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Our Obsession with "More"
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Thu, Jun 14th 2012
After finishing my freshman year in college, I discovered a disturbing reality: I had gained the infamous "Freshman 15." My clothes no longer fit as they did in high school, and I could not claim to be the lithe dancer I had been when I first joined the college pom squad.
My solution? I began running. My dad jogged regularly, so being home with him all summer provided the impetus I needed to shed the extra pounds.
I had never run before, so I started modestly. A slow one-mile jog was all I could manage on the first day. Luckily, my history of gymnastics and dancing helped me adapt to the biomechanics of running rather quickly. Soon I found myself running upwards of three miles.
But there was a catch. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my psyche, I felt the need to run at least as far as I had run the day before. Not enough sleep? Too bad. Side stitch? Get over it. Summer cold? Suck it up, Carrie. If I had run 3 ¾ miles the day before, I had to run at least that far the next day, or else…
Or else what? I honestly don't know. I just knew I had to run more every subsequent time.
I thought of this period in my life just the other day when I read an article about the dangers of excessive exercise. According to experts such as Geralyn Coopersmith, national director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, exercising too much and/or too strenuously can invite problems such as extreme fatigue, irritability, an elevated resting heart rate, injury, and even fever. Apparently exercise is a stressor that can break down the body if it's done in excess.
Wait a minute. Exercising until we drop isn't a good thing? But isn't "more" always better? We certainly seem to cling to this notion in our over-achieving society, and not just as "more" pertains to exercise. We strive for more money, more recognition, more gadgets with more apps, more Facebook friends, more Twitter followers, houses with more square footage, more powerful positions at work, and yes, more miles on the treadmill.
But do these kinds of "more" really lead to happiness? This question makes me think of one of my favorite movies - Key Largo. There's a fantastic scene in which Humphrey Bogart's Frank McCloud confronts the villain Johnny Rocco, played by Edward G. Robinson. McCloud asks Rocco if he knows what he really wants. When Rocco struggles to answer, McCloud helps him out.
"You want more, don't you, Rocco?"
'Yeah. That's it. More. That's right! I want more!"
"Will you (ever get enough), Rocco?"
"Well, I never have. No, I guess I won't."
That's the trouble with "more." How do you know when you've gotten or done enough? In most cases, you're left with the unsatisfying feeling that you're never good enough or will never quite "get there." I can attest to this feeling during periods of my own life.
Perhaps "more" is not really the most helpful thing to be seeking. As an alternative, what if we sought "balance"? Instead of constantly striving to extend our practices, possessions, and experiences into an endless outward trajectory, maybe we can center ourselves on a balanced combination of effort, acceptance, and conscious gratitude.
It's taken me a long time, but I've slowly learned to substitute "balance" for "more." I don't run maniacal, progressive distances anymore (for those of you who are wondering, I stopped my destructive pattern when I topped 8 miles). I'm quite happy running two to three miles at a time a couple of days a week. I seek balance in other areas of my life as well, which - imagine this - has resulted in a lot less stress and a lot more happiness.
Now that's the kind of "more" I like - a consequence instead of a goal.