Oh the stories we tell ourselves

Ever had someone completely call you on your bullshit?

I have.

Just the other day in fact. 

My number one skill, aside from dominating the sports category in Trivial Pursuit, is kicking the ever-loving crap out of myself.

I do it in multiple ways - physically at the gym, mentally at the end of the day, sometimes the beginning, and at least a handful of times in between.

 If I really wanted to be like Wonder Woman (this one came from Ireland - thanks Susan), I'd learn to be nicer to myself. 

If I really wanted to be like Wonder Woman (this one came from Ireland - thanks Susan), I'd learn to be nicer to myself. 

I do it for a multitude of reasons - because I didn’t do something as well as I thought I should have. Because I did do something I thought I shouldn’t have. I set high expectations and often come up short. 

Recently, I’ve been feeling badly about a lot of things - I’m not sure that it matters much what those things are.

And so a friend of mine called me out.

I mean called. Me. Out.

My private email signature has the following quote:

“One must be compassionate to oneself before external compassion.”  - The Dahli Llama 

She wanted to know, and I'm quoting her directly "what kind of b.s. is that quote when you don't feel that you deserve kindness for yourself?"

Um...well....

I told her that I have the quote on the bottom of my emails because I want to remind every single person I send an email to how important it is to embrace kindness for themselves. And I want to remind them that they are worthy of kindness and compassion.

And that unless they can do that for themselves, they’ll have a very difficult time doing it for someone else.

She just stared at me, unblinking, as I said this. 

"Yet you rake yourself over the coals over every mistake you make and every perceived flaw you can find?" she was somewhat incredulous. 

I didn't know what to say. 

The best I could come up with, after a lot of reflecting, is that I often look for ways to validate that I’m not a good person. Someone offers positive feedback and I brush it off - someone offers constructive or negative feedback and I use it as confirmation for that strongly held belief; which is ultimately, that I’m not deserving of kindness.

We’ve all constructed belief-systems about ourselves. That we’re unlovable, undeserving of happiness or kindness, that we don’t deserve success or love - I mean the list goes on and on. But just because we believe it doesn’t mean that it’s true. 

I don’t know what negative beliefs you might have about yourself. 

But today I’d challenge you to take a look at some of those belief systems - take a long, hard look at those old beliefs - and pretend, just for a half a second, that they aren’t true. 

I know, it’s tough right? 

It’s ok, try it anyway.

And I’ll keep trying to challenge my long-standing beliefs as well. 

Be kind. 

When you just don't feel like it

Not gonna lie - the hardest part about writing? Doing it when I don’t feel like doing it. 

Kind of like today.

I got up early, sat down at my desk and opened up a blank document. As I watched the fog roll over the meadow in my back yard, I did more staring than I did writing. I started, I stopped, I got up, I paced, I sat down again.

Finally I packed up my stuff and drove to my local Starbucks so that I could get at least an hour of writing in. 

I don't always manage to write when I don't feel like it, so what made me do it today?  

Well, according to my recent research on motivation, it’s probably meaning. And mastery. It’s important to me - very important to me - to become a good writer. I've always known that. 

It’s also very important to me that I write a book someday. 

I've known that too. 

My long term goal isn't what motivated me today though. Today, it was important to me that I get up and write a newsletter to all of you, because it's my goal to write to you every single week. 

So even though I really didn’t feel like writing today, I persisted because my goal has meaning to me. 

When I solicit suggestions for topics to write about, motivation is at the top of the list. Followed by finding time to workout. I understand not feeling motivated - I wrote a post awhile back discussing that anxiety and depression is often the fear of wasting your life but no urge to be productive. 

That can be a really difficult river to row some days.  

It’s the reason that finding your “why” becomes so important. 

I think what's changed for me recently when it comes to finding my why for writing a book, is this - I want my dad to be around to see it’s publication. 

I don't think I've always been aware of that. 

Now, he’s a very young 71 (almost 72), and there are no guarantees, but he’s had faith in me from day one that I’d write a book. I’m not writing the book for him - but I’m feeling very motivated to put something together and get it published when he can see it and feel proud. 

So what do you do when you just don't feel like doing something? 

Find the meaning in it for you. I mean peel off layer after layer after layer. 

And then peel off some more layers. 

It's not the possibility of success and money that fuels me to write my book. It's seeing a proud look on my dad's face and having him throw a sideways hug and telling me he's proud of me. 

What is it that gives you meaning? 

I'd love to hear from you.

Random thoughts on training in my 40’s

Working with a bunch of under 30 guys means that I’m perhaps a tad more sensitive to my age than is reasonable. I promise you that once I came on board, coach's meetings became more challenging, especially when we talked about training “middle aged” clients. 

Josh: Generally we won’t have a 40 something year old…

Me: What? What won’t you have a 40 year old do? Hmmm??? What??

Josh: Drag an SUV across the parking lot with her teeth. 

Me: I'll be tying a rope to the SUV in the parking lot if you need me...

The most challenging part of aging for me, and I know I’m young, is balancing my athletic skills and wants with the realities of a 41-year old body that I’ve already put through the ringer playing various sports throughout the years. 

My competitive days might now revolve around golf and slow pitch softball, but I still want to train like an athlete - not just because it’s fun, but because it’s who I am. So with that in mind, here are those random thoughts.

1. Don't tell me I can't do something

 I want to be like Donna, and Eileen and Kathy and so many of my other clients who are working out and training hard, and smart, into their 60's and beyond.

I want to be like Donna, and Eileen and Kathy and so many of my other clients who are working out and training hard, and smart, into their 60's and beyond.

Listen, I know there are things I shouldn't do anymore, in the interest of my long-term health. I might have to let go of that goal of running a marathon, given that I spent the past four months side-lined from my most recent attempt. 

But, if you know what's good for you, and me, you'll never tell me I can't do something. Maybe that's hard-wired from my years of being one three girls in Little League, but I'll break myself doing something if you tell me that I can't. 

We all have particular gym identities, and mine is that of an aging athlete. For me, that means that I want to throw medicine balls, deadlift until my face falls off, and move like an athlete. Let me do that, ok? 

2. Recovery isn't a suggestion, it's a necessity

I didn’t think anything about running or working out every day when I was in college and my early twenties. This week, as I’m finally picking up a training routine after being hampered by injury, I’m on my fourth day in a row of training, and my legs know it. So tomorrow’s workout will be foam rolling and light stretching, because I’m not a spring chicken any more. (More like early summer).

Recovery doesn't necessarily mean sitting around on the couch. Foam rolling, a massage, light stretching and walking can be part of a recovery day. 

3. If I don’t warm up, I pay the price

Pretty much what I just said. If I don’t warm up properly, which is following a complete foam rolling routine and a full body warm up, I’ll tweak something sooner or later. Our muscles aren’t filet mignon, they’re beef jerky. (It's a gross but effective analogy. Just think about ripping apart that jerky. You're welcome for the visual.)

You don't want to tear muscles because you skipped your warm up, right? Me neither. Let's get out there and show those Milennials how it's done.

Right after we warm up for 20 minutes and slather ourselves in Biofreeze...

4. I still think of myself as an athlete

I’m not going to the Olympics (maybe the senior ones someday) or making money as an athlete, but I still think of myself as an athlete. That means I want to train like an athlete. I want to move in other planes of motion. Think about the cone drills, back pedaling, drop step moves and shuffles we do when we play a sport. I might not jump onto a 32 inch box or explode on a sprint (I use the term sprinting very loosely) like I did when I was younger, but it's still important to train power and explosiveness. And I still want to move like an athlete. 

Playing sports isn’t just something that I used to do; it’s how I first learned to relate to the world. I was on my first team when I was five, and was on teams almost every year of my life right up until 2015. 

5. Be smart when it comes to injury

Remember that commercial about being like Mike? Yeah, be like Mike, but don't be like Kim. I’m the best example of what NOT to do when it comes to working out around an injury, for all of the above reasons. I find it hard to balance my competitive mentality with the restrictions of an injury, but the reality is, the sooner you take care of an injury, the sooner you get back to doing what you love.

This is an "area of opportunity" for me. But I think my last injury did more to teach me patience than anything I've previously dealt with.  

6. You might have to train differently than you used to

We have a client who has had a double knee replacement and double hip replacement, and she has a crazy hard core athlete mentality. But she’s also accepted the limitations of her body and embraced what she can do. It’s not that she can’t train - it’s just that she has to train differently. And she’s made peace with that.

All of us would do well to follow her lead. 

I often joke with clients that there should be a support group for aging athletes, and I mean that. I’m not sure that there’s anything more defeating than when you ask your body to do something (run a marathon, weed the garden, play a pick up game with your kids) and you find that you can’t do it.

Feeling betrayed by your body is an awful feeling. 

But it does no good to sit around and overthink about it. And it does no good to pretend that your body can do exactly what it did when you were 20. If we can learn to adjust expectations (not lower them necessarily), then perhaps we can embrace the privilege that is growing older.  

Often, I find it’s helpful to both have a coach, who can program for you, and a solid community of people who can keep you sane when you’re on the sidelines. 

And if anyone out there is looking for a coach, I'll be opening up a few spots in my private coaching group in September. 

Be strong. Be kind. 

 

Then I dropped out of grad school....again

While there are few jobs available to graduates of MFA programs, there are even fewer available to MFA dropouts, so I found limited employment opportunities when I returned home after one semester of graduate school. I could have gone back to my old job at a weekly newspaper, covering township and borough meetings where passing gas was as newsworthy as passing an ordinance, but my pride wouldn’t let me.

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Initially I scanned the classifieds with amusement, considering jobs as a denture maker or farmhand. As a writer, I wanted employment that might make for interesting stories. Several weeks into unemployment, I realized that a graduate school dropout was more suspect than a high school dropout and I was considered overqualified and with suspicion when I applied for most jobs.

“If you were in graduate school, why do you want to work for Subway?” asked a stout man with a large mole on his chin. 

Employers would send me on my way, promising a phone call, but nobody ever called. 

Three months into a dwindling stash of captain’s wafers and spaghetti-o meals I went crawling to a local chain restaurant that was hiring. My friend’s pastor was a regular and recommended me to one of the managers who wore a sorority baseball hat during our interview. Her name was Amanda and as she scanned my application she happily pointed out that she had graduated high school the same year I left college. 

I hated her for having perky breasts and a career path. The prospect of working at a chain restaurant for someone who was younger than me was depressing, but I was just short of begging for a job as a salad bar attendant. 

“You can start tomorrow night,” she said. “Nate will be here to train you.”

I went out to buy my required uniform of black pants, shirts, and shoes and tried to mine my ego out of the gutter.  Five months earlier I was flashing a student ID for my Starbucks discount and taking part in intellectual discussions about society’s version of “the other.” Now I was dressed in business casual black, learning the serving temperature for beats and thousand island dressing.

Adding to my misery was the fact that my trainer, Nate, was 16 years old with holes in his ear lobes through which he could fit his fists, and proudly did every so often. His eyes were glazed, his speech moderately slurred and while he didn’t specify his drug of choice, after a few minutes on the job, it was clear why someone might choose a mind altering substance during the salad bar shift.

“You have to watch when you pile the pineapple,” he said with all seriousness. “Because you don’t want it to get too high.”

He laughed through his nose, the way you do when you’re high and everything is very funny. I looked around for something to stab myself with, but found only spoons for the pudding. 

Throughout the night I was trained in restroom cleaning, floor washing, opening a can of pears, taking out the garbage and sitting around on my ass. Of all the job requirements, this last one was probably the most difficult. Nate was kind though, and tried to teach me the ways of lounging. We sat down in a booth at the bar area and he pulled out a crumpled soft pack of Marlboro lights.

“Mind if I smoke?” he asked.

I said that I did mind, and with that banished myself permanently from whatever social interaction I may have had with my fellow co-workers. It turned out that this particular restaurant was rampant with chain smokers who couldn’t last more than ten minutes without a fix. My desire to maintain pink lungs was both righteous and offensive as far as they were concerned. Because I was not a smoker, and could tell the difference between spinach and romaine lettuce, I became the resident health nut.


fter a few weeks on the job, the perky breasted manager asked if I was ready for my test. 

“Test?”

“You have to take a test in order to be certified as a salad bar attendant.” She said this matter of factly, without humor or sarcasm.

Teachers, lawyers, doctors; these people take tests. And that makes sense to me, given the number of laws and small bones and muscles there are out there. A professional needs to know the difference between a bone and cartilage. But I wasn’t striving to become a professional salad bar attendant, and there were only a handful of items on the salad bar to deal with anyway.

“If you just want to tie me up naked on the roof of your BMW and ride me in the Christmas parade that would probably be less humiliating,” I offered. 

“If you want to continue working here and if you want to be considered for a raise, you’ll take the test.”

There are certain moments in life when you come face to face with your arrival at the bottom of the barrel. Sitting in a booth amongst my chain-smoking coworkers, I answered questions about the temperature of hard boiled eggs, the shelf life of lettuce and landed head first into the bottom of the restaurant garbage barrel that had become my life. 

The good news I guess, is that I passed the test and was awarded a gold Achilles pin and a .25 cent per hour raise.


I don’t flatter myself to say that I was a mystery to those who worked there, as most of the servers were in high school and college and had plans for their futures. I may have stayed away from them because they smoked, but they stayed clear of me as a nightmare of what could happen, even with a college degree. Occasionally though, their gross fascination brought them to me, like spectators at a zoo.

“So you graduated from college?” a pug nosed girl named Roseanna asked one day. “And now you work here?”

I tried to joke my way through a response, telling them they shouldn’t be English or History, or Philosophy majors.

“But couldn’t you be doing something else?” Roy asked. He was 21 and about to graduate a semester early with a degree in nursing. 

“Couldn’t you be in graduate school or teaching English over in Japan or in the Peace Corps or something?”

I said that the great American novel had already been penned, that I was afraid to fly, couldn’t get into the Peace Corps and didn’t like graduate school. Nate took a long drag from his cigarette and squinted through the smoke.

“Maybe you ought to fix cars or something,” he said.

I began telling them that I was writing, working really hard on a screenplay when I was at home and freelancing for the local paper. While some of those things were true, I really had no direction and they saw my defeat in the shadows of the baseball hat I wore to work and the chip that ran six feet deep into my shoulder. 

  

For me the most important part of my job was avoiding contact with anybody who came into the restaurant that might know me. The idea that one of my former high school teachers or worse, an old high school classmate might walk into the restaurant on any given day was paralyzing to me. I tried to convince myself that I was only working this job until I was discovered as the next great writer.

At home I could hide under the covers and pretend that the New Yorker was going to call me, even though that’s not what magazines do. 

  When I went to work, it was harder to pretend those things. Every night, on bathroom patrol, it was impossible not to look myself in the face. In the men’s and women’s bathroom I saw my reflection everywhere. I was in the handles on the urinals and the shiny silver faucets in the sinks. 

And every night, I was there in the mirror, a 26 year old college educated woman in a dollar general black polo shirt and faded Red Sox hat, wiping harder and harder with the paper towels, trying to make the image disappear.   

Good things happen when you show up

The story goes like this:

A former gang member trying to leave the gang life was assigned, among other activities, to a meditation group. Two weeks into the class, the instructor called his supervisor and complained.

“He doesn’t want to be here,” the teacher said.

“Where is he right now?” asked the supervisor.

“Here.”

Um…..

 Show up, laugh, learn what a bird dog is....laugh some more...photo by  www.leisejones.com

Show up, laugh, learn what a bird dog is....laugh some more...photo by www.leisejones.com

The student was in the class four months before he put his phone down and began to actively participate. I was struck, as I listed to the story, at how often that kind of situation occurs at the gym or with fitness related activities.

People come to the gym for a variety of reasons, and in a lot of different situations. Some folks show up because a doctor said so, some show up because if they don't change something in their lives, they'll have to go on medication, and still others come because a friend dragged them through the doors, metaphorically kicking and screaming (literally though, sometimes bitching and moaning). 

But I'll tell you right now, that showing up is the hardest part of adopting a new routine. 

In the past few months, I've fallen out of my meditation routine, so I spent the past week trying to reclaim that space. The best I could do was to sit on my meditation pillow for five minutes, which I did three times this week. 

I didn't meditate. 

I sat there, shifting around, thinking of everything I had to do that day, and then I got up when the timer went off. 

Sometimes, showing up is all we can do. Meditating feels hard for me right now. For others, being at the gym is hard - they don't want to be there. They don't love working out. Many don't even get the reward of feeling better at the end of the workout. They're just relieved to check it off the list.  

Some people fall in love with working out right away, but many folks don’t. I can think of one client who came to the gym for a full year and “tolerated” every minute of it. She openly hated working out, and it was always amazing to me that she somehow made herself get to the gym. 

I asked her once what her motivation for coming to workout was when she disliked it so much.

"I realized one day that I was the fat friend in a group photo," she said. "I don't know when it happened, but I suddenly saw a photo on Facebook and realized that was me." 

Somehow, despite her dislike of the workouts, she kept showing up. She didn't want to be at the gym, but she got there at least twice a week. 

Then something interesting happened. She missed a week when she got sick - and when she came back she realized how much better working out made her feel. Mind you, she'd lost 40 pounds through the process of showing up and putting in the work. But it took a year for her to want to come to the gym.

Even now, she doesn't love it. But when you're building a new habit, it's helpful to have a reward at the end of the behavior, and for many of us, the reward is that we feel better after the workout. She feels that now, but she didn't for the longest time. 

Maybe you’re showing up to the gym because a friend dragged you. Maybe you show up, do half of a warm up, and shuffle through the workout. You know you "should" do more, but you don't have it in you.  

I believe that if you keep showing up - if you keep putting in the effort - that one day you will realize that you don’t have to measure up to some abstract unattainable idea of who you should be. 

Let me repeat that last phrase one more time:

One day, you'll realize that you don't have to measure up to some abstract unattainable idea of who you should be. 

You just need to be you. 

Keep showing up. 

And good things will happen.