A Pint of Prevention

How My Ice Cream Reminded Me to Pay Attention

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Photo by Andris Romanovskis

A few weeks ago, I started to think that maybe it was high time for me to cut down on the amount of sugar that my body has gotten accustomed to. Over the past year I’ve begun to notice how much of the sweet stuff was hiding in places I had previously paid little attention to. That one brand of yogurt that I purchase? A whopping 19 grams!

The other night, after a long day and stressful day, I decided I wanted ice cream.

Not being entirely foolish, I don’t keep the stuff in the freezer because that’s just asking for trouble. So I went out to the local gas station market, paid over $6 for a pint of premium ice cream (mint chip, and I tell you that for a reason), and made my way back home. I cooked dinner – chock full of veggies to make up for the upcoming dessert – ate, and cleaned up.

Then I took out my ice cream and prepared to settle in.

I was going to watch some of the Olympics because, you know, it’s nice to watch others burn thousands of calories while you’re consuming double that amount in cold and creamy deliciousness. Except there was a problem. A huge problem!

The ice cream had clearly been thawed and refrozen. 

The crystalline consistency was clue number one. Clue number two was when I banged it out of the container and saw that all the chips had sunk to the bottom of the carton. Yep, it was a goner. And then a thought came to me: Is this a hint? Is this something that perhaps I should pay attention to?

I don’t believe anything is random, so I got the message.

There are clues like this all around us if we only notice them, clues that can help guide and support us in our choices and direction. They are often manifested as synchronistic events (like hearing the same phrase multiple times in a day), or seemingly minor things (like refrozen ice cream) that trigger a more major thought for you on a personal level (like my sugar intake). Sometimes they are more direct, like a sensitive tooth reminding you to book an appointment with the dentist.

 Some people are much more in tune with them than others, but even the most oblivious of us can pick up on these subtle signals if we know how to look for them.

One of the most amazing qualities we have as humans is the ability to notice, to pay attention, to home in on mundane things.

If you think about it, one of our great luxuries is a degree of relative safety. I could – and perhaps will at a later date – discuss how many people don’t have that luxury. But if you’re reading this, chances are good you’re someone who can say that, under your own roof or within certain situations, you are reasonably safe. You do not need to be attentive to everyone and everything around you for your moment-to-moment survival as, say, a rabbit on the prairie must be lest it become lunch for a coyote. And this level of safety allows us to notice the little, less-urgent things. 

That rabbit doesn’t have the ability to pay attention to the shapes of clouds in the sky and think, “That one is shaped like a heart, maybe I should work harder at coming from a place of compassion…” We do.

But here’s the interesting part. 

We don’t pay attention. It is often only when things get so out of hand that we can no longer ignore it that we even notice anything is wrong. Until we are practically smacked in the face by a clue that carries more weight behind it, we’re unlikely to give the issue even a moment’s notice. We’ll ignore that sensitive tooth until it rots and falls out.

We’re lazy. We’re out of touch. We don’t want to change.

Interesting, isn’t it, that as a coach whose business it is to help people change, I so readily admit that we don’t want to do so? Well, from my nearly 30 years of professional experience I can tell you that, unless we have to change, we’re highly unlikely to. We don’t want to listen to those little signals, even when we know how helpful they are.

Do you brush and floss your teeth because it’s fun? 

Of course not! When you’re a kid you did it because your parents made you. When you got to be a bit older you probably kept it up, but at some point maybe you thought to yourself, “Oh, I don’t have to do this so carefully…” and maybe you slacked off. And maybe you paid a price – literally! – at the dentist’s office. If this has happened to you, the motivation for change was ultimately the annoyance, fear, or frustration of having had spent so much time and money at the dentist.

Were there clues that the time had come to get your teeth looked at and taken care of?

Most likely. 

Some discoloration, or swelling, or sensitivity where there didn’t use to be. 

Did you pay attention to those clues? 

Apparently not, if you racked up such a high dentist bill. But if you had noticed and heeded them, perhaps those cavities could have been prevented.

If I were to ask you to look around you right now, what would you notice? 

What clues have you been given but not, until this very moment, paid attention to? Were you too buried in your electronics, or too lost in your own head? Did you dismiss the puzzle pieces because they seemed like something a little bit too unconventional?

 A car just honked its horn outside my window. Do I feel like this means something directly related to me, or is there something for me to learn from it? I don’t think so. Not this time. But next time it might have meaning for me, and it’s my responsibility to hear it and be mindful. 

My ice cream is a mint flavored hunk of ice. Is it pure coincidence that, as I’ve been entertaining the idea of reducing my sugar intake, the dessert I purchased on impulse just happened to be ruined? I doubt it. The ice cream seems to be reiterating that thought, cluing me in to something I ought to be doing for my own good.

Does this mean that I’ve forsaken all sugar? 

Not even close. But I’m making some changes. 

Is it time for me to give up my ice cream habit? Probably. 

And is it time for me to stop going to the gas station market and paying a high price for low quality? Most definitely! 

What clues have you noticed lately? 

What messages do they have for you?

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