Friday, 24 January 2014

mind the gap!

If you’ve ever used the underground tube stations in London, you’re familiar with the phrase “mind the gap!” These words are painted all down the platforms and announced repeatedly on loudspeakers both in and outside the trains. The gap is the space between the curving platform and the straight-edged train, where a person could easily get trapped if they don't pay attention.

Photo courtesy of the London Telegraph

I’ve been thinking a lot about the gap lately - not the one on the underground but the gap we often have between the “me” we want to be, and the me we actually are. The two can be miles apart, and the bigger the gap is, the harder it seems to close it.

When you were small and people asked “What do you want to be?” what was your answer? An astronaut? Engineer? Farmer? My kids’ answers range from artist and dancer to mother and clown. Right now there are no limits and no judgments; they can be anything they want to be.

But as we "grow up" we often let go of our dreams. The smallest disappointment or cutting remark can start us on a downhill slide towards existing rather than flourishing. We make one choice, then another, then hundreds more everyday choices that lead us further and further away from the person we were designed to be.

In psychology, this gap is called ‘cognitive dissonance’ - the mental stress created when the beliefs we have about ourselves (or about anything else) don’t match up with reality.

Sometimes we’re so resigned to the gap that we don’t see it anymore. A recent anti-smoking video on the net shows this perfectly. In the clip a group of young kids ask smokers on the street to help them light up. The adults immediately tell the kids why they shouldn’t smoke - they’ll mess up their lungs, get cancer etc. When the kids reply, “Then why are you smoking?" their reactions are priceless - watch it here:

I’m feeling intensely challenged by the gap. I can see things in my own behavior that are self-sabotage, pure and simple. I watch TV when I want to be fit; eat chocolate when I want to lose the spare tyre round my middle; stay up late when I need more sleep.

So a few weeks ago I sat down and wrote a description of the person I want to be - focusing on character, lifestyle and achievements. Then I wrote a similar list for the person I actually am, right now. (After that I really needed chocolate!)

The next step was a “stop - start” list of all the things I need to STOP and START doing to bridge the gap.

Here’s part of that list ...

- chain-drinking coffee (to stay awake)
- snacking on carbs - and chocolate! (because I need energy to keep up with my kids)
- avoiding all forms of exercise (because I’m too wrecked - I’ll do it tomorrow)
- wasting time on the internet (because I need the time out)
- staying up late (which is turning me into a grumpy, short-on-energy mama)
- snapping at my kids (because I stayed up so late the night before)
- feeling sorry for myself (because my bad habits mean I’m not achieving anything!)

(Hmm ... these things are ... kinda connected!!)

- drinking more water
- eating more fruit
- 20 mins on the exercise bike every day
- limiting facebook time to 30 mins a day
- get to bed by midnight, weeknights
- spending 30 mins quality time with each of my kids at least twice a week
  (if I can do facebook time, I can do one-on-one time with my kids!)
- sign up for a language course
- start a blog (hey!)

It’s working already. Having a clear, simple list helps. And I really am fed up with the spare tyre round my middle. It was either get on the bike or buy new jeans, and I can't do the second because it soooo doesn’t fit with the image of me in my head!

As a wise man once said, if you have no clear goals, there's no need for restraint! (my take on Proverbs 29:18, the Bible)

So what’s on your stop-start list?


  1. Congratulations and well done on starting your blog Laurel!

    Very good post, with some very good advice. I'm reading/thinking a lot at the moment about cognitive dissonance so that really interested me.

    Cant get my head around a stop/start list at the moment - though i already know lots of things i could put on them - just not in the place to DO them ,lol.

    Really looking forward to following your journey as you Dig Deep and Fly High.
    Lesley xxx

  2. When I was young I wanted to be a comedienne - I hope in a way I am :)