March 19, 2021 Jacob Watts

Once Leasa and I announced we were expecting a baby, I started to hear this phrase more and more. Or maybe I just noticed it more. Everyone was telling us that we will be just fine. He will be fine. They made this, that, and the other mistakes when they were raising their kids and they turned out just fine. While I appreciate the reassurance and I understand everyone meant it in a helpful way, I started to get annoyed the more I thought about it. The thought that eventually came to mind was, “Do I want him to be just fine? Do I want to be just fine, as a parent?”

One of my favorite stand-up comedians is Patton Oswalt. He has a joke about when he and his wife had their first child his parents would come over and justify how they raised him. Patton would put his child down to sleep on their back, like you’re supposed to, and his mom would say something like “You slept on your stomach all the time and you turned out just fine!” He gave a couple more examples, but you get the point. The punchline is that Patton says “Mom! I’m overweight and depressed and I stand up and tell dick jokes in front of strangers for a living! I’M NOT FINE!”

It’s a funny, albeit extreme, example but nevertheless I can’t help but think when people say we will be fine or Sonny will be fine that I want him to be more than fine. I want him to THRIVE. Obviously I can take this too far and obsess about every little thing he sees, eats, and does but I definitely don’t want to do that either. We will do what most parents do, which is use the information we have available to us to make the best decisions we can.

Then I started to think about how that “fine” mindset ties into health and fitness. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “Well, at least they’re doing something” over the years. You’ve probably all heard it or said it as well. You might know somebody who is unhealthy, overweight, or just generally needs drastic change in their life but all they’re doing is going for a short walk during the day. Then you say or think that phrase, “Hey, it’s better than nothing.” And I used to completely agree with that statement. But now I’m not so sure. Before you think I’m a heartless A-hole, allow me to explain.

The problem with the validity of this statement is that people say and interpret it in a vacuum. Yes, if you are simply looking at the physical health of a person, they are better off just going for a 20 minute walk everyday as opposed to sitting and doing nothing all day. That is technically true. However, health doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is literally not possible to separate your physical body from your mind and your emotions. This brings me to my point of why I don’t think it’s helpful to say doing minimally positive things is “fine” or “good enough” or “better than nothing”.

Human beings are wired to do the minimal amount of work necessary to survive. Historically, if you wasted energy doing things you didn’t need to do, you died. Only in very recent years have we had the luxury of being mostly safe and surrounded (for most people) by more food than we need at all times. We are wired to seek comfort and safety because it means a better chance for survival. Again, I fully recognize that people mean this in a nice and helpful way. But I have started to become of the opinion that it is actually doing the opposite of helping when people say “at least they’re doing something” or “hey, it’s better than nothing”. If I think about it, somebody who is doing nothing healthy probably knows it. On the other hand, I’ve definitely gotten into the mindset before where I justify bad habits because I “earned” it or it’s ok because the rest of my habits are “pretty good”. Now, those two thoughts right there are going to be different for everyone. You might have some dedicated people who are really buttoned up with their sleep and nutrition and to them “pretty good” is having one cheat day per month. But for other people who don’t have the same expectations, “pretty good” might be that they ate some vegetables that week. Just like fitness, everything habit-based falls on a spectrum. So if you have somebody who is still struggling to quit smoking, drinking soda/alcohol, and eats Taco Bell for lunch every day, I would argue that telling them a 20 minute walk is “better than nothing” is going to be harmful for their health in the long-run.

This is where my job gets hard (and your job too, if you’re trying to help someone change their habits). I can’t just come up to somebody who thinks they are doing enough and tell them they, in fact, are not. They likely won’t take that well and I won’t be able to help them from that point on. But the whole point of this blog is that I’m not so sure I’m doing my job if I go along with the thought that “at least they’re doing something”. I have the difficult task of getting people to realize they’re not doing enough good for themselves without making them feel so bad that they give up or shut me out. So unfortunately, I don’t have the right answer because it’s going to be different for each person. But I do firmly believe that “at least they’re doing something” is no long a statement that I find helpful and I will try to avoid using it from now on. If you happen to find yourself thinking or saying it, maybe instead you could work at finding a way to reach the person in question and actually help them realize they can do a little more or even expect it for themselves. It’s tough but I don’t see another way to truly help people who need it.