The Final Fifty

{May 7, 2013}   Meditations and Motivations

I’ve been talking to a friend of mine recently as she begins her own journey toward increased mobility and better health. It is so good to see her making efforts to be more active. One of the hard things when it comes to losing weight and getting stronger and more mobile is that a lot of people tend to come to you looking for advice or the little tidbit of information they are lacking to finally get them there, but the problem is that most people just aren’t satisfied with the answers I have for them. Because, the truth is, it takes a lot of dedication and effort. There’s no easy way to do it.

My friend was telling me that she just feels so lazy, and it’s hard to get herself up and going. I remember that feeling, especially in the beginning, and I remember thinking that if I could just crest the top of the hill, I would get to that promised land where I was an Active Person, and then I wouldn’t have to fight myself so hard just to get myself up and going.

I’ve been working at this for years, now, and I have to say that if there is a moment when that happens, I have not yet found it. I still battle the lazies every single day. Every day, the couch waves it’s tractor beam at me menacingly, and my success on any given day is anything but assured.

I haven’t conducted a poll or anything yet, but I suspect that the difference between active people and sedentary people is that active people have learned to draw a lot of satisfaction from always doing the things that are hard. It’s not a physical difference, you understand, but a mental and emotional one. Oh sure, there are endorphins once you’re finally up and doing it, but the payoff is really all in your brain. I am a reasonably accomplished person, so I recognize the mental feedback of feeling like you’ve faced a challenge and bested it. There’s an immense satisfaction of feeling like your best today is better than your best for last week.

I think that’s why I’ve come back to running so many times. Even before the great lazy came upon me and I became effectively sedentary for nearly a decade, I was never able to run. Or, rather, I was never able to run and breathe within the same time frame. It wasn’t even about effort at all, it was the fact that running was the shortest distance between me and an honest to goodness asthma attack.

I remember the terror of hearing gym teachers say we were going to run the mile. I would end up walking for most of it, with periodic attempts to run resulting in me being horribly out of breath. I remember my classmates all blowing past me, even the other ones who were not athletically gifted. Without fail, I would come in last, usually about 16-20 minutes after starting. There was one time near the end of eighth grade when I really did my best, just balls-out went for it like my life depended on it, and I finished the mile in 12 minutes. That moment was huge for me, even though it was nowhere near where the guidelines said I should be. To my knowledge, that is the fastest I have ever completed a mile in my life.

And maybe I’ll never beat that. But you know what? I’m 33 fucking years old and my average time per mile now, at the start of my training, is no worse than my average was at 12 years old (it’s just under 16 min last time I went out.) And I know I can do better at it, because I can already feel myself improving.

So what do I recommend when you’re having trouble getting moving? You have to strong arm your thought process into a healthier one.

  • On days when you get out and push yourself, acknowledge the work you’ve done, and what you’ve accomplished. Like, luxuriate in it. Be self-indulgent about it. Give yourself permission to be impressed with what you’ve done.
  • Set goals for yourself. And make sure you set different kinds of goals (like “I will be active X days this week”, or “I will whittle my mile time down by one minute”, or “I will work up to the 10lb dumbbells for my squats.”) Having goals tied to effort and not just results means that there’s always a goal you can succeed at. Having goals tied to results mean you have a reason to really push yourself.
  • Reward yourself, but in healthy ways. Make yourself earn the rewards, and bonus points if the rewards are things that really reinforce the feelings of success (like taking a long bubble bath, or buying yourself a Zombies, Run! tshirt for making it through 8 weeks of 5k training, for example.)
  • On the days when the couch tractor beam sucks you in, note how you feel. For me, the result is that I feel stiff, and moving gets harder. I end up feeling more tired at the end of a lazy day than I do after being active. (Note: I don’t mean not to take any rest days. Everyone needs those, or you risk serious injury. I mean a day when you could easily exercise and you choose not to.)
  • Bargain with yourself. If you feel tired and a rest day really isn’t called for, then make yourself start with the understanding that you can always cut it short if you’re really not feeling it. I’ve done this with myself a hundred times or more, and I think there may have been ONE time when I didn’t do at least my normal workout. I often do more.
  • Try to work more incidental exercise into your routine. Walk everywhere you can get to on foot. Get a bike for those you can’t.
  • Try to think of your exercises, whatever they are, as scheduled and therefor inevitable. Not in the doom sense, just as a thing you know you are going to do. Don’t think of it as an “if” sort of question. Plan for it, and try not to let the laziness in to begin with.
  • Remember: ” If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.”

Anyone else out there have any good advice for staying motivated and active?


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