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Ice Cream As A Metaphor For A Sweet Life

Several years ago, I was working as a guidance counselor in a local school district (grades K-6), filling in for someone who was on medical leave. It  was a time in my life during which I was holdng down several overlapping jobs, being what I call ‘professionally polyamorous’. In addition to meeting 1:1 with the students to discuss everything from academic challenges, peer pressure, bullying, home challenges and self image, I faciliated a weekly group for 5th grade girls who, like most pre-teens, wanted to be popular and accepted.

Often the conversations would be focused on who liked who better, who sided with who, who was prettier, thinner, more popular, who was the ‘alpha female’.

Roll the clock back in your own life and recall being a young girl or young boy; as a parallel, questiong who was stronger, smarter, tougher, a better athlete, and you may have felt the same way. In order to put a halt to the drama, I suggested designing a project together that would focus on self esteem. One of the girls began chanting in a sing songy way….”Self esteem ice cream, self esteem ice cream.”  Brilliant idea, I thought and asked them what that meant to them. They wanted to write a book that would include drawings of themselves doing what they enjoyed doing, with poetry about self esteem.  They never actually completed it, but at least it got them thinking and improving their communication, decreasing the drama and spending time with friends outside this clique, as it had become, so they weren’t always in each others’ business.

A few years later while being employed at an outpatient addiction treatment program,  I facilitated a group for women in recovery. Before they entered the room I was inspired to script those same words on the white board and draw a cartoony ice cream cone.  I asked them what ice cream symbolized for them and they used the words, “sweet, smooth, delicious,  a treat.”   Then I asked about the self-esteem part of the equation and it translated as ‘feeling proud, purposeful, fearless or at least willing to try new things and meet new people, confidence, and standing up for themselves.’ Keep in mind that all of these women were old enough to have tween kids and in fact, do. I wondered if all these years later, they still harbor some of the same fears and feelings that their younger counterparts expressed. The answer would be an unqualified yes for them and for me. One of things we talked about was assertiveness and saying no if we don’t choose to do something we are asked to do. I encouraged them to practice yes and no responses to life in the next week before our meeting. All agreed.

This past week, while sitting with a first time client in an outpatient practice, he was telling me that he felt little motivation to do anything some days, despite the fact that he holds down a full time job and volunteers as a firefighter. I commended him on being of service in his spare time. He commented that there were times when he just didn’t have the energy or mindset that was called for, but did it anyway. Again, I gave him kudos. Then I asked  the $64,000 question, since he seemed to be unhappy with the routine life he was living. “What would it take for you to decide to live a different life?” He responded with the word, “Motivation.” I volleyed back with, “Where will it come from?” His answer was that he didn’t know, and he shrugged his shoulders.

Coming up with yet another ice cream analogy, I asked him what his favorite flavor was. He smiled and said, “Chocolate.”

Continuing, “So, you are at home after a long day at work and you have a hankering for chocolate ice cream. You go to the freezer and look in and all that is in there is a carton of vanilla ice cream. It’s okay, but not your favorite. What do you do?”

“I eat the vanilla.”

“Yes, but, you really want chocolate. I would bet that there is a store nearby that even sells your favorite brand. As long as you have gas in your car and the store is open (likely, since convenience stores are open 24/7), you can satisfy your chocolate craving.”

Again, he shrugs his shoulders and looks away. “Yeh, I just don’t feel like leaving the house, so I’ll settle for vanilla.”

I ask him, “Is that the way you live your life?”

“Pretty much.”

This may be a function of depression, or lifetime habit. If someone is accustomed to sitting and waiting for the chocolate ice cream to be delivered to them, or believing that they need to do without it and complain that they never get the decadent delight of their choosing, then they will always be disatisfied.

Take a look, if you will, at places in your life in which you have desire for something. It could be:

  • A career
  • A relationship
  • A fitness goal
  • An education
  • A garden
  • A vacation
  • A friendship
  • A hobby
  • A car
  • A house
  • Recovery
  • Stability
  • A new skill

The first step is knowing what you want, before you can embark on the journey to call it in. What follows is the belief that you deserve to have what you want. The next move is determining if you are willing to do what it takes. It has been my contention that most people don’t do the best they can. They do the best they are willing to do. Keeping in mind that there are times when circumstances don’t always line up and mental health challenges make it seem as if a boulder is blocking the path, the ‘best you are willing to do,’ may vary from day to day.

How do you find your motivation mojo?

  • Use your vivid imagination and conjure up the experience of having what you want.
  • Make it a full sensory experience as you see, smell, taste, hear and touch every aspect.
  • Tell other people in your life what you intend to manifest.
  • Find a therapist, coach or mentor who will be your accountability partner to help with follow-through.
  • Make daily check lists of the steps to get you there.
  • Listen to music that charges you up.
  • Quell the naysaying voices that tell you all the reasons why you won’t achieve your goals.
  • Surround yourself with yaysayers who will cheer you on.
  • Revel in the times when you are in the flow.
  • Maintain a dialog with the doubting aspects of yourself, questioning why you hold certain beliefs.
  • Re-direct yourself when you start to go astray.
  • Celebrate your success.

And there are some things that are even better than ice cream!

Photo by EEPaul

Ice Cream As A Metaphor For A Sweet Life

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2016). Ice Cream As A Metaphor For A Sweet Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Oct 2016
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