Vacations and (Avoiding) Losing Momentum

In the past three weeks I've spent a week in Vegas and a week on a cruise in the Bahamas. I spent the first trip with my best friends and the latter trip with my sister and mother. Both were absolutely incredible and I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can take such trips.

But there's always a Yin and Yang, right? I look at vacation as almost a polar opposite to normal life. During my normal day to day, my main focus is progress for the future. It's a concept I struggle with constantly - the goal is to live for the moment, but everything I do to become a better person is essentially an investment for the future. On vacation, it's all about living in the present. 

And in my current state, that means drinking, eating, and gambling. Where's the balance? How can I fulfill all my desires in the present without making myself into someone I despise in the long-term?

I still haven't figured it out yet. I'm getting closer, though. 

The answer is a cliche, like all the truest truths in life: moderation and balance. I've found that in so many areas of life; the truth is some trite cliche I heard as a kid but discarded as meaningless. "Live in the moment." "Treat others as you want to be treated." "Everything in moderation." These are all profoundly true, but they mean nothing until you have the life experience to back them up.

I've gained that experience. Here's a picture from my first trip to Vegas:

That was seven years ago. My understanding of moderation has improved.

The truth for me now is that my brain lies to me. Yes, I want to drink my face off and eat 35 Krispy Kreme donuts, but I only want that for the exact immediate present. The after-effects last longer and hit harder than the immediate pleasure gained from short-term actions like binging. 

So do I indulge? Yes. I do it with more moderation now but I still have a long way to go. In both Vegas and on the cruise, I went too far with eating and drinking. It feels great in the moment but there's still a balance that I'm too far to the right of, if that makes sense. I ate these two plates within about an hour on the cruise:

I'm a very analytical person. I keep coming around to this idea that there's a concrete formula that could be used to determine how much to indulge. I'm thinking it might be something like this:

Current Entitlement > Pleasure - Shame

So there are three variables here that have to be analyzed. I'll start from the end and work backwards.

Shame: How bad is it going to feel if you allow yourself this indulgence? Unless it's something new to you, you should have a good idea. I have a lot of indulgences that I could succumb to at any time. A couple examples are Chipotle and Pizza Hut. Chipotle is a high calorie meal but I don't consider it too bad. I can eat it and recover fairly easily. Pizza Hut is on the other end of the spectrum. If I eat the entire stuffed crust pizza like I ususally do, I'm going to hate myself pretty bad. So Chipotle™ has a low shame value while Pizza Hut has a pretty high one. Make sense? Moving on...

Pleasure: How good will the indulgence feel in the moment? Again, this is something you can usually determine from prior experience. Interestingly enough, as I type this I kind of realize that I should never indulge in Pizza Hut again. Why? The Pleasure value for Pizza Hut™ isn't much higher than the Pleasure value for Chipotle. So if Pizza Hut causes that much more shame, the equation is off and it's a dumb move. 

Current Entitlement: This factor is super important and something that I feel I've really figured out. Current Entitlement is the lesson I've TRULY learned in the past few years. It's super simple and obvious but it took me a while to really understand. If I've been dieting strictly and exercising religiously for weeks and I allow yourself a cheat meal, I often feel like I've earned it. The Pleasure value shoots up and the Shame value falls. If, however, I've been in a rut, not dieting nor exercising, and I eat some junk food, the opposite is true. I barely enjoy it and I hate myself. 

Is this something everyone can relate to? Is this true across the board?

It rings so true for me that I feel like it's almost the entire answer to this riddle that's plagued me for so long.

If we can't overcome the desire to indulge, we must work to build our entitlement up first. Then we can indulge with maximum pleasure and avoid the shame. I'll probably continue to improve and elaborate on my feelings, but this is my current feeling: I will continue to indulge, but I'll do it with the knowledge that it only really feels good if I've earned it.

On my vacations, I ate too much and drank too much, but I also did things like this:

Again, I'm still figuring it out. But here's what I've got so far... when on vacation:

  • Keep up with your positive daily habits. Meditating for 20 minutes and exercising for 40 minutes only takes an hour out of your day and will make you feel better for the rest of the day. It's about increasing your Current Entitlement, which will increase your Pleasure and lower your Shame. It seems like these activities might take away from your vacation, but the opposite is true. They're small investments that pay dividends.
  • Understand that some indulgences may not be worth it. There's always a point of Diminishing Returns. You feel you've earned a beer? Dude, go for it. Four beers? It's up to you - you know how it will affect you. Twenty beers? I'm gonna advise you against that. I may even join you, but I know it's not for the best.
  • Enjoy yourself! This is something that I didn't really cover in this post, and that's mainly because I still don't quite get it. I'm getting better at it but I can't say for sure why. My best guess is meditation. Meditating regularly helps bring you back to the present more often. In my most recent vacations, I've really been able to enjoy the moment and appreciate where I'm at. This wasn't always true. In the past I've indulged and let loose but still had negativity override my pleasure. As you're in that beautiful location with no work to do, stop for a second and remember how lucky you are. You're on vacation!