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I was just starting my workout the other day and I was thinking of a quote by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (I have recently been reading a lot of his work). The quote which I am referring to is “Unattainability is no counterargument against the ideal. Ideals are merely signposts, never the goal.” In context Carl Jung was referring to developing one’s personality into the complete realization of our being. I began thinking of this quote in terms of bettering one’s physical health however. At our Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky weight loss centers we focus heavily on lifestyle changes and permanent eating patterns that can lead to weight loss and better health for life. Because of this I like to draw inspiration from wherever I can to better serve this mission (in this case a Swiss psychiatrist).

So how does this particular quote from Jung relate? How I interpret it is that just because we see unattainable ideas that we strive to acquire in our day to day lives that these ideas should not be thought of as “the goal”. We commonly hear the cliché, “you’ll never look like models in magazines!” or “Actresses and actors in movies have unattainable body types!” Both of these statements may be 100% true. It is very difficult, and maybe impossible, for most people to get into the kind of shape that you see in magazines, movies or T.V. To do so requires a particular combination of discipline, hard work and proper genetics.

Thinking back to Jung’s quote, however, leads us to understand that these unattainable body types should not be thought of as “the goal”. As Jung put it, “they are signposts.” This means that there is nothing wrong with admiring someone in an enviable position that you may not be able to equal yourself. In this case we are speaking about someone looking to lose a significant amount of weight and seeing a supermodel as the “ideal”. But this concept is applicable in many other challenges we have in life. The new business man can look at the billionaire as an unattainable goal. The high school athlete can look at the hall of famer as the unattainable goal.

The problem we get into as a society according to Jung is that we frame these “Ideals” as “goals” instead of “signposts”. If we treat unattainable body images as “signposts”, or in other words “inspiration”, then we can avoid vilifying them and becoming increasingly disappointed if we are not able to reach a similar standard.

Another saying that I think helps to drive home the point is “If you aim for the moon and miss you still end up among the stars.” Now first we need to ignore the fact that this saying doesn’t really make practical sense. The stars are much further away than the moon so the saying should actually be “If you aim for the stars and miss you will still end up at the moon.” But I guess that just doesn’t have the same ring to it. The point remains however that there is nothing wrong with using unattainable ideals as a source of inspiration along a journey. Furthermore, there is no practical point to vilify someone in an enviable position or become disappointed if we cannot achieve exactly the same.

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