Day 86: Fifteen Lessons from quitting drinking and sugar. Lesson 1: Lagom

I have 15 blogs left between now and completing my alcohol and sugar-free experiment and since I’ve learned so much from the process, I thought I’d share some of the best lessons in these last blogs.

Here’s the first one:

Lagom

A Swedish concept, “The Law of Lagom” describes something that is ‘just enough’ or ‘just right’. It’s about balance.

I chose this as the first lesson because it is one that, for me, has proven to be at the heart of happiness and inner peace – and remains a lesson I am learning.

Quite a lot of the gurus who inspired me over the years have been of the “all or nothing” school of thought. I bought into that heavily. I lived my life at a run – maybe even a charge. I’d probably describe myself a bit like Braveheart going into battle: a big speech, then a lot of yelling and fast, angry running to. Get. Shit. Done.

Until I collapsed in a heap.

No in-between.

It wasn’t until I started taking an active interest in maintaining my mental health (as opposed to nursing it back after a stampede) that I noticed all the things I was/ am doing to throw myself off balance. My busyness and striving was my badge of honour – but it was also what caused me to need to numb my feelings of stress and anxiety. That’s where Lagom comes in.

Here are some of the ways I’m learning to apply it:

1. Feelings

I expect to feel both good and bad and I recognise the value in both. I’m learning not to run from horrible feelings, not even the scary, shameful ones.

It’s still quite challenging not to fixate on the bad feelings but I’m new to this so I imagine it will get easier with practice.

When big feelings threaten to overwhelm me, I’m learning to apply lagom. I take a break from those feelings and balance them with comfort – the healthy kind rather than the numbing kind. I sit quietly with a cup of tea, listen to music, change into soft, comfortable clothes or put a luxurious blanket over myself, go outside and look at the sky, I do all kinds of different things and my repertoire of comforting activities is expanding all the time. These activities remind me that balance exists and that no matter how I feel, I can seek it out.

2. The pace of life and activities

I rush everything and, for years, have overlooked the value of purposeful stillness. Oh, I meditate – but mainly so I can check it off a list because it’s something I should be doing. I always choose HIIT training over yoga or pilates and on the few occasions where injury or exhaustion have caused me to switch track, I remain twitchy throughout the slower practices. “I could be doing something instead of just sitting here!” screams the voice in my head.

I have stopped seeing rushing and striving as a badge of honour. Now, I look for balance. Again, it’s a work in progress – life is fast, man! I still find it hard to move at an enjoyable pace and still feel like I’m doing ‘enough’ but I am learning to be honest about what’s possible and say no when I feel able to do so. Each little step I take loosens the stress chokehold a little more – and numbing no longer feels like a necessary evil.

3. Work, Social and Family Balance

I’m socially awkward. Only those who know me very well would notice – I hide it well (usually behind a large glass of wine or 4!).

When it comes to working, social life and family, lagom is about ‘give and take’ – making a contribution to those around you and, in exchange, feeling part of something you want to be a part of.

When I get the balance right, the feelings are of joy, comfort and belonging – never feelings that need to be numbed out.

4. Pleasure and Comfort

Lagom doesn’t discount the need for work and striving. It simply works on the basis that you have to balance those with pleasure and comfort – the joyful, life-affirming kind, not the stuff-your-face-with-chocolate-and-drink-a-gallon-of-wine kind.

A pleasurable experience has to meet two criteria – it has to feel good when you’re doing it and feel good when you remember it.

As I look at my life through the lens of lagom, it’s easy to see how the challenges I experienced – and those I created for myself – have largely been because I went too far one way or another.

For me, balance is key and although that means I might never set the world on fire it means I won’t set myself on fire either.

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