In my last post, I committed to sharing with you the results of my renewed journey to fitness, post pandemic. I described my results as being better than I could have hoped for or imagined. But – the outcomes I want to share with you, the ones that matter – have nothing to do with the ones that I set out to achieve. In the process of chasing one goal, I am realizing the reward of my efforts may never show up on any weight scale, or in the mirror. What do I mean? It comes down to a question I was asked when I took those first, tentative and hopeful pandemic steps to focus on fitness, seriously. The question I was asked – and that we need to ask ourselves constantly – is what is my goal? What did I want to accomplish? Or, as I think of it now – what is “my” fit?
There are endless articles on how to get fit – some even talk about the dangers of being overly focused on exercise, muscle, body fat %, dysmorphia and addiction (yes, even healthy habits can become unhealthy obsessions!). And, there’s just as many personal definitions of what “fit” should be; just look at the endless parade of bodies on television, websites, media and advertising. There, it seems like the world is full of idealized bodies that few of us see on a daily basis around us; fewer of us still can say we approach those measures of physical beauty. Perhaps for you as well, those images influenced my own goals and expectations, and not always constructively. But before any of us can find the “how” that gets us the results we seek – perhaps we need to spend some serious time asking ourselves a little less about what changes we seek, and a little more about out why we want change.
If my goal is truly health, well – my doctor told me I have the heart of a teenage girl (now, she meant it in a nice way!). She didn’t know my history, which I mentioned in my last post; she wasn’t my doctor when I went through one of the most difficult periods of my life. About 3 years ago, at age 60, an intestinal parasite was attacking my body from the inside out – and no one knew it. Fact is, I was kind of happy I was losing weight – but other things seemed “off”, somehow. In January 2019 I was hospitalized, and when I got out, I weighed nearly 60 pounds less than six months prior; my muscle mass was lost to dehydration and other side effects. I had to retrain my legs to walk, and in time to drive. I remember sending a photo of me waving, to let my niece and nephew know I was doing better – and my brother told me they had cried when they saw it. When I looked in the mirror after my first shower at home – I almost cried myself. I have come a long way since that point – but still was fundamentally unhappy with where I was still.
About a year ago when I had my first opportunity to return to the gym – out of the house! – the only way to get “in” was to work with a professional trainer. They asked me what my goal was – and I said what I thought was the best answer – to “be my best”. The non-verbal reaction I got was, I think – this guy doesn’t know what he wants. On the contrary – I realized that I needed to just get better. Just get out, just get started. Essentially, I wanted to transform my body in a way that I never had been able to achieve, and I felt optimistic that this was the time, and training was the vehicle that was going to get me to the finish line – and beyond.
Well, friends, to be honest – I am not entirely happy with the physical progress I have made to this point. You might think looking at my photo in my previous entry that I am doing great; compared to a few years ago, yes, absolutely. I practice being grateful for what I have received since I was wheeled out the hospital in early 2019; I know every day is a gift I might not have had. But I am realizing that it isn’t enough to build muscle and lose fat; more and more, I think the fitness that I want to grasp, and to evidence on the outside, has to start on the inside – with how I think about myself, and others. As I waver between another cardio session or a box of chocolate caramels from Trader Joes – too often, the immediate self-satisfaction of something I should be avoiding has a stronger grip on my decisions than the awareness of its cost to me on this ongoing journey. For many of us, short term happiness comes at the expense of long-term dreams.
Over the past few months, as I have questioned my own focus and goals; looking outward on the gym members who more closely exemplify the physical perfection that I have never really even been close to achieving – I have asked myself why I haven’t gotten more results after all the efforts, the training, and yes, the whining. And I have begun to think of myself beyond just how I “measure up” in comparison to that longed for ideal. I don’t know how to explain it, or even describe it – but as I lift the barbell, and strain on the machine, as I grasp for just a few more second, really, on that cardio machine – I am aware that where I really need to focus is on my thinking. Thinking about my identity; who I am, really; and who I dream of becoming.
It is in our thoughts, not at the gym, that we first give birth to a vision of transformation; and it is in our thoughts, our practices, that we develop the habits that lead to true “success”, however we define it. I realize now my thoughts have been defeating me rather than setting the stage for results. My immature expectations of some miracle transformation, of being able to walk out post COVID and see people I have not met in a year or more and have them say – wow! I didn’t recognize you – you look amazing! – have not been met, and in a way, the dawning awareness of that truth is a greater achievement than being able to say my body fat is down x % and I can lift this much. Because the REAL growth that will help me move ahead is in adjusting my expectations and my focus on what I will, for the moment, believe are my key takeaways from this period to date. If I had simply transformed my body, I would never had realized that it was my mind, my spirit and my whole being that needed to “find my fit”.
I am absolutely still studying, learning, stumbling and rising again in my practices and workouts. I am not “giving up” – rather, supplementing or expanding the purpose of why I want to grow in strength, in self-discipline, and in character. The physical fitness will be a side effect of a renewed awareness and acceptance of not only myself – but extending that towards others; just as my weight loss after that first half marathon was a side effect of simply wanting to achieve a goal that I had never thought possible, by putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, day by day. In the process, there are some insights that I have gained that help me maintain balance – just as critical as tracking reps, and weights, and getting the calories counts on the elliptical. I offer you these lessons – obvious as though they may seem, yet oh so difficult to embrace and stand on – hoping perhaps they will help you refine your own vision and goals into something that is the rocket fuel for your quest to success.
Discover your “Flow” – Make time your ally, your friend, your secret weapon. You can’t get lasting results without being consistent – by “showing up” over time, regularly, and sticking with it. I look at it as every day I am planting seeds. It takes a long time for seeds to take root and grow, sometimes many years; I think of the old “Johnny Appleseed” cartoon from Disney, how this one man wandering through the emerging American states and giving seeds to others left a heritage that he never saw come to fruition. Whatever your age or physical shape, or “invisible” muscle fitness – change will only come if you move ahead. I try to remember to focus not on “where are the results” TODAY, but rather, did I take the action that I needed to today. I need to let taking the steps be my first priority – the results will come, whatever they are or are not. They certainly won’t come at all if I don’t keep on keeping on. Plant the seeds of the life you want tomorrow – many tomorrows away – each and every day.
Change your vocabulary – Reconsider what YOU consider to be success and failure – not someone else. Setting a standard for what you “should be” able to accomplish by looking at the people around you is POINTLESS and a WASTE OF TIME. Success is a process, not a destination; failure is our coach, not our nemesis. I need to be open to learning; to not assume what I am doing is right, but study, share, try the new; dare to stumble and look awkward because, hey, that’s just how it works. When we were children, it was easier – we didn’t have these facades of pride to maintain, we built those up and now they box us in – but if we break through, we can embrace the new, and discover, and create, something better. Failure happens; success without failure is a myth, move on knowing that the next step is what matters now. Embrace the rhythm and romance of the dance between striving, falling, and rising again, renewed.
Be your own cheerleader. All the coaching and training or encouragement from others cannot supplant what we must provide for ourselves; beating yourself up for all the things you failed to do, to be, is kind of like being offered the “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly and saying “no, I think I would rather be unhappy”. You have to be 100 percent on your side – no books, no apps or trainer or videos or diet can replace your choice to believe in your own potential. I didn’t grow up in a family of cheerleaders – most of us did not – so, perhaps like Genie in Aladdin, we all need to just build an army of inner voices saying “Yes I can” to find that boost. So grab the pom poms and start your own squad! Be your own torch bearer in your daily Olympic opening ceremony – hear those trumpets, listen to the cheers, and rejoice in what you can do. Only you are the judges, you hold up those numbers on cards, and you hand out the medals.
See the dream, not the chasm. The gap between where you are and where you wish to be has a strong gravity, and an endless hunger; if you let it, it will suck you in, you will wallow in darkness and discouragement, and you will never be able to enjoy the progress you made to date – or to build on it and move ahead. It’s so easy to fall in; to see something you cannot get beyond. Instead, see the next step, and take it in faith. Let that step be enough! Some days just let it be enough to celebrate being where you are, knowing every day offers a new starting line, and holding on to certainty you can move ahead. Goals and dreams are wonderful but be realistic and celebrate every victory (just not with ice cream). If there was not a gap between where you are and where you want to be, we would never learn to stretch, to gain strength, to get up and keep going. The bridge between you and your destination is built one step at a time.
Find joy in yourself as you are today. No, this does not contradict the power of dreams; but yearning only for a different tomorrow robs you of celebrating the imperfection of today. Guess what? You are ALWAYS going to have something that isn’t what you wish it to be. And no matter how you grow or what you achieve, there will always be something beckoning beyond. Your dreams and goals should be a beacon for hope, inspiring you to reach forward – not a burden of guilt and shame that buries you in a bleak despair. Whatever “fit” means for you, this journey does not have a finish line; you are building a way of life, not to “arrive” but to travel on. This is not the Olympics, or even high school PE; there is no clock timer at the end of your run reporting “the final result”. We only, ever, have the now, blended from what we were given and that which we created; tomorrow offers the yield from those seeds we plant today; and yesterday is just an old photo album with memories, some good, some bad, but none as alive as the moment that we are in right NOW. Look for, discover, and share today’s joys.
Those are the lessons I am learning each day as I get in the car and drive to the gym, and struggle through my workout, going home exhausted. It’s funny, perhaps, and I have no idea how many other people might have felt this way – but I never really felt “at home” in my body. Surely not in those junior high PE classes; decades later, still, not in the gym where bodybuilders seemingly have achieved Adonis physiques and Hercules strength. I hate to admit it, but Olive Oil might beat me at arm wrestling! Still, somehow, this process of exercising has helped me sense a greater integration between body, mind and spirit. A weaving together as I accept the limits of who I am, while still reaching to achieve what I can. That scared, hurting little boy is finding new wings, and you can too.
I am still “finding my fit” – and I hope my wandering thoughts give you some encouragement to keep looking for your own. It’s worth the quest – even if at 63 I am beyond being able to achieve the outward results that my quest initially saw as the goal. It’s kind of exciting to realize the true treasures awaiting me will not be visible to the eye but will be of far greater value. I will talk about that a little bit more in my next post. In the meantime – I’ll be at the gym tomorrow, and many thereafter. Growing in mind, spirit, and body – together. Perhaps I will see you there – let’s give each other a boost. Keep on keeping on, friends.