Motivation

Last for the last time

Last week I hit a wall.

I know, it's pretty early for that, considering we’re less than three weeks into the new year. But I hit it anyway.

For the past eight months, maybe longer, I’ve barely squeezed my workouts in. 20 minutes here. 30 minutes there. Very little warm up, no rhyme or reason to the exercises I choose. Just trying to get something in. And something is better than nothing, right? 

When I'm missing my workouts, that's when I know my life is out of balance. Because the one thing I find most restorative in my life is training on a consistent basis. 

The lack of balance in my life was brought to light last week when my therapist handed me a worksheet with a list of standard questions: How much time do you spend tending to the needs of others, professionally or with family and friends? How much time do you dedicate to taking care of “you” and what does that look like? Do you do activities that are restoring - what other activities do you do that restore you? What activities give you energy? What activities take your energy?

All good questions right? 

My therapist then handed me a sketch pad, and asked me to sketch out the answers.  I laughed, but she was serious. The thing is, I see her on Fridays and usually by the time I walk through her door I’m so smoked from the first four days of the week that I can barely concentrate on conversation with her. 

So I sketched out my week - and this is what it looked like. 

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The red is time I spend doing something restorative - the purple is any time I spend with Sheila. And the rest is everyone and everything else. My weekends are a bit better of course, but this is the time I spend growing my business and writing - which are both things I enjoy - but they aren’t always very restorative. I’ve known for awhile that I pack my weeks pretty full. But I don’t think I realized just how full I’ve been packing them.

But why? 

Well, I've come to my calling in life a bit later than some. I didn't walk into my twenties and thirties doing the work I loved. I walked into both of those decades blind, trying to feel my way towards my purpose. So while I'm 42 years old, I have some catching up to do in the fitness industry, and so I'm still trying to pay the dues I should have paid at 25.

But that's only part of the story.

You could say I focus on other people’s problems because I’m trying to avoid working on my own. But I don’t think that’s the entire story either. I genuinely want to help people, and I meet with my therapist because I'm genuinely trying to figure some things out for myself. 

I think a larger part of the story, the one that's harder to tell, is the layer of self-loathing I have for myself. I try to help and support as many people as I can because that’s the only way I can feel worthy. Of what, I don’t exactly know. Love, time to myself, success - I'm sure the list goes on and on.

I don't write this because I want anyone to write back and tell me I'm worthy - please save your words. I write this because I know that many of us feel unworthy - of love or acceptance or self care or a balanced life. We put ourselves last yes, because we care that much, but also because we feel that we deserve so little. 

I don’t believe the line that we need to care for ourselves so that we can better care for others. We care for ourselves because we are worthy. 

I know, that’s just one big dung heap of a mess to get into on a Sunday morning, isn’t it? 

Welcome to the inside of my head. 

Sheila calls these my existential crises, which she is privy to more than most. 

But on the other end of this existential crisis was a pledge I'm making to myself, that I put in an Instagram video last week. That I've put myself last for the last time. 

I've asked several folks to hold me accountable to this pledge, and I had one person text me a reminder on Friday. My pledge is to train at least three hours in the next week. Training for me means that I have a program (thanks Josh Williams Fitness) to follow, and that I'll dedicate those three hours to restoring my body. 

What is your pledge to yourself? And who can you ask to hold you accountable. 

I'm here, and I'm available, except for those three hours of next week. :-) 

An open letter to women everywhere

Dear women of the world,

I want you to know that I see you.

You sit across from me in the waiting room, or next to me in a restaurant, and tell me you could never do “that.”

"That" varies.

You say you could never slog your way through a 10k, survive a Tough Mudder obstacle course or do a chin up.

I'm telling you today that you can do those things.

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I'm going to believe it for you until you can believe it for yourself.

Ok?

I want you to know that I see you.  

You hurry past mirrors and avoid your reflection in windows. You scoff at every photo you see of yourself. 

“Ugh,” you say. “I look like that?” 

“Don't you dare take my photo,” you say. 

“Do not post that picture to Facebook,” you say.

“I’ll take the photo,” you say. 

If you do let yourself be photographed, all you can see are the flaws. You pick yourself apart. You stare at your belly, at your chin - you compare yourself to others, or to the 22-year old version of yourself.

You can look at your friends, your children, your co-workers with kind eyes and a compassionate smile. You offer encouraging words to family members and strangers. 

But you struggle to offer these words to yourself.

So I want you to know that I see those beautiful things in you.

I know you don’t see them right now. Because you wear your shame like a cloak, you use that self-deprecating sense of humor to change the subject or bow out of a conversation. You work hard, everyday, to see the good in everyone but yourself. 

Because you can’t stand your own reflection.

But here's the real truth.

You. Are. Beautiful.

You. Are. Strong.

You. Are. Capable. 

I know that you struggle to believe those things. I struggle to believe them about myself sometimes too. 

I'm going to hold these beliefs for you until you can believe them for yourself.

Whether or not we’ve ever met, I'm pledging to you today, this one promise: 

I will hold a space for you.

I am going to believe for you what you cannot, right now, believe for yourself. I am going to see in you, right now, what you cannot see in yourself.

I am going to hold a place, free of judgement, where you can shed your shame, where you can embrace your vulnerability, where you can be you. I’m going to do my best to create and hold that safe space for you, until you can hold that space for yourself.

I’m going to believe that you are, right now in this moment, everything you are supposed to be. 

That you are, right now, in this moment, all that you need to be. 

I’m going to believe that for you, until you can see it and believe it for yourself. 

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. 

Life lessons - you can let go but you can't give up

We sat at Cafe 21 in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp district and watched the marathon finishers file past, one small group at a time.

I pushed my omelette around on my plate and sipped my coffee. 

“That was supposed to be me,” I said to Sheila, watching yet another gaggle of runners stroll past the sidewalk cafe. Some looked less beaten down by the miles and the California heat than others, but they all shared a similar expression.

Satisfaction. 

They all looked satisfied. I saw it in their faces, in the finishers medal around their necks, and the way they all seemed to carry the lightness of the day ahead. Whatever they did for the rest of the day, they’d be wearing the satisfaction of having completed a goal. 

“There’s always next year,” Sheila said, and I cringed. 

Next year.  

Those words are meant to comfort but they've always felt hollow to me. 

Next year. 

I pushed away from the table and leaned back in my chair, sipping my coffee.

I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

What’s the difference between giving up on something I’ve always wanted and letting go of something I’ve always wanted? 

Both of them are attitudes.  

But one of those attitudes is throwing in the towel. It’s a mindset that says I’m never going to do this, I’m never going to get there, I’m never going to achieve my goal. I’m never going to meet someone, I’m never going to have a job I like, I’m never going to have a body I can appreciate. 

Screw it. If what I’ve been pursuing is never going to happen, then why bother? 

So you quit. 

That’s giving up. 

Letting go - ah that’s more complicated, isn’t it? Because letting go is also a mindset and an attitude. But letting go is more about embracing the circumstances. Accepting your situation for what it is and making peace with yourself. 

Making peace with yourself. 

Letting go means trusting that you are enough as you are, right here in this moment, and that the pursuit of whatever goal you’re chasing does not define you. I don’t believe that pursuing a goal and embracing yourself as you are, right now in this moment - are separate from one another. 

I haven’t given up on the possibility of running a marathon. But I spent the better part of these past few days in San Diego trying to let go of my own expectations. I spent time on the beach, at a baseball game, reconnecting with my partner, of whom I’ve seen so very little lately. 

Had I come out here to run the marathon, we’d have had some time together. But the pace would have been different. Less exploring, less walking, less connecting. 

Yes, I still moped around a bit on Sunday - mostly out of the frustration that my body can't always do what I ask of it anymore. 

But, as we walked around  San Diego and I looked at the marathon signs and banners hanging in the streets I tried to shift my self-talk from "that should be me" and "why can't I stay healthy for anything" to "I'm grateful for this time away with my partner." 

I tried to shift the soundtrack. Sometimes that's enough. 

How gratitude changed my mindset

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I have been working on a project for the past six months. 

I’ve spent almost ever waking hour, when not at the gym, working on this project. The process was a source of energy and light for me, a place where I could bring my creativity and a way to work through some of the grief I’ve experienced in recent months. 

I was cruising along, checking off boxes and getting things done, until my godfather unexpectedly passed away in April. I took a week off and went home to Pennsylvania for the funeral. I thought I’d continue to work on my project while I was home during my down time. 

But instead, I got nothing done. 

By the time I got back to Maine, my self-imposed deadline had passed and I found myself sitting down everyday, trying to force myself to finish. Then I found myself avoiding the entire process in ways that I hadn’t done before - I was watching Netflix, reading a book, checking social media - avoiding the entire thing. 

The soundtrack was playing in my head. I have always, always, always struggled to finish creative projects. All I could think was well, here I go again. 

And not in that good "Whitesnake" kind of way. 

I have a therapist I work with and whom I trust a great deal and out of desperation, I asked her for some advice. I didn’t need a pep talk, I didn’t need anyone to cheer me on or tell me I could do it. That wasn’t going to motivate me. I’m not wired like that.

So that’s not what she said.

She offered this quote from Nina Simone “You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.”

She suggested that sometimes it is us who is no longer serving love to ourselves - and she reminded me to not come back to the table until I could sit with love and gratitude for the process of creation I’d begun in the first place. 

It’s a nice thought. And while I could appreciate it intellectually, emotionally I was thinking something more like:

“Son of a *&^^%$%*&^^%*&(.”

I just want to finish what I set out to finish. But without a better idea, I followed her advice and stepped away from the process. 

I let go of my self-imposed deadline. 

I had to. 

And that was difficult. It took a great deal of energy for me to let go of my expectations. It hasn't been easy. I still felt awful that I'd already missed my self-imposed deadline; that I already let myself down.

But I stepped away from the process. Instead of avoiding the work - I let myself work on other creative things.  

I worked on gratitude - on being thankful for the process of creating. Sometimes I could genuinely be thankful. And sometimes I was begrudgingly thankful.  

I tried to flip the script from "here I go again" to "let it be." 

Because the Beatles. 

Easier said than done. 

We do what we can to move our own needle forward. 

Whether it's for a personal project, nutrition plan, or fitness. We do the best we can with what we've got. 

Even if it's only a little bit at a time. 

But if we can just let go, even a little bit, of those inner expectations, the world opens up for life to unfold naturally, in a way that isn't forced.