On top of Mount Adams. While I never want to do this again, training for it changed my life.
It’s January, and I own a gym. I should LOVE resolution season. When loads of people swear that this is the year they’re going to “get into shape,” whatever the hell that means. When people pour into the gyms across the country, proclamations waved high, spirits soaring. But I don’t love it. I hate it. All I see is wave after wave of shame and guilt, and spirits that I know are, for the most part, going to crash onto jagged cliffs of disappointment and failed expectations. That will make it even harder to try again, next year.
Resolution season is the siren song of a toxic culture determined to trap you with shame and a crippling inferiority complex. Fuck that.
But under all that bluster, I do hear you. I hear that you don’t love the way you feel right now. That you want to do something different, something more. And I want to help you do that. But let’s get one thing straight. It won’t be fast. And it doesn’t have to be so hard. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
The problem with resolutions as most people sell them is that they are usually unrealistic, nebulous and impersonal.
“I’m going to give up dessert, work out 5 times a day, be grateful all the damned time and grow both gills and wings, just in case.” No, that’s probably unrealistic. If, for whatever reason, you’re eating ice cream every night and only manage to exercise once a week if you’re lucky, there is no earthly way you’re going to meet this resolution. And when you don’t, what will happen? Don’t be fooled into thinking it’ll just be “status quo,” it won’t be. You will have proven to yourself that those inner voices that tell you you’re a “failure” are correct. And then it’ll be even harder to make a change.
“I’m going to get in shape,” is nebulous. What does that mean? How will you know when you are in shape? Is it a shape, literally? Is it doing a thing? Is it a feeling? Is it sleep? Is it…. what is it? This has to be defined in some way that you can measure. But….
“I’m going to lose 30 pounds and be a size 6” isn’t a whole lot better. Because it’s not personal. I’m willing to bet that those numbers were either pulled out of the media of thin air and false hopes, or the past, which isn’t much different than thin air and hopes. Every magazine marketed to anyone will have some version of “lose those last 10 pounds” or “get a bathing suit body by summer” or “stay younger looking” on it. All of which is malignant mythology designed only to get you to buy products. And they won’t work for most people.
“The last 10 pounds” don’t exist. THEY AREN’T A THING. We’ve packaged this idea as if they’re a treat you can pick up or drop off at some secret location like bootleg whiskey out of a unicorn’s ass at the end of the rainbow. NOT A THING!
So, shit, here we are, January, and you want to make changes. I get it. I’m with you, let’s come up with a strategy to help you feel better, have more fun, and maybe find some more joy in and with your body.
Set goals to do something that makes you happy, but that you have to train for. Run a 10k run, a 20k bike ride, a sprint triathlon, climb a mountain, get your black belt, deadlift your body weight, do a pull up. Something concrete that you cannot do now.
Set smaller goals that will get you to that thing. If, for instance, your goal is to run a 10k, set a series of small goals between here and there. So, first goal, run around the block without stopping. (You laugh, but for me, this would be huge!) Try to do that every day. It’ll probably take you 5 minutes, you have 5 minutes. Next goal, twice. Next goal, 4 times. Guess what? 4 times is probably a mile. Check that shit out, you just ran a mile. That’s amazing! And if you can run a mile, you can run, you got it, a mile and a half. Why are the small goals so important? Because every time you hit one, you know what you are? Successful, that’s what. You know what successful people think they can do? Succeed. And that feeling is like jet fuel.
Focus on intention and components. Because there will be set backs. (I have a goal of rowing a million meters in a year. And… my back is OUT. Like, I can’t currently put on a pair of socks, so I’m not rowing.) So, this is where you have to focus on I’M DOING SOMETHING, WHICH IS WAY MORE THAN NOTHING. I’m riding a stationary bike (and whining.) Doing Pilates and mobility stuff (and whining.) Know that even when it doesn’t go according to plan, the sheer act of doing SOMETHING keeps the momentum going. Understanding the components of the goal will help you find things to do during set backs. For instance, one of the reasons I want to do the million meters is to work on cardio endurance and lower back strength. So, riding the bike works towards cardio endurance, and remembering to do lower-back strengthening things works towards that…. so, off track, but still on target.
Be realistic. You’re not gonna go from ice-cream every night to ice-cream never. And why would you? Take small bites of big nutrition challenges. Go from ice-cream every night to ice-cream every other night. Um, my friend, that is a 50% reduction in ice cream, that kicks ass. Well done!
Pay attention to what you feel before and after. This is a tough one for my clients, but I think this is the most important. Before you eat / drink that thing that you’re struggling with, as yourself why you’re doing it. That’s it. Spend a month paying attention to why you do the thing…. Habit? Stress? Reward? Then, after; how do you feel afterwards. I know that I will sometimes eat a sugary dessert as a reward, because I want to, and that’s fine. But I also know that I will have increased joint pain, bloating and general fatigue. So its kind of a mind game and perception changer for me. Like, sure, I might “deserve” that Sticky Toffee Pudding, but do I deserve (or want) the lethargy and joint pain that will result? That makes it a lot easier for me to put those “treats” off for very special occasions, because I actually don’t like the pudding as much as I like not being in so much pain. This is how paying attention can make the biggest difference of all.
Don’t try to do more than 2, maybe 3, things at a time. Start with the things you’re most likely to succeed at. I know that people always want to tackle the biggest challenges first, but changing your patterns is hard, and you want to grease the grooves for success. If you and I sat down, we’d be able to make a list of doable things, but since I can’t sit down with every one of you, make a list. Pick 2 or 3 things, do those for a month. Once you’re solid there, add another one or two. Life changes one step at a time, just like running a marathon, it’s just one step at a time.
Make a list of things you want to feel. And NOT feel. Then make a list of things that make you feel those ways. Every single day, commit to doing one of the things that makes you feel good. Every single day, commit to trying to NOT do things that make you feel bad. Now, this is where it gets tricky, because the things that make us feel bad aren’t always so easily eliminated. Start with the things that you can control and focus on those. Eventually, work on eliminating toxic people and situations as much as you can. Those can have the greatest impact. For instance, if being around Suzie stresses you out and makes you drink and want to eat a whole sheet-cake, avoiding Suzie might actually help you avoid those other things.
Don’t take your psychological advice from Pintrest and Etsy. Seriously, stop that shit. There is no ribbon-wrapped kit for this. I will punch the next person who says that a gratitude journal will fix your anxiety and childhood trauma. I mean, sure, yes, focus on the things that are awesome in your life. But don’t think that by chanting them they will build a wall that will keep all the bad shit at bay, trapped, as if what you can’t see can’t hurt you. No, let’s be realistic. It’s okay to say “this is shit” and toss out the toxic. I would argue that you can do more for your health and happiness by looking toxicity straight in the face and saying “get out.” You will do more for your overall happiness if you get rid of toxic people than if you get rid of ice cream.
Burn all the magazines and block all the gurus. Now. Especially if they feature photos of skinny athletes glistening in nature and telling you that you can get your body back from wherever they think your body is – as if you’re not right there in it right now. This is about you. Period. When you focus on someone else, even a well-intentioned guru, you are comparing yourself to them, and hoping their tricks will make you more like them. Work with trainers, coaches and guides who are honest with you that changing you is hard, and personal, and that they don’t have the answer either, they’re just committed to exploring with you until you find it. (Honestly, in my experience, the people who tell you they have the answer are the least likely people in the world to have it, and to help you.)
I could go on for hours with this stuff. But what it gets down to is really getting to know yourself, honestly, and putting one step in front of the other, over and over and over again.
Some goals hurt you more than they help you. “I’m going to lose 50 pounds” can be a really harmful goal, because neither you nor I know if that’s reasonable for your body. BUT, “I’m going to work towards a 10k and eat less ice cream?” That’s a great goal, and it most likely will result in some wight loss, if that’s really your thing. How much, we don’t know. But we do know that you’ll probably feel better, work towards a goal, use your body and succeed. All of which will make you happier.
So if you have to make a resolution, resolve to get to know yourself. To treat yourself with the same kindness you’d treat a friend. To recognize that the small steps you’re taking are the kind that will lead to life change. That change is slow and gradual, at least the kind that works.
And kind works. Kindness works. Be kind to yourself, and live the kind of life you want to live. The rest will follow.