When I was young, I had a strong aversion to pain, a touch of asthma and I was a late bloomer, so smaller than most of my peers, I frequently got the brunt end on the playground. Living in a “rougher” city only exacerbated the scenario. My Dad was a former jock, so he, of course, had dreams of me being some all star athlete, and well, that just wasn’t in the cards for me, so he expressed his disappointment.
There is quite a lot of psychological impact growing up with those sorts of challenges, and yes, there are far worse to be in, however, I find it to be a very true example of thoughts becoming feelings, and feelings becoming beliefs. Post-divorce, I had a real taste of the other extreme, being obese, and coming out of a marriage where I felt, in many ways, a sense of “not-making-the-cut”. This was a different set of challenges, but the same kind of impact.
And what it boils down to is our “self-image”. It’s often implied in articles, products and advertising that a big part of our personal “equation” for why we strive to gain or lose weight, build muscle, eat healthier; is this bolstering of our egos, but, rarely do they mention an understanding of the less than ideal self-image that makes us interested in the first place. A lot of times we see this “bad-ass” tough image of fitness that may drive and inspire, but oft becomes de-motivational as our thoughts use it as a leap off for bludgeoning ourselves to death. That particular slant is not supposed to demean you, but rather get you a bit angry as a motivation. Sadly, it often does NOT reach its objective.
I think that’s a shame in this industry, because it’s fairly apparent that most of us are either currently not healthy, out of shape, or sedentary..plus many of us are depressed because we don’t feel good about where and who we currently are. Instead, the focus is far more on people already relatively fit, or down right fitness models, and the exercises and routines, or diet protocols they do. And it under serves a more realistic market, people who want healthy lifestyles. Perhaps now, more than ever. Additionally, having known more than my share of healthy, fit people, I can honestly tell you that the people you encounter that are more fit or healthy are most often dealing with some level of insecurity as well. Come to terms with the fact that we are almost always our own worst critic.
How To Have A Healthy Lifestyle
I’ve been involved with enough fitness over 45 years to understand well that we have peaks and valleys in our health and fitness. You simply can’t go from 10 hours of sitting at a computer every day to running 5 miles or doing high impact cardio for 20 minutes. (Many of us are lucky to last 2 minutes!) I’ve done enough dieting and long range nutritional planning to know most people (myself included) can’t go from hitting the drive through at lunch every day to taking on a full-on vegan lifestyle. And, yes, our pain motivates us to look for the quickest possible solution. I get it. When I weighed 240 lbs and found myself back in a “single’s market” I wanted to get that weight off of me tomorrow. I didn’t want to live another second as the 30-something guy who just had a failed-marriage, and his belly pokes out too. It’s an almost fight or flight impulse, that flashes like a red neon sign non-stop…and the real ultimate distillation of that sign is “Not-Good-Enough”.
We all want some magic pill, or silver bullet to cure our woes. But the simple reality is, though there are some radical ways to improve our health and fitness (some are no less than dangerous), taking things in a focused but realistic time line will lead not only to a much healthier body, but a healthier mind too. The results are far more permanent.
We’re talking about lifestyle changes, not boot camps and detoxes or crash diets. It isn’t as sexy to our minds…it isn’t seductive, but it’s the marriage quality change over the weekend fling. Living a healthy lifestyle is by far one of the most valuable commitments you can make to yourself. Save the detoxes and boot camps for when you’ve gained a high degree of health and fitness, you’re well on your way to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and you want to narrow your focus down to specific changes you’d still like to make.
When we teach a child to be responsible, we don’t push them into the street and say “survive or die”. What we do is we give them a weekly or daily chore. Completion of that chore is rewarded with praise or something tangible. Then we add more chores, teach skills, etc., until we feel confident that our parental mentoring has prepared them well enough for them to have a good chance of survival.
We have to take the same approach with ourselves. Most health concerns don’t just miraculously appear over night. Usually, they take years or even decades to manifest. So, by understanding this is a long process, we can take progressive measures, little by little if necessary, to create the lifestyle that supports the healthier person we become. There are very few situations we can find ourselves in, where we can’t improve our health and fitness to some degree. Limitations on mobility, economic need, and even serious illness, can often with some accommodations, and Doctor’s oversight, be improved and in some cases reversed.
Culturally, it seems the lines between confidence and arrogance have been blurred. This sets us up to believe that confident people are exactly happy or at least content with who and where they are. It can also lead people who have conquered there own challenges, to have far less compassion for those who are just starting their own journey. On the other end of the spectrum, there seems to be movement in the fitness and psychology arena, where obesity is being promoted. I fully understand that most of this is coming from a “mind-set” perspective and it’s meant to bolster self confidence. And, I think the aims are just, however, it neglects the cold, hard reality that even being moderately over weight makes us far more likely to develop disease and frequently enough fatal.
I am perhaps more fit today than I’ve ever been, but there are still things I’m working on, still goals I want to achieve, and still changes I would like to make to myself. But with that said, I am confident enough to own my emotions. No one can “make me feel” bad about myself. If I do feel bad about myself, I have no one to point to but myself. This is, what I believe to be, a healthy level of confidence. This is not over-compensation, or denial, but rather a firm belief in one’s self and the ability to face the challenges that will inevitably surface at one time or another in our lives. And no matter where you are on the spectrum of health and fitness, with some focus and effort, YOU CAN IMPROVE!
Some of the works of Carl Young mention a concept of archetypes, and having researched that subject pretty deeply, I would also point to the idea that part of our struggle is in what archetype we’ve cast ourselves in at this stage of our lives. If you believe you’re a victim of a cosmic tragedy, you’re just not going to believe you can be a fierce fitness “warrior”. There are progressions, ways to make it from one archetypal viewpoint to another, actual methods to it, but they are far beyond the scope of this work.
Living A Healthy Lifestyle
Here are a few exercises to get to work on this vital part of your health and fitness journey.
1) Sit in a front of a mirror.
There was a time when I would cringe just at the thought of doing this. So if you’re feeling that way about even the thought right now, don’t just move on right away. Hear what I have to say. I find it very insightful, revealing even, to simply sit quietly in front of a mirror. Look at yourself and allow your mind to wander. Does it acknowledge the image it sees in the mirror as you? What is it saying? Are those thoughts uplifting? Are they negative? Write these thoughts down as they come. Don’t judge them, just record what you hear.
If after this exercise, you find most of your thoughts are derogatory, go to where you wrote them down, and beneath or beside each thought, write down a thought that challenges or even sets course to reverse it. The key point to remember in this exercise is that we develop beliefs over time, and they begin with thoughts, that turn into feelings long before they become beliefs. And regardless of whether these thoughts originated with you, or came from someone else, whether it was a parent, a friend, a teacher, a group of kids at school, you made the choice at some point to believe these thoughts.
These notes will at a point in your near future, become the framework for your game plan.
If you don’t do a single exercise, I can’t recommend stretching enough. As we age, our range of motion contracts to a more rigid stance, unless we are regularly stretching. Test this for yourself. Can you touch your toes without feeling any stretch in your legs and/or back? Can you touch your back with the palms of your hands? Do you find yourself holding your neck, back or shoulders in odd positions to avoid pain? Just being inactive for a few days can usually trigger some of these feelings. By routinely stretching at least once a day, you’ll feel more energy, find your muscles and bone aches less troublesome and begin correcting what may be severely bad posture. This problem seems even more prevalent with computers and smart phones as we tend to spend long periods of time sitting as we hold our head and neck in less than ideal positions
3) If you do begin a fitness program, slow and steady wins the race.
My son wanted to start lifting weights just a bit over a year ago, so I’ll share with you the advice I shared with my own flesh and blood. I started working out with him (partnering with anyone is a great way to keep accountability), but we started with just 3-4 exercises with low weight, sets and reps. Most would have thought we were playing at becoming fit, but we remained consistent and added more as we went, very gradually. As a result, we’ve remained on a 3-4 day a week workout ever since we started, and soreness has really never been an issue. (Note: We do get sore on occasion now, well over a year later, however, we’ve become conditioned to mild to moderate soreness.)
4) Transition your eating habits to healthier ones gradually as well.
I focused on nutrition in my household far before I gave much attention to exercise at all. If you want to be healthier or lose weight, this is the most important part of any plan. Today, and for a habit forming duration, I’ve completely vegan. I eat a plant-based diet. However, you should understand a few things. First of all, I didn’t become vegan for any ethical reasons. I grew up in a family where hunting and fishing were tradition. I love meat about as much as your average T-Rex. And, I do have a meat day once a month. But being vegan is relatively recent for me. I went from eating fast food and pizza, to eating packaged meals, to a Paleo diet prior to deciding to become entirely plant-based in my diet. And I believe this is a huge part of my success. If you’re eating a traditional western diet, with soda, burgers, and the like…do not try to go vegan. (Unless you have a particular medical condition where it’s absolutely vital and time is of extreme importance) Start simple, by simply eliminating one particular unhealthy food or beverage. Each week, substitute one good habit for one bad habit. Work your way toward something like Paleo if you’re accustomed to eating meat. You’ll start cooking at home more, getting used to meal prep, and eating a much wider range of vegetables. Once this becomes common practice in your household, if you want to go purely plant-based, the transition is considerably less traumatic.
5) Learn to forgive your mishaps and get back in line.
We’re human. It’s almost inevitable we’re going to stumble when we make changes. Whether it’s smoking, diet, working out, simply walking or stretching….there will be days where you revert. Instead of making this the “failure” that leads back to your old habits…like a whiplash effect, acknowledge you slipped, get back up, refocus and make the next choice or series of choices in alignment with your health and fitness goals.