Tabula Rosa/Blank Slate Thinking

blank_slateI believe we’re all born with a tabula rosa, or a blank slate.

Though fate might guide us in the bigger scheme of things, I still believe we create our own destinies, which are inspired/influenced by our upbringings and our environment.

And so going along with my “live in the moment/savor the present” goal, it ocurred to me that every day is really and truly a blank slate, as well — it’s not a one-time-deal.

When we wake up each morning, we can hit the Snooze button for ten more minutes, or get in a sunrise yoga session. Make oatmeal or hope to find a Nutrigrain bar at work. (There is no “good” or “bad” here; it depends on the day, what’s right for you — sometimes sleep is more important than the a.m. workout).

And each day is an opportunity to improve on the previous day, building off what we’ve learned: for better or for worse.

I don’t mean it’s a time for looking back or ruminating on the past or trying to un-do it, or even looking to tomorrow to be better. Rather, each day is an opportunity to focus on today — to savor today.

We can fill it however we choose — with how productive we are at work, how many e-mails we choose to ignore, what we do at night, when we run our errands, who we talk to (or who we don’t), what we eat, how much sleep we get, if we spend it fighting or kissing, if we save money or spend money, if we exercise or rest.

Sure, there are a bajillion outside factors that can weigh us down from filling the blank slate with everything we might want to see/do … and yes, we often (unintentionally) bring baggage from the past …

But there’s always today. And tomorrow. Another day, another clean slate.

So since this blog is about overcoming disordered eating issues, I’d like to reframe my black-and-white thinking about my own clean slate and my own behaviors (which is slowly but surely fading into gray).

If one day (like Tuesday night) I wake in the middle of the night and eat … so what? Today’s a new day. I’ll dock Points from today (I have plenty) and move on.

And if I missed a workout because I couldn’t find time … so what? I’ll get it done today.

And if I ate more than I needed, ate past satisfaction … so what? Today I’ll eat lighter.

It’s ultimately about balance — losing weight, keeping it off, and overcoming disordered eating. Per Dr. G., I need to “change the thoughts that drive the emotions that precede the behavior.”

Each day is an opportunity to change how I think (and therefore feel), to eat cleaner, exercise better, strengthen our minds more. Each day is an opportunity to be kind to someone, lend a helping hand. To be kind to ourselves. To seek balance in our personal and professional lives.

There’s more to our lives than our bodies, even though sometimes it feels like that’s the most important thing. And looking at our blank slate as a means for seeking perfection is counter-productive.

Take this excerpt from page 210 of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, where Martin writes:

“… Felice was less joyful and interesting because she was expending so much energy denying herself the foods that didn’t fit into her diet plan … She may have been better at saying no, but true self-control would have allowed her to say yes sometimes, too, without the fear of losing her resolve completely.

“Dr Sharron Dalton, nutritionist and author of Our Overweight Children explains, “Many people believe that having personal control is ‘just saying no.’ In fact, saying no to food works for some people for short periods of time. For others, it becomes an unhealthy end in itself. For most of us, to maintain a balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ requires multiple skills in this food-laden, anxiety-enmeshed, sleep-and-time-starved environment that makes healthy living a big challenge.”

So part of personal control — us, ourselves, choosing how to fill our blank canvas– is finding that delicate balance. Learning to be ok with saying yes, and not hating ourselves tomorrow for the “consequences” we fear, however rational or irrational they may be.

I gave it some thought. Do I want my blank slate filled only with deprivation (or food overload) and disarray, or would I rather fill it meaningfully, purposefully?

Well, here’s the rub. Even though it’s blank every day, I feel best when I’ve filled in some of the spaces early in the day. I understand there’s merit to being able to be spontaneous, but it’s not in my DNA. I like organization.

My best work days are those where I have a workout planned, have my breakfast and lunches packed, and know what we’re (or I’m, if hubby is in class) having for dinner. These simple things set my tone, give me direction, guide my purpose and I don’t stray too far off course.

(The trick is being flexible so I am not bent out of shape when something goes off course)

And my best weekend days are those where I’ve slept in til my body naturally wakes, have worked out, and have at least one or two meals in mind (or at least an idea of where we’re going to for dinner). Again, plans give me purpose.

As an anxious person, this all makes perfect sense: I feel comfortable when I’ve made order out of potential chaos. But we can take it to the extremes if we’re not careful, either. We can become so rigid, so disciplined, so concerned with filling our blank slate that we end up splattering colors all over out of sheer frustration.

I remember in my first session with Dr. G. back in July, I started crying when she asked me pointedly if I was exhausted.

Exhausted from always being “on”, always thinking, trying so hard, trying to be good, perfect, thin.

It hurt to hear her say that, because I did feel so defeated that day, July 25. And I broke down — she’d hit the nail on the head. I was simply tired of being me: for better and for worse.

I hope that this reframing of how I see my own blank slate — as mine to create, to own, to savor — will help me along this path away from seeking perfection and towards welcoming acceptance. Towards a life of meaning, purpose and dignity.

And I want to enjoy each day, each blank canvas, one sweet moment at a time.

How about you? Can you view every day as a new opportunity, or are you hung up on making each day perfect? How do you find balance?

8 thoughts on “Tabula Rosa/Blank Slate Thinking

  1. Part of my issue when I was following the Core plan was that I felt like each week was a blank slate, rather than each day or each meal. Now that I’m following Flex and I get “new points” each day, it makes me feel like I really do have a “fresh start” every day. I tend to think very black and white too… if I “mess up” once, I tend to go nuts and continue to mess up.

  2. Like you, I definitely like to know what’s coming ahead (food wise) and feel infinitely better when I’ve been able to workout. But I am working on being flexible on those days where things don’t go as planned….we all have those! 🙂

    For me, my biggest challenge is not beating myself up so much after a “slip up.” I have such guilt, like I’ve committed a serious crime or something! I am trying so hard to approach new day as another opportunity to be healthy…despite my actions the previous day. I’m working on it – among many other things!

  3. This is something that I’ve struggled with…when I first started Weight Watchers and I had a slip up my whole week was bad because I felt like I couldn’t “start over” or clean my slate until I weighed in. Although now I’m much better at getting back on track, I still get frustrated with myself when I go off track at all. I also do much better when I have an idea of what my day will be like. But for awhile, whenever things didn’t go write I would freak out! I’m learning to be more flexible and handle things as they come—I am going to be an elementary teacher so flexibility is something I need to become comfortable with.

  4. Mara, I see what you mean. That’s why — though I love Core and tend to eat similarly — I still prefer Flex.

    Holly, so true — we all have days where we need to be flexible: like today, no gym in the a.m. and I have a party at night. But it’s ok — it’ll just make me think twice before eating certain choices because my points are more limited. It’s hard not to beat ourselves up … but it isn’t worth the agony either.

    Hi Krystyna, sounds like you’re making progress!! And it will come in handy as a teacher, for sure!!

  5. Great post! I really liked this: “Do I want my blank slate filled only with deprivation (or food overload) and disarray, or would I rather fill it meaningfully, purposefully?”

    I’ve been trying to be more productive in my personal time, be creative rather than just watch tv, that sort of thing. And that statement really hit home with me…do I want to fill my slate with Seinfeld reruns or making Christmas gifts for my family?

    Thanks for giving me a new perspective on this!!

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