The aged Abraham sends his servant back to Ur to get a wife for Isaac with these instructions, “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. “Only do not take my son back there.” (Gen. 24:8).
Straight ahead lay the land of promise, the land to which he had specifically been called. Ur was the land he had been called out of.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Only do not go backwards.
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Failing Better with the Bible
I am reading this Genesis passage because it is my third (and final and God willing successful) attempt at blogging through the Bible. My first, in 2011, failed because I make the mistake of attempting to comment on every passage, not just on what most spoke to me in the readings of the day.
My second attempt, this January, failed because I again tried to keep up with the readings of the day, an impossible, quixotic endeavour. Blogging through the Bible on a standard reading plan of 4 passages a day involves writing 1460 posts a year. Who could write that many? And who could read them?!!
So I am trying again, taking my time, listening to what scripture is saying to me, writing that down, 2-3 posts a week at best. It will be a marathon, but reading scripture is not a sprint. It is a way of spiritual transformation.
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Failing Better with Diet and Weight Loss
Sometimes success consists of just hanging in there, through plateaus. Jon Acuff writes somewhere that the diet that helped him lose 30 pounds was the diet he stuck to. There’s something to that.
But there is also something in learning from your past failures: studying what worked, and what did not work, and devising a plan likely to set you up for success.
Staying in the ring, and failing better and better until you succeed!
I have learned something from each dieting failure, for instance.
1 Weight Watchers. Ugh. Emphasis on calorie restriction kept me focused on food. Also calorie restriction may not work long term: it lowers your metabolism so that when you resume normal eating, you gain it all back!
2 Vegetarianism. Because I love carbs, I didn’t lose as much as I should have on this, and, nutritionally, substituting carbs for meat and dairy and eggs probably had dubious nutritional value.
3 Metabolic Typing Diet. Turned out that I, unusually for Asians, am a “protein type.” (A throwback to my paternal grandmother’s Portuguese grandmother, and the Portuguese on my mother’s side too?) Which means I do not metabolize carbs as easily as protein, more easily gaining weight with carbs than with meat or fish.
4 Atkins/South Beach. Being a protein type, I lose weight on these, but find it hard to get through the first two weeks!!
5 The Weigh Down Diet. The Presbyterian church I attended for a few years in Williamsburg had a Sunday School class on this eccentric diet! It was eat anything you want, as much as you want, when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.
By allowing chocolate, cookies and cheesecake, the diet aims at removing them as objects of lust. Oddly, I lost 10 pounds on this. But, nutritionally, it was nuts!
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However, instead of viewing these discarded diets as failures, I have decided to view them as learning experiences. I have been very slowly losing weight (13 pounds over the last 9 months) through life-style change for life, designing a diet which includes things I’ve learned from each of my diets
1. I no longer set out to restrict calories as that lowers my metabolism, but, in effect, do so by trying to have a green smoothie and a salad at most meals.
Because of the impressive nutritional and immunological benefits of largely vegan and vegetarian meals, I am trying to eat a diet that’s largely fruit and vegetables, with some protein, according to my body’s felt needs.
2. I limit sugar, chocolate and nutritionally empty white flour or white rice.
3. I try to do a 3.5 mile walk every second day, which probably works wonders for my metabolism.
4. From the Weigh-Down Diet, I’ve learned that it’s okay to have occasional favourite meals, Indian and Chinese takeaway etc., and the occasional sweet treat. Knowing these are permitted on occasion, I do not get discouraged and resume undisciplined eating after one of these treats.
5 Another Weigh-Down Principle: Never use food as a recreational activity or for emotional needs. The risks to health are not worth it.
So I am trying to find appropriate interventions when sad, angry, bored, stressed, which do not involve calories. I am also trying to break a lifelong habit of grazing through the day, and am trying to train myself not to eat between meals unless I am truly hungry. Knowing I am not going to eat until the next meal gives me the same sense of peace and freedom as when I lock myself out of facebook, twitter, email, and newspapers!
Weight loss has been slow with many plateaus, because I am overcoming the engrained bad eating habits of a lifetime, reacquainting myself with what physical hunger feels like, learning not to eat absent-mindedly. But I am determined, whatever I do, not to go backwards.
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Failing Better with Early Rising
I have, for many years, had a romantic desire to wake at 5 o’clock, and enjoy sunrise and sunset in the same day.
However, I have my most concentrated periods of thinking , writing and reading in the evenings. So cutting out a beloved productive time by going to sleep at 9 to wake at 5 felt a bit stupid to me, and my attempts to wake at 5 were short-lived.
My latest wake-early attempt began in late May, and I am now waking at 6.40 a.m., pushing it back 15 minutes every 4 days then maintaining it a bit. Should get there.
I have learned from my failures. Telling myself I have to get to bed early stresses my evening, and deprives me of productive time. So I am using bi-phasic sleeping which works very well for me: less than 8 hours at night, but a longish nap in the afternoon between two periods of work. Iris Murdoch in The Good Apprentice calls this getting two days for the price of one!
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In any enterprise, running an orderly house, learning to write, becoming formidably well-read: keep proceeding, even by millimetres in the direction of your dreams, and you will achieve a success you did not dream of in lesser hours.
If you can’t proceed, rest at a plateau; just do not go backwards.
And then try again, though not using the same strategy which just failed (one definition of insanity). Instead, keep what worked, examine what failed, see how to replace it with something better, and try again, failing better until you succeed.
How about you? Are there areas in which you’ve learned from failure, and are now failing better? Or even succeeding?