Thursday, February 18, 2016

Health and Fitness is Simple if...

Another clickbait title! Don't worry, it's not a list article.

For the past three weeks, I've been taking a free yoga class. Yoga is pretty low on my list of activities I would go out of my way to do. But if it's free and it's convenient, sign me up!

I didn't even think about it. I'm always looking for opportunities to improve my health and well-being. So when this class came up, I pounced on it like it was cheesecake.

You know who wasn't happy and excited? Almost everyone else. Apparently.

And this made absolutely no sense to me. In fact I've been downright disappointed just thinking about it. The class is free. And without revealing too many details, the time and location are very very convenient. And yet, out of the folks who signed up for it, only 2/3 showed up for the first two classes, and only 1/3 showed up for the third class. Soon it's going to be just me and the instructor (who's awesome).

The only thing I can think of is that health is not a priority for most other folks, even if they claim it is. And here's the theme for the post.

Health and fitness is simple if it's your life.

My life includes clean teeth. Brushing my teeth is simple. My life includes eating and living in a warm house. Going to work is simple. And my life includes being healthy and fit. So eating intelligently and exercising every day is simple.

Simple.... but boring.

Now I didn't say easy. I said simple. Exercise is hard. Getting up early in the morning is hard. But the choice to do so is simple. I don't have to think about it. It's automatic. Excuses never enter into the equation.

But if it's not a part of your life - if it's not a priority - then you have to think about it every time. You have to decide to do it. And then your brain barfs up a thousand excuses not to do it. Your brain is awesome at making excuses. And I get it. The mind is a big obstacle for most people. A big lazy obstinate obstacle.

I try not to be judgmental. But I totally am. And I get disappointed when I see the attendance in a free fitness class dwindle. It's one thing to get up at 6am to lift weights. Or to run 15 miles in the snow. You have to build up to that level of crazy. Because even my brain tends to say, "whoa there buddy, at least eat a banana before you do that." But when the entry level is so low.... It befuddles me.

For the folks for whom the yoga class was available, going to the class would've been really easy. But not going to the class was even easier. If you have no good reason or strong desire to do it, you're going to pick the easiest option. Without thinking about it. But thinking about it isn't the solution. The solution is that - without thinking - you pick the healthy/active option. That has to be your default.

Because for me, going to the class is easier than not going. Maybe not physically. But the stress and guilt and just general shittiness I would experience for flaking out on it is not worth it. I have vacation days and sicks days I can use if I don't feel like going to work. But I'd feel bad for flaking out on work, so I go to work. Most people do. Work is a priority for most folks. And you can "enjoy" the same benefits if you make exercise a priority. Those benefits being an intense self-loathing if you skip a workout.

"Hooray, I don't loath myself today!"

Of course, the rewards from work are obvious. You get money so you can buy ice cream, talking toasters, and food for your cat so she doesn't bite your eyeballs. The rewards from exercising aren't as immediate. They take a lot longer to achieve.

But when you were younger, you didn't give a shit about work. Your parents bought you Super Mario Brothers and lollipops. If someone said, "hey, go do some work", it would be as if they'd said, "go eat that dead squirrel in the road." It doesn't even make sense to you to do work for no reason. Some parents are tricky. They might say, "if you don't do some work, we won't give you ice cream after dinner." But then you eat dinner, and you cry, and they give you ice cream anyway. Who cares.

At some point, you had to decide that work was a priority. Sure, you see everyone else working, so it's probably important. But you see a lot of other people exercising. There's always some a$$hole running on the street in the snow after dark. You might even swerve to splash them with salt and sludge. One day you realized that getting a job was a matter of survival. Your brain sucks at everything, but one thing it's amazing at is surviving. All of its whiny excuses fly out the window. "I don't care how tired you are! We need to kill that rabbit now!"

"I'd like to kill a rabbit please."

You can't exercise just for the heck of it. It's not like blowing the dust of that Super Mario cartridge to relive your youth (and being disappointed). Exercise has to be at the top of your list, along with water, shelter and chocolate cake. The kind of trickery your parents used on you in your youth, you have to use on yourself. You have to trick your brain into believing that beating yourself up every day is somehow vital to staying alive.

Nobody else will do this for you. You're not a kid anymore. There's never going to be an easy and obvious way to get healthy and to get fit. A lot of people wait around for love, success, health, and happiness to drop into their laps. Because when they were young, those things did drop into their laps, in the form of macaroni and cheese and video games with plumber protagonists. And every new thing they're forced to do for themselves, they don't do it without kicking and screaming and whining the whole way. We hate having something and then having it taken away. And we all want all of the things. But don't want to do anything to get those things.

This guy doesn't even want to close his fuel cover.
"Let the world burn," he says. Probably.

We're assholes. But not on purpose. Again, blame our lousy brains. We evolved from monkeys who stole bananas and mates when the other monkeys looked away for a second. Thankfully, we do have the ability to step beyond our limitations. Over and over. It's hard at first. It's scary. But the more you do it, the more it becomes a part of your life.

Soon, limitations stop being limitations so much as "the next challenge."

They become opportunities to grow, to become stronger, to become amazing.

You begin to relish those limitations. Because when you pulverize your way through the next one, you'll feel that much more proud of yourself.

And you'll be eager for the next challenge.

For some people, that next hurdle is a 3 hour marathon, or a 500 pound deadlift. For some, it's working up the motivation to go to a free yoga class 50 feet away. But whatever it is, only you can make yourself do it. But it's oh so worth it. Your parents may have told you as much, and you didn't believe them. It's something you can discover only for yourself.

"I think I may have too many limitations..."

Friday, February 12, 2016

Commitment is Freedom

I haven't written about Pixie in a while. But I spent yesterday evening with her, pigging out on brussel sprouts and tacos, and it made me realize something.

It's vital that I have things in my life that I love and value.

For a large part of my life, I was obsessed with the idea of personal freedom. Of being able to do whatever I wanted without being tied down by any obligations. I thought freedom meant not having something I valued so much that I'd feel beholden to it.

I was wrong.

A person living on the street is totally "free". But they're not happy. Being free is not enough. And it doesn't automatically fill your life with joy and fulfillment. What I really want is spiritual freedom. The freedom to constantly push myself to ever greater levels of happiness and personal success. But this requires hard work. It requires responsibility. It requires personal accountability.

All of those things sound like the opposite of being free. But honestly, what I thought of as freedom was actually fear. Because once you commit yourself to something - or someone - and start holding yourself accountable, you introduce the risk of failure.

"I don't know the meaning of the word failure.
No. Literally, I don't know what it means."

Failure is scary. Failure makes you feel like less of a person. But failure is an unavoidable part of life. Without failure, you can't have success. Without failure, you can't have growth. If you never fail, it means you're sitting in one place. And you will die in that place. That, to me, sounds actually like a trap. A trap of complacency and risk aversion.

Many people are trapped. They may think they're free, but they spend that freedom watching television and eating potato chips. The thought of pushing themselves past their comfort zones is terrifying. The world is truly immense, beyond any of our comprehensions. And opening yourself up to it is overwhelming. It's easier to just close the blinds and convince yourself that you've got everything figured out and that there's nothing else left.

But there is so much.

You don't need to explore everything. You don't need to learn everything. You don't need to do everything. You only have to pick one thing that you value more than anything else in your life. And that one thing will bring a great deal of purpose and meaning to your life.

I consider myself truly blessed, for I have many things in my life that I love and value that give me a massive sense of meaning and pride. I have many things that constantly push me - through pain and hardship - to continue growing into a healthier, happier, and more successful individual.

I run.

I lift.

I write.

I teach.

I create art.

And I have Pixie.

My brother, silently judging us.
Also, that's how her face really looks.

 There's still a part of me that wants to escape. Every day it nags at me.

"Exercise sucks up so much of your time and energy. You're always exhausted. Just stop doing it and you can do literally whatever you want."

"Stop writing. Nobody reads what you write. It's just vanity. You're spewing arrogant nonsense. Just watch Netflix instead."

"Why are you shooting photos? Why are you drawing? Nobody appreciates it except for you. You're stupid."

"Relationships are hard. They always end in pain. You don't deserve Pixie. You would both be better off if you left. Why are you wasting her time with your bullshit?"

Abandoning all the things I cherish wouldn't make me more free. It would make me a coward. It would make me weak. It would mean giving up on my dream of a better life. It would mean giving up on all my goals.

I have to accept the challenges. The pain. The insecurity. The failure. Because when I conquer them, I become stronger. And when I become stronger, I can take on more challenges. It's a hyperbolic curve that leads to an amazing life. But hyperbolic curves start flat and stay nearly flat for a long time before they hit that huge upswing.

A hyperbolic curve, in case you're not a math magician.

Thankfully I've gotten used to that cowardly whiny voice in my head that just wants to give up. Every morning, when I drag my exhausted body out of bed while it's still dark out, I tell that voice to quit its bitching and I go lift. Every time I look at the weather before I run and that voice says, "you will literally die if you go outside!" I punch it in the face and go outside. Every time it tells me not to waste my time and energy with whatever I'm about to do, I kick it off a cliff and get to work.

That voice is especially vocal when it comes to Pixie. Running is one thing. I run and then I'm done and I can eat cheesecake. But I can't hang out with Pixie for an hour and say, "whelp, that was good times. Bye." She is somebody I plan on keeping in my life for a long time. Is that selfish? Probably. But love is inherently selfish. You want love in your life because it makes you feel good. But you don't get it for free. You earn it.

Being free to do whatever you please isn't inherently empowering. Sure I can drink whiskey whenever I darn please. But that doesn't do anything for me other than turn my liver into kimchi. Conquering fear is empowering. Defeating challenges is empowering. Doing something you never thought you'd be able to do is empowering. That's freedom. Anyone can drink whiskey. But very few folks can run a 3 hour marathon. Or deadlift 500 pounds. Or have an amazing relationship with an amazing individual that brings joy to both of you.

I'm going to have an amazing
relationship with this beer.

A lot of folks don't know how amazing their lives can truly be. It doesn't make sense to them to put a lot of hard work into something when they don't know what the rewards are. In the beginning, you have to take a leap of faith. You have to trust that those folks who choose to beat themselves up and drench the floor in sweat every day are on to something. Or maybe they're just crazy.

I definitely seem crazy to a lot of people. If you can't appreciate the rewards, the pride, and the kind of success you can find by constantly pushing yourself, it just looks like masochism. And it's true, a lot of my blog suggests that I'm unhappy with myself, or that if I even hate myself. But it's how I trick myself into punishing myself every day. Because I'm at a point where I've accomplished a lot and have had many successes. So I know how much more it's possible for me to achieve! And when I compare the now me to the future me, then of course I fall short!

But that future-me is just waiting for now-me to catch up to him. And that's exciting. And hopefully, if I'm not too much of an asshole, Pixie will be waiting for me there too.

Ending the post with some pretty shit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Want More Motivation?

I've written before that you don't need motivation to exercise. And that you don't need energy. Motivation is a fickle mistress that will let you down when you need it most.

But, motivation is an ethereal concept. Like love.

I mean, do I love my cat? Or do I just feel responsible for her because I picked her up from the Pet Adoption center in a moment of loneliness and now I have to keep her alive. Because not alive is bad. I believe I love her, at least when she's not eating my flesh. But she's just a wad of fluff that eats, poops, and lazes about all day. So who can say for sure. She's getting pretty fat too, and I'm a harsh judge of that sort of thing. Maybe I'll show her my blog.

"The more you talk about me, the lonelier you sound."
Some would say that I'm very motivated. I get up at 6am every day to lift weights. After working all day I then run. At least 50 miles a week. And I write and teach and pursue many hobbies and spend time with people I love (or at least I want them to be alive, like my cat). I'm always busy, usually to the detriment of getting sufficient sleep.

On Monday morning I got up at 4:45am and ran 8 hilly miles. Some would argue you have to be pretty frickin' motivated to do that. In fact I was supposed to run with two other friends. It was their idea actually. But when I pounded obnoxiously on their door in the middle of the night, they strangely changed their minds. So maybe motivation DOES matter.

Alright, so for the sake of this post, how do you build that motivation?

You train it!

Motivation is a muscle. You lift weights to get stronger. You run to get faster and farther. You.... type, to get better at, um, computering. Motivation is the same. If you don't practice at it, you lose it. But if you exercise it every day, you'll get more of it.

"I've got plenty of muscle already."

We humans only have a finite amount of motivation per day. Once you run out, that's it. You're fried. All you can do is stare at a small screen while colors and sounds drown your senses. Even that sometimes is too hard, and you stare at a wall, wishing blissful unconsciousness would sweep you away. This is often the point where my cat demands my attention, giving me all the indications that she will drop dead if I don't give it to her, right away. But I digress.

Most people want to be fit and healthy. But most people also want things, like, now. So what often happens is they make a huge and sudden change. They make a resolution to go to the gym every single day, or to eat only crackers and water chestnuts. But going from zero to superhero in a single day is impossible. You will tap out that small supply of motivation instantly. And before long you're back to exercising your arm lifting the remote control and "dieting" on pizza and ice cream.

If you want to build a stronger chest, you can't jump from benching 100 pounds to 300 pounds in one day. You have to increase the weight incrementally. And if you want to build more motivation, so too do you have to push it in small steps. I know, if you decide you want to lose 50 pounds, cutting out soda and walking a mile a day seems almost pointless. But that's where it starts. And that small step is easy. After that you cut out cookies, and walk two miles. After a while you cut out all processed sugar, and start running. Sure, you won't lose those 50 pounds in a month, but you will make sustainable changes. You will change your lifestyle. You will change your identity.

"Your hard work is dumb!"
I didn't go from hanging out on a couch all week to exercising over 10 hours a week overnight. If I tried that I would have broken in half, and then given up. It took me about 6 months to lose 40 pounds. It took me a few years to run a good marathon (not counting my first one that almost killed me). It's taken me almost half my lifetime of lifting weights to get to my routine today.

To a lot of people, "years" is a dirty word. Even "months" sounds waaaay too long. That's why so many advertisements say, "lose weight in seven days!" Even though they're total lies. But that's what folks want. Fast. Easy. Suffer for a week, become a Greek god, then be done, forever. Unfortunately sculpting your body isn't like building a birdhouse. You don't need to add curtains or solar panels to the birdhouse. The birds don't care.

Most folks want the easy way out. They sign up for fad diets and exercise routines because they sound fast, fun, and easy. They want to do things that don't require motivation. Unfortunately you will make zero progress that way. Being told that one must spend months eating healthy and working hard every day though is not appetizing at all. You wouldn't sell nearly as many eBooks or DVDs if you told the truth.

However, if you train your motivation, those challenges become a lot more palatable. Running for an hour isn't a big deal to me. Getting up at 6am is normal now. Eating within my calorie budget is automatic for me. But all of those things used to seem like insurmountable challenges! Running just one mile used to be very hard. Getting up in the morning used to be awful; I would get up literally 5 minutes before I had to be out the door for work (do I brush my teeth or put on my pants? Aaaarg!). And trying to lose weight was always a struggle.

All of those things are totally normal for me now.

"I'm totally normal too!"
Pictured: Brother Alex
I don't magically need less sleep now. My body's metabolism hasn't suddenly improved. An hour of exercise is still an hour of exercise. So what's changed? My threshold for how much I can do - the limit of my daily motivation - is much higher now than it used to be. Because I've been training it every day, the same way that I've been training my body. Something that used to be a great effort in the past seems much less so today.

The challenges haven't become less challenging. I've just become better at defeating challenges.

You can achieve any goal you desire. Not in one day. Not in one week. Probably not in one month. Maybe not even in one year. But you can. And if you think that's too long to have to wait, just think. If you had started running, or lifting, or... computering, a year ago today, where would you be now? Looking forward, it seems like a long time. But look back at how much of your life has already passed by, and how different it would be now if you had spent that time differently. Suddenly a year doesn't seem like such a big deal.

"Maybe I just have to speed up my watch..."

So, a year from now, do you want to be exactly where you are today? Or do you want to be kicking ass and feeling proud of yourself.