Splitting Infinitives

I love to write.  Love thinking about creative ways of putting words together to express ideas!  I love writing so much that I have taught it and also consulted others in how to make their writing better.

I feel confident in saying that my grammar is pretty good.  Rarely do I have errors.  However, there is one problem that I struggle with, both in my speaking and writing.

And that’s splitting infinitives.

According to Google, a split infinitive is a construction consisting of an infinitive with an adverb or other word inserted between to and the verb, e.g., she seems to really like it.

And this is why it sounds right to me

I struggle with this, mostly because it doesn’t sound wrong to me.  I mean, an adverb can be just about anywhere in a sentence!  It can go between the auxiliary and the main verb (e.g. He can really sing! or He has never seen that movie.).  However, it cannot go between the “to” and the main verb in an infinite phrase.

I will now attempt to flagrantly split my infinitives to make my point.

One of the times that I hear people splitting their infinitives is when they are talking about their goals.  I recently asked a friend what her goals were for the day, and she answered “I want to not binge eat.”  Which one would think is a good goal, except that it is destined for failure.

Avoidance behaviors are not good motivators.

Here is an example of my using an avoidance behavior to motivate myself to do something I don’t enjoy.

I hate exercising.  I certainly have my least hated exercises.  Yoga is probably my favorite.  Even that, though, I don’t look forward to.  In fact, I will use any excuse I can to avoid doing it.  I mean, I’m not even running (which is the WORST!).

However, exercising is important.  Especially for a woman with an anxiety disorder.  Exercise is one of the most effective way to keep anxiety at bay.  So I understand it’s value.

The last couple weeks, I have had trouble making myself exercise.  Like weird trouble.  You would think that something I have been doing regularly for over a year would be kind of a routine and habit by now.  However, I found that my usual dislike for exercise was hard to overcome.  Why was that?

I think the answer was that I was exercising to avoid feeling anxious.  And now I was on a medication that was supposed to help me avoid feeling anxious.  So I wanted to just do the easy thing.

You see, avoiding something is not a good motivation for lasting change.

This is the difference between negative and positive reinforcement.  Punishment gives you a negative consequence for doing something (guilt feelings after eating french fries).  And then after you do something you are supposed to do, those penalties are removed (I have avoided feeling guilty because I ate healthy!).

Negative reinforcement works for an initial change, but it has no longevity.  People start accepting those things as natural part of their lives (have you ever ignored guilt?) or just start to feel resentful of being penalized.  Or they’ll find a way to substitute one unhealthy behavior for another (for instance, avoiding smoking by snacking).  Not awesome for long-term health.

You’ll get some temporary change if there is something you don’t want in your life.  But making your goals avoiding something often results in dropping those habits when that fear is taken away some other way.  When I started a new medicine, the need to avoid anxiety was gone.  So avoidance was not my motivator anymore.

Avoidance is also a bad motivator because it is hard to feel successful.  How do you measure how well you did not binge eat?  Can you feel any success from avoiding this in the morning?  Or if you successfully monitor your food intake until 7 pm and then binge out on chips, did your earlier efforts count for anything?  Measurable goals are much more likely to have positive outcomes.

Another big goal is to not feel ashamed.  Our culture tends to think that shame is a good motivator.  Shame is often used to try to motivate change in ourselves and in others.  Have you read anyone’s comment about how they couldn’t imagine a mother making those kinds of choices!  She should think of her children!  When we are dieting, it is often to avoid the shame of how we feel we look.  However, shame is a terrible motivator!  When our goal is to not feel shame, we are destined to failure!

If you are feeling guilt and shame, you are not hearing the voice of God here. The voice of God is gentle correction toward a goal.  For instance, when interacting with the woman caught in adultery, when no one sees themselves as without sin in order to throw the first stone, Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).  
The voice of shame says, if you don’t stop this sin of gluttony, you’ll never be effective in ministry. The voice of God says, good health gives you the strength you need to do what I’m calling you to. Here are some ideas to go toward health.  This is a shift in thinking from “I need to stop sinning” to “I am making these changes, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to improve my effectiveness in the Kingdom”.  Instead of running away from something, you are looking towards a goal.

Also, nature abhors a vacuum.  It is a natural process for something to fill up whatever empty space has been created.  Jesus talked about this when He said in John 11:24-26

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

So if you are merely taking a bad behavior out of your life, you are not likely to be in a healthier spot in the long term.

Since I’ve talked about what to not do (oh how flagrant those split infinitives are!), what then should you do?

First, you need to recognize that whatever behaviors you are trying to change have served some purpose in your life.  Let’s for example take overeating (since I can identify with that). It has been doing something (making you feel less sad, less bored, less insecure, something). When you take it out, it leaves a vacuum. Which screams so be filled by something (because you haven’t fixed why you were eating). Fixing the reason takes longer and can be accomplished little by little. So replacing the overeating with something is necessary

This is where positive reinforcement can come in.  Positive reinforcement is adding some reward for behaviors that you want to see.  I have recently made myself a list of things to accomplish in a week, and I give myself a check mark every time I do one.  Is this elementary?  It seems like it.  However, it works.  It sets my mind on the things that I want instead of setting my focus on the things I want to avoid.  And just like how in driving you are supposed to focus on the middle of your lane instead of the lines because you will drift toward what you are looking at, you are more likely to hit what you are focused on.  So focus on victory!

Being mindful of WHY you want to overeat and then choosing something else to help allows you to have an actionable plan. Because willpower will fail. Always. It always fails. On the other hand, actionable plans can be evaluated and revised if they are not as effective as you want. But that is a different mindset than failure.

Need this to be a little less theoretical and more concrete?  Here are some ideas for a plan to go towards health:

  • increase water intake
  • increase exercise (which lowers appetite)
  • set aside time for meditation (which will help you recognize why you are overeating)
  • set sleep goals (because when we are tired, our bodies need more calories to stay alert)
  • set social goals
  • set self-care goals
Don’t do all of those at once. Start simple by choosing one. Choosing More Willpower has a low probability of long-term success (ask any drug or alcohol addict).
And remember, God has promised to be involved in this process with us!  Romans 12:2 reminds us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world (for instance, our shame-based, avoidance culture), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (allowing the Holy Spirit to change your focus to goal-driven behavior – the goals given by the Holy Spirit).
As we focus not on what we are going to not do, but what we are going to do through God’s power, our mindset can be one that is set on victory.
Our minds, and our grammar, can be transformed.

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