This is a post I have wanted to write for over a year, and now, since it will do double duty for both of my blogs, I am finally taking the time to do it. I think that this is such an important principle that I was a little reluctant to try and get the point across. But its worth a try.
Dallas Willard, a brilliant professor of philosophy from USC (and my most favorite author) uses this acrostic to explain how spiritual formation can occur in a person’s life. But it applies to really anything you want to do in life. The initials stand for:
- V — Vision
- I — Intention
- M — Means
I will try to explain this the way it made sense to me. Dr. Willard used the illustration of learning a foreign language. In the United States we have plenty of means for learning a foreign language–foreign language tapes, community college courses, and of course, it is part of the curriculum in most public schools. But very few people actually carry through and learn a foreign language because they don’t really have a vision for learning the language, much less the intention to carry on and do the hard work necessary to succeed at learning a foreign language. However, all around the world, people successfully learn to speak the English language because they have a vision of how speaking English can improve the quality of their lives.
The intention part of the plan is a bit trickier to explain, because I think we misuse the word ‘intend’ a lot. We say “I ‘intend’ to lose weight.” Or, “I intended to go to the store, but it just never happened.” Intention here means we actually decide to do it. To quote Dr. Willard–
“an intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfill or carry through with the intention.”
And finally, means is usually what we have plenty of in this country. Means are the various actions, programs, or instrumentalities that allow you to achieve the vision. Using the example of learning a foreign language, the various means might include signing up for language courses, listening to recordings, buying books, associating with people who speak that language, maybe even visiting that country, and of course, practice, practice, practice.
This V.I.M. pattern of transformation applies so very well to the area of successful weight loss and especially maintenance. In fact, Dr. Willard points out that this is similar to the general pattern of personal transformation that is used by Alcoholics Anonymous.
So many people skip over the vision and intention and go directly to the means. We do have a plethora of means for weight loss here in the United States. Weight loss programs, exercise programs, gastric bypass surgery, aisles of weight loss products at the grocery store. Books about how to do it. Books by people who have done it. Magazines, magazines, magazines. Exercise equipment. You can spend a fortune ‘trying’ to lose weight without ever having a vision and an intention to lose it. If you can believe it, one of my most favorite things to do was to get the new ‘Shape’ magazine and read the inspirational stories while eating a big brownie and drinking a Classic Coke. We Try to eat less. We buy low-fat this or that. We sign up for Weight Watchers in January. Pay for a gym membership.
Some people do have a vision of sorts. “I want to look like ________.” (Fill in movie star of choice.) Or “I want to lose 30 pounds in two months so I will be able to eat whatever I want on that cruise.” Now, sometimes that is how successful losers/maintainers have started. But somewhere along the way, they have to develop a bigger vision of what they want. “I want to be fit and healthy into my old age.” “I want to live life every day as optimally as possible.” “I want to move easily without pain and have sustained energy for the busy life that I enjoy living.”
Most people never truly intend to lose the weight. Oh, they might say, ‘I want to lose this weight with all of my heart.’ But when they consider the difficult life changes that must take place, no true decision (intention) is ever made.
For myself, I do think I had a hazy, kind of deeply buried vision when I joined weight watchers. I was pretty weak on the intention, and pretty skeptical about the means. It took quite a long while for a firm vision to form in my mind, and the intention was actually a process too. But they are there now, and they are firm. The vision I have talked about a lot. I want to live as healthy a life as is possible as I age. I don’t want to take medications, especially to control blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Watching others aging less than optimally has firmed up the intention that I have. And means. I have means up the ying yang. Seeking information, and insisting that I know the truth about what food and exercise do for you have really helped to keep the vision firmly in place. For example, reading and knowing that eating one hamburger and fries can do considerable harm to my blood vessels makes me think twice when I am tempted to stop for a hamburger. It has taken a long time, but the information (followed closely by personal experience) that eating sugar will just make me want more sugar really does make me think twice about eating anything with sugar, no matter how many calories I have available that day.
What is your vision regarding your life and weight loss? If you have started this journey and never thought much about it, don’t panic. LIke I said, most times I believe this is a process. But a clear vision and a firm intention will keep you going when the means become boring or difficult.