“If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” –Arabian Proverb
I came across this proverb while researching How Horseshoe Nails Are Ruining Your Life. My first thought was, “Wow, do I have a lot of camel noses!”
In fact, ignoring Camel Noses is probably one of the top three ways I sabotage myself.
A Camel Nose can be a person–someone in your life who doesn’t respect boundaries. The coworker who needs you to cover for them just once…and then just once more…and the next thing you know, she’s somehow delegated part of her job to you (and probably taken credit for it).
But that kind of Camel Nose is the easiest to identify and say no to. The worst ones are the ones we create for ourselves, because the so-called camel is actually a bad habit or a belief.
Let’s take dieting, for example. You make yourself a healthy bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, but you guesstimate rather than measure the chopped walnuts, raisins, and dollop of honey you add for flavor. You don’t worry about it, though, because you’re probably not off by more than 50 calories. No big deal, right? You can walk that off by taking the stairs instead of the elevator on your way up to the office.
Mid-morning, one of your co-workers is eating peanut M&Ms and offers you one. One peanut M&M–that can’t be more than 15 or 20 calories right?
But after you get back to your desk, you can’t stop thinking about peanut M&Ms. And you’ve got exactly the right amount of change at the bottom of your purse. A bag of peanut M&Ms is only 250 calories. You can make that up by having a salad for lunch, or by limiting dinner to a bowl of soup.
You go with the salad, feeling virtuous because you resisted the temptation to add cheese and ham, and you chose vinaigrette dressing instead of creamy ranch.
You’re back on track, right?
Except…mid-afternoon rolls around, and you didn’t eat your usual balanced lunch. Now you’re having an energy crisis. You eat the handful of almonds you brought with you to snack on, but they’re not enough.
So you get up for coffee, and on the way back to your desk, you stop at the vending machine to buy a protein bar. That’s healthy, right? The protein will keep you satisfied until dinner, and it’s fortified with a bunch of vitamins.
You go back to work and the next thing you know, it’s 6 p.m.–you lost track of time finishing up a project for your boss, and now you’ve missed your usual bus. By the time you get home at 6:45, you’re ravenous, but you can only eat 300 calories for dinner if you want to make up for the protein bar.
An hour after you finish your soup, your stomach is growling again. Plus, you’re low on willpower as a result of all those course-correcting decisions you had to make today to compensate for one peanut M&M.
So you have a snack. And since the snack is going to take you over your calorie limit for the day anyway, you say “What the heck!” and make a big bowl of popcorn with butter.
Have you guessed the camel’s name yet? He’s called: “It’s okay if I get a little off track now, I can make up for it later.”
Here’s another one…
You notice that the dishwasher is louder than it used to be, but the dishes are still getting clean. It might be nothing, and calling a repairman is going to cost you at least $100, even if he doesn’t find anything wrong with it. So you decide to wait and see if it gets worse. Eventually you get used to it being loud, and forget about it altogether.
The toilet’s been running periodically, but if you jiggle the handle, it stops. Toilet parts are cheap, and you can probably google instructions on how to fix it–you make a mental note to do that soon. But it’s not really an emergency, and your next few weekends are packed, so you keep jiggling.
Occasionally you have trouble starting your car, but it’s an intermittent problem, and you’re usually able to get it going on the second try. You’ve had a tight couple of months and paying the mechanic would require you to dip into savings, so you put up with the minor inconvenience, promising yourself that you’ll make that appointment as soon as you get your next paycheck.
Then one day, the dying alternator in your car finally gives out, forcing you to have the car towed and pay for a taxi home…
…when you get home, you discover your dishwasher has flooded the kitchen…
…and waiting in your mailbox is a water bill that’s 20% higher than usual, thanks to that running toilet.
Have you guessed this camel’s name yet? You got it: “I don’t have time to deal with little problems, because I’ve got so many big problems on my plate.”
But guess how those big problems got started?
- rationalize that a small problem isn’t really a problem
- decide to ignore small problems until they become emergencies
…you’re letting the camel stick its nose into your tent.
It’s not like you enjoy living with those camels. If you weren’t so tired, stressed, busy and just plain overwhelmed, you’d swat it on the nose as soon as it butted in.
Which camels tend to stick their noses into your tents?