The Self-Improvement Process

FortunesI have been slogging through exercise the last past 2, maybe 3 months. It used to be my great joy and satisfaction, because in my consistency I was improving. Until I stopped improving and began a plateau. Now I feel myself slowly, insidiously backsliding.

For the most part, it is okay. For where I am in this moment in my life, a little slide on the wild side is a trade-off I am comfortable living with.

One of my guiding principles in life is simply this: I prioritize what I value. For a long time health was something I took for granted, acceptance of inevitability of death includes some brand of suffering. If it was going to happen anyway, why worry about it? Do what feels best right now, because really, I am going to die anyway.

I was really dumb about certain aspects of my life. Health was a biggie.

Almost 3 years ago now, I decided to dip a toe into the exercise pool. Again. I had tried, I had failed any number of times in my then 54 years. In 2015 M and I rejoined our gym. I signed up for 3 sessions with a personal trainer, to write a program for me and show me how to execute it safely. Then the first few sessions with fab trainer went well, but I was so wrapped up in my gym crazy (fear and intimidation of going to the gym to exercise by myself) that I was being evaluated for exercise preschool in those sessions. So I signed up for another package of 20. Surely after 20 I would be competent to go it alone?

Except – I was in my usual pattern of setting myself up for ultimate failure. I had guzzled the kool-aid of my gym crazy and I rarely (read: I did not need both hands to count the total number of gym visits between training sessions those first 3 months) practiced between sessions.

Once I decided to prioritize my exercise practice, I immediately began to feel the results of my efforts. I caught on more quickly. I slowly – s l o w l y – developed more stamina and strength and from that came confidence. But really, when I began to see my blood glucose numbers dropping and my eating habits changing (cookie? cookie? Do you know how many minutes of exercise I’m going to have to work to burn off those calories?). Suddenly better health seemed within my grasp. Suddenly dying (eventually) of the complications of diabetes did not seem like such an inevitable conclusion and even if it were, putting it off as long as possible seemed likely a really great idea. Suddenly the better health quest (diet, exercise, stress, work-life balance) became a new priority in my life.

Especially the exercise, it is not always easy, pleasant, or convenient. I worked out daily for most of 2016 and 2017, and it’s only been in 2018 that I take regularly and irregularly scheduled days off. Even then, it’s primarily been outside forces dictating my get up, go to the gym focus. And surprisingly to me, I have become okay with that. Not complacent, not backsliding back into couch potato comfort, simply accepting of the idea that my gym hamster ways may be prioritized differently when more pressing needs of real life intrude upon normal routines.

That is a pretty huge step for me, trusting myself to not abandon what I have worked hard for, invested heavily in, and primarily benefits me almost exclusively. I am realistic: the world at large does not improve because I am making better, smarter choices with diet and exercise. My family, friends, physicians are delighted, but let’s be real: I am not curing cancer or ending poverty because I exercise regularly.

This is but one, admittedly super ginormous (for me) aspect of reinventing myself that has occurred in my lifetime. I’m sure if I applied myself I could find other examples. I know that pursuit of overall better health has had unintended positive consequences I never considered. In addition to the obvious feeling better and looking better in clothes, I have made new friends, explored foods outside my comfort zone, and discovered I am more physically capable than I ever thought possible. No, this does not mean I am ready to lift weightier weights and get my body fat down into single digits while adding sleek and pretty muscle to my frame. It does mean I had been mostly sedentary my whole life and suddenly I am capable of learning how to lift weights and exercise and burn fat efficiently.

Whoda thunk?

Not me, not a few years ago. Nowadays, maybe just about anything is possible. But it is a decision and a process, not instant pudding where I add milk, stir, and voila! Dessert. Okay, maybe something like dessert. Fake dessert. Illusion of dessert. The cardboard cutout of dessert.

My point here: wishful thinking and dreaming only takes me so far toward real change. The rest is hard work, sweat, tears, and occasionally blood. It’s going slowly to make sure I am feeling the impact in the correct muscle or muscle group. It is learning that data points are not always going to be good indicators of my level of effort. And all too often it feels like I am banging my head against a block of cement and expecting to see results in my lower body from the exertion and resulting headache.

Forward progress sort of sneaks up and surprises me one day when I least expect it. But it does happen.

Today I am feeling particularly grateful because balance seems within closer reach after this much time and consistent effort. I can dial back my better health efforts in favor of people I care for and about or to apply more focus on immediate projects that require more of my time, energy, and attention. I can understand now that “dialing back” does not mean quitting, failing, abandoning my objectives, or being a lazy-assed loser. It just means for a short window my priorities have had to adjust.

My progress is accepting that I get the same 24 hours as everyone else, and trusting myself to use them wisely.

Real life. It happens. And finally, I think I am aduliter in adulting my way through aspects of it. I can happily continue with that.

 

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