get rid of every non-necessity”; “Maybe I need to get rid of my car”; “Maybe I only need one plate and a few pieces of silverware”; “I would love to have that but then it’s another item on my what-I-own list”).
Minimalism can be good, but it needn’t be taken to an extreme to reap its benefits. And minimalism, in my opinion, looks different for everyone when the focus is on owning what you need and enjoy (i.e., leave me and my three coffee makers alone).
Becoming a better human, staying true to your values, getting out of your comfort zone, and enhancing your life are worthwhile pursuits. The ugly side emerges when those good intentions turn into a never-ending journey of self-evaluation that sprouts a growing list of things you hate about yourself and want to change. Or when you fall into the trap of thinking, Oh my damn every single day of my life must be epic and crammed full of adventure worthy of posting to Instagram or I’m a totally failure.
Becoming a better human and aiming to live a great life is good. Allowing that pursuit to consume every thought, thus leading you to think an “average day” is somehow a bad thing and that you must do some drastic, blood-pumping activity every day — like go cliff jumping or bet all your savings on the big game because you only live once — is not.
Self-help material and the ensuing journey can be good. Uncovering the meaning in your life and aligning your actions and priorities accordingly is good. Being a self-help junkie and trying to stay high on motivation is not.
We need to enjoy the good things in life, and the benefits they produce. And we need to stop trying to manipulate them to produce more, lest we screw it all up only to be left with more problems than meaningful results.
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This article was originally published on NiaShanks.com on May 11, 2017.