Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Will the real Dave please stand up?

I haven’t been posting as frequently recently, through a combination of being overly busy and because I have been noodling on a new territory of self-scrutiny.  Get ready of a long, circuitous and somewhat odd post.

Still reading?

One of the aspects of maintenance that I struggle the most with is the following thought in the recesses of my mind:  that any day I will receive the following notice:

Dear Mr. Kirchhoff, 
We have reviewed our records, and it has come to our attention that your visa in our beautiful country has expired.  You are now in violation of our laws, and we are beginning steps to have you immediately deported. 
Thanks for visiting us. 
The citizens of Thin-landia.  

That’s right.  I am afraid that I will be discovered as an intruder and not a native citizen of the land of naturally thin people.  Now they want to send me back to where I came from, Heavyopolis.

Who Am I?

It’s strange how we rigidly define ourselves based on how we once were, particularly when it comes to body image.  It makes us second-guess ourselves, and it convinces us that we are ultimately doomed to trudge through life as the never-changing version of our former self.  It is though we see ourselves as being rubber band people who will inevitably snap back to what ever form we previously occupied.  While there are some arguments that are made on a biological underpinning of some of this, I also wonder how much of this elastic effect is in my head.  Like a lot people, I have a tendency to see myself a certain way, and I assume that image of myself must represent some inherent truth.

Over the past couple of years, I have taken an interest in studying up on Buddhist philosophy and it’s intersection with psychology.  Light reading, right?   Given their history of spending the last 3,000 years pondering and analyzing why people think what we think, I find the Buddhist perspective to be a fascinating one.  One concept I have been particularly intrigued by has been “reification”.

What is the definition of reification?  From Wikipedia:

Reification (also known as concretism, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event, or physical entity.[1] In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.


Here is my take on the concept as it applies to how I (and possibly others) think.  There is a natural tendency to construct an image of oneself, like a giant statue carved of stone, based on who I think I am.  I let others weigh in on the statue design by allowing them assign labels and identifiers that I gladly incorporate along with my own labels and identifiers.  I continue to develop this statue in my mind as an identity that must have some undeniable truth.  I convince myself that there is a “self” that is permanent and concrete and that any deviance from it is bound to crumble.   From what I understand, Carl Jung referred to this as the “shadow self”, a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts (again, thank you Wikipedia).

Buddhists would tell us two things:  1) this so-called self is not really real and that it is full of distorted thinking and self-misconceptions and 2) the process of then clinging to it ultimately makes us miserable.  They then go into their fundamental belief that there is no “self” and that we are all inter-connected beings struggling with the same basic stresses and sufferings.  People and things all change, and clinging to something or some self-image as permanent is fraught with frustration.  Their point is to suggest that the only path to happiness is to have compassion for our fellow planet-mate and to let go of our notion of this fake self.

At this point, it would be totally fair for you to say some combination of the following:  1) “Dave, thanks for your attempt to compress an incredibly intricate philosophical framework in a paragraph, and doing it in an only marginally accurate way.”  2) “Dave, this makes my head hurt”, 3) “Dave, you are a strange man.  BTW, can I borrow some Patchouli oil?”  or finally 4) “Dave, what does this have to do with your weight?”

My social and professional self-portrait gallery

As I wallow in self-examination, I realize that over my life I have periodically constructed identities/portraits of myself and that I have assumed to be true and set in stone…

  • When I was very young:  “I am not a smart person.”  I am slightly dyslexic, and I very much struggled throughout much of elementary school.  I assumed that others were much smarter and that my life would be somehow limited.  
  • Middle school:  “I am not a foxy guy.”  What can I say?  I was really tall and really skinny, and I had a face that looked like a pepper spray assault.  I didn’t help that I wore fashion-backward Toughskin jeans from Sears, and that I only had one eyebrow.  I was cute girl anti-matter.  I did receive a consolation prize:  I somehow found a way to manage through my dyslexia, and I started getting good grades.  
  • College:  “I’m a slacker.”  My skin had long since cleared up, and I gained enough body mass to no longer be a flight risk in a stiff breeze.  I also learned how to make one eyebrow turn into two.  Enjoying my new found status as a normal and socially activated person, I settled in for the identity of town idiot.  It was hard to find me without a beer in my hand, and I was not a model student.  I kind of assumed that I would ultimately end up being a fun guy with an uninteresting career.  
  • Work:  “I’m a hard worker, running from my past.”  I eventually got a little fed up with playing a supporting role in a college hijinks movie, and I found my work ethic again.  I worked my rear off in graduate school, and I somehow finagled my way into a job at a fancy consulting firm.  I have always thought it completely ridiculous that they took me in, so I worked my tail off there too.  Interestingly, my general feeling of being an unworthy imposter has been a useful source of fuel in my professional development.  Now, I am the CEO of a public company, and let me assure you, I wait everyday for the imposter police to storm into my office and shoo me back from whence I came.  All I can do to avert it is to work hard and do the best that I can to serve my company, the people that work for there and the members and mission that it serves.  

As I look back, my education and professional development has been impacted by seeing myself in a particular way and assuming that however I developed would be temporary because I was deviating from some “true self”.  I have continued to assume that the citizens of the country of Successville will ultimately cast me off their island because I wasn’t born there.

My weight and body image self-portrait gallery

My weight and body image have interesting parallels to my professional development.  My body can be comprised of three phases of identity:

  • Emaciated man:  this was the period of age 4 to 17 in which I was disturbingly thin.  Ribs could be counted and weight could not be gained.  Ichabod Crane was I.  
  • Big man:  this is the period of age 21 to age 34 in which I gained roughly 70 pounds at peak from where I was at age 17.  I became a big guy who was doomed to clean his plate of giant food as well as whatever was left on his neighbor’s plate (even if those leftovers were at a different table in the restaurant).  
  • Temporarily fit man:  this is age 35 to present.  This is the period in which I have been nursing my weight loss, becoming a pretty diligent exercise person as well as a reasonably careful eater.  I say “temporary” because I think I still assume that I am “big man” underneath this temporary state.  I assume that it is in my nature to eat compulsively because that is “who I am”.  

So here is my point.  There is no firmly defined “me”.  I am a collection of choices that I make each day, and I am constantly evolving, growing and changing.  I am not bound by who I was when I was age 7, 17, 21, or 34.  I am not bound by who I am today.  I can make choices each day that are wholly divorced from choices I made 10, 15 or 20 years ago.  I can either be unbound with a world full of possibilities and growth or I can calcify.

I am fortunate to live in a country of immigrants.  We all came from some place else, even the Pilgrims.  Our future can be defined only by the choices we make going forward.

Therefore, in response to the citizens of Thinlandia, I think I might stick around a while.   I have extended my visa, and I think I’m going to apply for permanent residence.




  1. I love this post and your candidness. We are indeed limited only by how we see ourselves and the choices we make. Buddha was no fool.

  2. This is a fascinating post and is really making me think about how I have labelled myself. I'm going to put some work into re-evaluation and changing my perceptions. Thank you!

  3. I love this post. I'm keeping it to refer back to it often. I felt like you were writing about me.

  4. Thank you. What a wonderful, thought provoking post. You have a way of writing exactly what I need to read, when I need to read it, because I struggle like everyone else. Like Kellie said, I felt like you were writing about me too.

  5. Oh the life of maintenance! Dave, you made my head hurt, but then again you made some great points! I have always considered myself a work in progress. Maintenance is WORK, but not progress. But then again, perhaps it is. :)

  6. You ARE the real Slim Shady!

    " I can make choices each day that are wholly divorced from choices I made 10, 15 or 20 years ago." I dare say you can make choices each day that are wholly divorced from the choices you made yesterday, which is one of the things that makes WW great.

    "I have extended my visa, and I think I’m going to apply for permanent residence." As Yoda would say, "There is no try, only do" so how about "I AM going to apply for permanent residence". You've shown by word and deed that you deserve to.

  7. Thank you for a wonderful post! I am so glad that you are normal and post about it. I'm assuming you are normal because I can totally relate. I totally enjoy your blog and I love W.W. I wouldn't be able to be a citizen in Thinladia without W.W.!!!

  8. Beautiful! Thank you for being willing to go deep into your own mind and assumptions.

  9. Cognitive filters are things we create by deciding what meaning to assign to our experiences. Changing these filters is a conscious choice to learn. By choosing to redesign them we take responsibility for the only things we actually do control: our own thoughts, words and actions.

  10. I really like this post, thank you for sharing. It makes it easier to look ahead toward the future realizing that the concrete statue isn't real.

  11. Amazing! Thanks for sharing and proving that it's a hard path for everyone.

  12. I hope this post can find its way outside the confines of the WW community, as it has an important, and timeless message for everyone. Thank you, Mr. Kirchhoff. We forgive you for not posting frequently, especially when you give us a winner like this one.

  13. Thanks for sharing these refreshing insights. I haven't read a good Jung reference in a long time. As someone on staff, it's nice to know that our CEO is capable of such thoughtful and honest self-reflection. If only more CEOs of public companies were similarly introspective. Right now, I can only think of Steve Jobs as another example.

  14. Wow that was some reading and I can really relate to all of those feelings. I feel like one day the old me will resurface and I'll gain all the weight I lost through all my old bad eating habits. I feel like a fraud as a leader as I don't have all the answers that people expect you to have and the body confidence that I should have after losing 8 stone. I thought losing weight would fix everything but I think it takes much longer for your emotional side to catch up with the physical. It was great to read your blog thank you for sharing.

  15. I am coming up to my 4th year at goal after having been a member of the "Big Woman" club for just about all my life 30+ years. I still struggle in mind with accepting the new me - seeing myself as a healthy, thin person. Your point is very well taken and I think I will be re-reading it. "I am not bound by who I was... I am not bound by who I am today". Makes a great daily affirmation. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Amazing. How can you crawl inside my head and wander around like that, without me even hearing the door open? Thank you, wonderful stuff!

  17. I think you have way too much time on your hands! I teach kindergarten and in the words of one of my little charges- huh? Actually I do get it and I have felt that way too but I am reading a really great book on being faithful to a dream, a relationship, or a life style and it is really helping me!

  18. Dave, you really make me think. I am on a perpetual plateau that made me believe I'm holding onto the weight because I am not yet ready to embrace the new or rather real me.

  19. This is an awesome article. Very basic but extremely effective movements to build a great buddy.
    www phentermine 37.5

  20. I just want to know what Big Young Dave is doing with that upside-down kitty.

    ~~ clearly angry kate

  21. Great post, thanks for your candidness. Would like to see some of this thinking incorporated into the WW maintenance program. All of us could benefit from it. Thanks for sharing at this level.

  22. This is the nice post and this post is really
    appreciable and informatics i like this post too much.......
    weight loss pill

  23. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. You even inspired me to join Weight Watchers last week! Thanks so much for taking the time to blog, I will continue to read for as long as you keep writing.

  24. Great new picture!! Saw it in the current issue of WW Mag !! You look amazing !!

  25. Good reminder that I need to get out of my own way. As my clothes get looser and looser, I'm kind of getting a little freaked about leaving behind a 'me' I've known so well in my mirror for so long. Is there really a thinner me in there, somewhere - or am I fooling myself? I think that I'm going to stop thinking about it so much and stay away from the mirro - and just keep washing my loosening clothes and drying them on 'high'. One day at a time - that's the length of time I can wear them before they start getting loose again!

  26. What a great post! I feel that I can talk to you as a real person and not just as president of WW. My name is Sally Carr ( need you to know of some real unhappiness in my WW group (Mentor, OH,44060, Thursday 10AM).
    We have been told that we are no longer going to have Jackie Sherman as our leader. Ours is the only group that is being taken from her and we are sick and angry that she is being moved. Our group has been together for many years and have formed a cohesive and supportive relationship bolstered by Jackie. Surely, we can go to other groups but then we lose each other. As someone who has studied psychology, you know how important group support is, and we feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under us. One member said to me today that she feels as if Jackie were "thrown under the truck"! As a psychologist myself I know how helpful this group and especially Jackie have been to my own weight-loss (over 60 Lbs.). She literally is "own my team" as one of my supporters through life. I know that these decisions are not yours, but I needed to share my feelings with one who knows WW and its policies. Thank you for reading this long post.
    Sincerely, Sally Carr

  27. Hey man, I'm right there with ya. I reached my goal weight and am now in the strange land of maintenance. Recently I piled 7lbs back on because, in all honesty, it didn't have any impact and noone seemed to notice. I'm taking it back off again now but I think that the motivation to remain at my healthy weight will come and go and the challenge will be to ride out the tough times.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, if you're interested in my WW journey it's here:

  28. This post really resonated with me. I'm behind on reading your blog, but in particular, I totally get that "imposter" at my job feeling. Thanks for sharing your thoughts...I'll be reflecting on this one for awhile!

  29. I am right there with Sally Carr and her wonderful post about Jackie Sherman! She is a top-notch leader, one of the best I have ever had in my 30+ years as a WW member. She was also removed from our Golden Gate meeting where she had almost (SRO) standing room only at our Wednesday morning meeting. No logical, reasonable, understandable reason has been given for our loss since Jackie still has meetings at other locations and also does Open Times at Golden Gate. If the success of WW members is truly your mission why won't you bring Jackie back to Mentor and Golden Gate?