Tag Archives: Fitness

Goals, Goals, Everywhere Goals: Aiming for a Bigger Life

“The moment you put a deadline on your dream, it becomes a goal.” –Harsha Bhogle, The Winning Way 

Hello friend,

I have never been much of a goal-setter. Don’t get me wrong; I have always been a dreamer and driven to do great things in my life. I have taken risks and made sacrifices in my attempt to leave my mark on the world. But I have done all that without setting many specific goals. I can’t say why exactly. It just didn’t feel like me. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to feel contained, and goals can sometimes feel like fences to me. I have typically preferred to trust my intuition on how much of something I need, where I need to push, and where to pull back.

But in the last few years, as I have continued to examine my life in my journal and in these letters to you, I have had this creeping sense of disappointment and regret as it has become increasingly clear that I have failed to live up to all of those dreams and ambitions. Eventually, I was bound to ask myself why, and I have been slowly allowing those questions in. I wondered if maybe it was because I haven’t pushed myself hard enough and consistently enough to make the big strides I imagine myself capable of. But why? After all, I had the dreams. I had the drive. I began to wonder if maybe I just didn’t have the right plan. Maybe I needed a new method.

Enter Oola.

A couple of months ago, my sister, who is into self-help/personal growth books and always has her eyes open for things that can help her and her business grow, treated me to a new book that she had been raving about. It was called Oola: Find Balance In An Unbalanced World. In it, the authors, Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl, write about the importance of living in a way that is balanced and growing in all the major areas of life, what they call “The Seven F’s of Oola”: Fitness, Finance, Family, Field (career), Faith, Friends, and Fun. In my old Life Coaching classes, this resembled what is commonly referred to as “The Wheel of Life”.

I am always on the lookout for tips on doing LIFE better, so I plowed through the meat of the book, taken in by the stories of these two guys and how the seven aspects played out in their lives. I knew they grew up in my neck of the woods and were of a similar age, so I also wanted to glean some insight into how they became successful and which tips I might borrow for my own life.

A couple of weeks ago, as I approached the very last section of the book, I was thinking I wasn’t getting much that was soul-stirring or deeply inspirational out of it. I was eager to be done with it, hoping to find something a bit more life-changing from my next read.

But in those last pages was a challenge that would change the entire experience for me. Well, at least I hope it will.

Whenever someone tells me they read my weekly letters or that they read my book, I always want to know if they do more than read it. Do they write their own journal entry about the questions raised? Do they engage someone in a conversation about it? Do they at least take some time to ponder the issue and how it intersects with their own life? I tend to think that the only way to get anything out of my writing is to truly engage with it: to ponder, to discuss, and hopefully to write about it. I definitely hope that my words will be more than just read. Speaking as the sensitive author, I don’t feel like my work can be fairly judged unless you have done the deep diving.

So there I was, beginning to judge the Oola book, when it turned the tables on me. It asked of me what I ask of my readers: to get out my pen and dive deep into the way these “Seven F’s” could change my life. The only catch: I had to set goals. And not just a few, but twenty-one: three for each of the seven areas on the Oola Wheel.

What a predicament! Of course, the idea of setting twenty-one goals–specific, measurable type of goals–was immediately off-putting to my personality, so I was inclined to reject the challenge outright. But. (Oh, the BUT!) But it seemed like my integrity was on the line. How could I defend my own writing’s quality from people who didn’t fully engage it if I wasn’t willing to fully engage this book? That wouldn’t be right. And the other, bigger BUT. But how can I keep rejecting goal-setting if my usual, comfortable method of just going with my gut hasn’t gotten me where I want to be in life?

The writing was on the wall. It was time to get out of my comfort zone. And so it came to pass that I took my pretty-but-somewhat-blurry dreams and gave them some definition, some real numbers, some deadlines.

I made goals. Twenty-one of them. Here they are:

FITNESS

  1. Get my weight to 203 by December 31, 2018. (That is somewhere from 5-7 stubborn pounds to lose.)
  2. Do a full yoga practice at least once per week.
  3. Add rowing to at least one cardio workout every week.

FINANCE

  1. Make more money than we spend each month.
  2. Get a higher paying job with benefits.
  3. Put $250 into a vacation fund every month.

FAMILY

  1. Have one Family Game Night/Family Movie Night per week.
  2. Have one devoted couple activity (game, TV show, whatever) per week.
  3. Take the epic Montana Road Trip by the end of 2020.

FIELD

  1. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible.
  2. Spend time every week writing my next book.
  3. Join my wife full-time in her new business by January 1, 2020.

FAITH

  1. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  2. Take a weekly nature walk practicing mindfulness and gratitude.
  3. Develop a nightly gratitude “prayer” or practice.

FRIENDS

  1. Connect with Johnny in person at least once every two months.
  2. Engage one new person in conversation each week.
  3. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone call each month.

FUN

  1. Become a regular tennis player again–once a week–in the warmer seasons.
  2. Write my second book–spend devoted time every week.
  3. Practice the guitar at least three times per week for at least 15 minutes.

Of these twenty-one, the Oola guys recommend that while you can keep all of them and work toward them, it is helpful to pull out your top seven that would make the biggest impact on your life right now (it doesn’t have to be one from each area). I chose these seven:

  1. Make more money than we spend every month.
  2. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible. (I also chose this as my “OolaOne”, the single thing that would make the biggest immediate impact.).
  3. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  4. Write my second book, devoting time every week.
  5. Practice my guitar at least three times per week, at least 15 minutes each.
  6. Have one devoted couple activity each week.
  7. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone each month.

There they are! It was a grind for me, I fully admit, but even my fluid mind is sitting here appreciating how concrete they all look in their tidy lists with all the details included. It definitely helped to use the popular goal-setting method called S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, Time-based), as that kept me from being vague and slippery. These definitely feel more like the opening quote: like dreams with deadlines. Goals.

Having just finished the exercise, I can tell that all of the specifics are very new to me and my usual processing. My inner world is trembling a bit, no doubt. My cheese has been moved. But I can also see how this will be really, really good for me. That is, it will be really good if I follow this up with the appropriate action steps, like daily To-Do Lists filled with items that work directly toward those goals. I am excited, both to start achieving these goals and just to see my world through a new set of lenses. I think I needed it. No, I’m sure I did. Now that I have some goals, I am charged up and ready for action. I’m off to get my Oola on!

How about you? How do you do with goal-setting in your life? Open up your journal and examine the role of goals in your world. Do you have specific goals in your life right now? What are they? Are they far away things–like an advanced degree or retirement–or something you will accomplish within the next year? How aware of your goals are you on a day-to-day basis? Do you use them to guide your behavior on a normal day, or are they just something you check in with once in a while to see if life is generally heading in the right direction? How specific and measurable do you get in your goal-setting? Do you have exact dates and numbers in mind so you can be certain as to when the goals are reached? Do you have someone in your life who holds you accountable for your goals, or do you count on your own discipline to get you there? Would an accountability partner help? How realistic are your goals? Do you have a strong chance of reaching them? Do you gain confidence when you reach a goal, no matter how small? Whether or not you currently have goals or are aware of how balanced and growing your life is, does the concept of setting multiple goals in each area of your life appeal to you? Have you ever done something like this? So, go ahead. What are three goals you can make for yourself in each of the seven areas: health & fitness, money, family, career, faith/spirituality, friends, and hobbies/fun? In which area are goals easiest for you to make? In which area are you most likely to achieve your stated goals? In which area are you most likely to fail? Is systematic goal-setting foreign to you? How does it feel now doing it? Does it make you more eager to make a plan to achieve them? If you had to choose one goal to pursue that would make the biggest impact on your life right now, which one would it be? Are you willing to commit to that? What small steps can you take today to move in that direction? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which goals can you set to move yourself in the direction of your best life?

Go get it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it on social media. Let’s go after our dreams together!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

Is Self-Care Selfish? How Do You Show Yourself Some Love?

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” –Eleanor Brownn

Hello friend,

This week, for the first time in years, I took a yoga class. It stirred something in me, reminding me of something important that I once let slip from my grasp.

The other day I was talking with my neighbor about the types of therapy he is doing for his ailing back. He mentioned physical therapy, electronic stimulation, lifting weights, and acupuncture. Then he said, “But what has helped the most is yoga. It is healing my back, but mostly I feel it healing my SOUL.” He glowed as he talked about how this nightly, 30-minute video routine makes him feel inside. I thought to myself, “This guy has learned a secret he must never forget!” I told him how I have always been a huge proponent of yoga. I realized as I was saying it, though, that my endorsement felt a little hollow.

I first tried a yoga class about 20 years ago and fell instantly in love. It felt so good to me on so many levels. My body felt healthier than ever. My mind was calm and clear. And there was something more, something spiritual. My soul felt good. Yoga made me feel like I was caring for myself, doing something that made my life better and allowed me to show up better for the world around me. I told myself I was in it for life. There was no way I would stop.

I stopped.

I can’t even explain why. I just got out of the habit. That sounds really lame to me now, knowing that I never stopped working out over all these years. I also never stopped telling people how wonderful and important yoga is. I was like the paid endorser who doesn’t really use the product.

I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. Not a high enough one, anyway. I never seemed to make the time to add it to my schedule or trade it for one of the other things I was doing. Oh, I brought it back a few different times over the years for short stints—and I loved it each time—but it never stuck. I suppose that, subconsciously anyway, I considered it an overindulgence, like I just couldn’t give myself that much of a treat. I was not worthy of the extra hour just for personal growth or soul therapy.

It is not as though yoga is alone in this neglect. I have long been aware of the wondrous effect that reading books has on my soul, and yet I almost never allow myself dedicated reading time (I let myself do it when I am falling asleep at night or on an exercise machine). Music is the same way. Meditation, too, I have always sworn by yet rarely followed my own advice, even for just ten minutes per day. I have no excuse.

I have always tried to be so conscious of my time and not wasting it, and yet somehow in my haste to be productive, I seem to have regularly forgotten to feed my soul its fill. I haven’t taken the best care of what matters most.

Oh sure, I have done quite well on some fronts. I have kept up a fitness routine, and that has been at least as good for my peace of mind as it has for my body. And of course, my daily journaling practice has stood strong for 20 years. That is a huge pillar of my self-care. It is clarity and sanity disguised as a blank book. I also make a point of spending a ton of time with my kids. They put wind in my sails.

And that’s about it for consistent self-care for me. In other areas that feel important to me, I either make an occasional attempt or fail completely.

One of the areas that I recognize now more than ever is getting outdoors and spending some time in Nature. This never fails to help me to reconnect to myself and to the Divine. Whether it is a walk through the forest or a quiet contemplation by a lake or stream, this is my nearest approximation of a church. It makes me feel whole again. And I just don’t do it enough. I am better about it in the Summer, even if it is something as simple as laying in my hammock and listening to the birds sing and the leaves rustle. I know I do best, though, when I get out away from the paved roads and buildings, and that is something I just don’t make the time for very often.

Something that I have improved on a bit in this last year is sleeping. Starting from the time my daughter was born almost nine years ago, I have really struggled in this department. I had an excuse for a few years when the kids were little, but I became too accustomed to being raggedy. As soon as they started sleeping better, I started using that extra time for personal growth things that I had put off, like taking classes and starting these letters to you. I was running myself into the ground trying to get it all done, going on the fumes of a mere four or five hours of sleep per night, every night. As I said, just in the last year I have made a more concerted effort to bring that number up closer to seven hours. I don’t always succeed, but I feel better when I do.

Nutrition is another one that I am just getting started with. After a lifetime of pretending I could eat mostly whatever I want and still feel good, I have lately started to pay closer attention to the ways different foods affect my energy and my comfort. I am beginning to cut things out of my diet. There is a long way to go, but it feels like the right direction for my long-term health and happiness.

The one thing that I haven’t tried but that consistently tugs at my thoughts is the inclusion of more art and creation in my life. Writing these letters to you is about as close as I get to that, and Writing Day is the most fulfilling day of my week. But I want more, and I want variety. Specifically, I feel music calling out to me. I mentioned earlier that even dedicated time for listening to music lifts me up, but what my soul is itching for is to learn how to play it. I own a guitar and a beginner book, but I have never given myself permission to take that time. The same goes with the piano. Even when I touch the keys briefly as I am cleaning the house, my spirit does a little dance. I know the signs are telling me to play.

These musical longings speak again to this issue I seem to have about indulgences. Somehow, somewhere along the way I seem to have confused self-care with selfishness. I allow myself time to write in my journal, and that feels like all I deserve. I give myself permission to exercise daily, but only if it is while the rest of my family is still sleeping. I offer all of my energies to my kids—which I love doing for me—because I can claim it as good for them. I can justify adjustments to my nutrition because it is not taking up any more time or directly affecting anyone else. If I let myself go to bed earlier, I have to write less.

That thing about wasting time and being inefficient—combined with these feelings of unworthiness and guilt about selfishness—is exactly why I don’t allow myself the other self-care activities that I know would do so much for me. Meditation. Nature walks. Learning the guitar and piano. Reading books. Listening to music. These are all things that require time that I seem to feel I don’t deserve. As though care for my soul is not reason enough. This realization saddens me. I want to think I am worth more than that to myself.

This is why I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself granting special permission to go to yoga class this week. You see, I think a big reason yoga left my schedule is that it usually doesn’t feel like as much of a pure workout as lifting weights or running or something like that does, so I had a hard time justifying yoga instead of one of those (my efficiency hang-up at its most glaring). So it was a big deal for me when I substituted a cardiovascular workout for the yoga class (even though I did have to get up even earlier to make it). I consciously prioritized the benefits to my mind and spirit.

Whoa! It seems really strange even to type that thought! I just don’t do that very often, apparently.

And though I felt guilty for missing the cardio workout, oh my, how good that yoga class felt! It was a genuine treat. I was working at it, but it still felt like a pampering for my soul. I can still feel the effects on my mood even days later. What a discovery! This is what self-care feels like! I think I could get used to this. Well, you know, after a few visits to the shrink, maybe!

How about you? What does self-care look like to you? Walk yourself through your weekly slate of activities. Which items on your itinerary are aimed at getting yourself feeling connected, engaged, and at your best? Which ones are, like my journaling, your most ingrained habits, things that are a normal part of your life? How long have you been practicing those things? Could you imagine letting go of those habits? Which of your self-care practices is most important to you? Why? What practices have you tried and liked at some point but never made a part of your routine? Do you envision yourself returning to them? What will it take? Which ones have you had high expectations for but turned out to be just not your thing? Do you have any, like my guitar learning, that you haven’t tried but that your soul seems to be calling out for you to try? Why have you ignored that call to this point? What will get you to begin? Are your self-care activities more often done alone (e.g. meditating or reading) or with others (e.g. coffee with a friend or a yoga class)? Do you allot a certain amount of time each day that you proclaim as “Me Time” and really own it, or are you generally unaware of when you are taking care of yourself? Are you worthy of that dedicated time just for you? Are you only good at justifying it in the flow of your everyday life (e.g. nutrition), or are you good at claiming bigger chunks of time (e.g. a spa day or girls’ weekend), too? Is self-care intertwined with self-worth, i.e. the more we value ourselves, the more we care for ourselves? If so, what does your level of self-care say about how much you value yourself? How can you move that needle more in the right direction? How does it feel to be renewed from within? What best helps you get there? Leave me a reply and let me know: What does self-care look like to you?

You are totally worth it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. We are ALL worth it!

Body Image: What Do YOU See In the Mirror?

IMG_1667“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” –Amy Bloom

Hello friend,

In November, basically for the whole month, I was having lots of tummy troubles. After lunchtime, I felt bloated and yucky and could hardly eat the rest of the day without feeling even more awful. It was distressing and puzzling, especially since, despite my shrinking diet, my belly seemed to grow bigger and softer with each passing day. I have never been a fan of the scale as an indicator of health—preferring leanness and energy as my guides—and I don’t often get around to standing on one, but I was pretty sure of my weight when I wrote “200” on my driver’s license renewal form in early October. So, in mid-December, when I decided to try the scale in the locker room at my gym and saw “208,” I just about fell over. It really freaked me out. I was both alarmed and seriously disappointed. I guess I had hoped that I had been delusional about my new and growing mid-section, that maybe it was just temporary bloating. The scale made it clear that I was not. So began my version of a psychological mini-crisis.

I have spent my whole life believing I could look and feel great if only I exercise often, mostly ignoring the nutrition side of the argument. So, after the holidays wrapped up, I ramped up my workout schedule. I added a few minutes to each session, and I eliminated the day or two off I often took on the weekend. I had a streak of 76 consecutive workout days before a travel day broke it, but I haven’t missed one since. I also became slightly obsessed with checking the scale at the gym each morning, begging for good news. Sadly, it has not budged one bit in the right direction. Instead, it is only reminding me that I have become the overweight, middle-aged guy I swore I would never be.

It has really forced me to come to grips with the idea that I may never look physically fit—and what I think of as attractive—ever again (at least not without such desperate measures as eliminating sugar, which I really don’t want to do). It is a reality check, and not just for my middle-agedness.

I guess I have always had a complicated relationship with my body. For most of my years, I have sworn up and down that my physique was not appealing, and I picked at it regularly. For some of those same years, though, I was willing to talk with modeling agents or audition for plays that required a shirtless, attractive body. I didn’t mind doing yard work in just a pair of shorts. I think that under my verbal façade and perfectionism, I must have had some belief that my body was attractive.

I also know that despite my general attitude that says, “ I am not trying to impress anybody,” I am vain. I would prefer to look good. I have mostly conquered my demons with my prematurely grey hair, and I am doing my best to make peace with my body hair (which I really hate, by the way). But the actual physique is another matter. Though I have never tried to dress to impress—I am mostly a sweatpants guy–it is fair to say that I always wanted to be seen as someone who looks good in various states of undress.

I think this complicated view of my humble/vain self has revealed itself quite vividly in recent months with my new belly fat. It is a check on that part of me that always said I wasn’t attractive. The new body is rubbing it in that guy’s face, saying, “So, you want to claim ‘unattractive’? Well, now you don’t have a choice! You’re stuck with it! Now, how does it really feel? Not so good, huh?” It has been a difficult process for me psychologically, I fully admit.

Which brings us to my recent adventures of being bare-bellied in public….

As a mini-Spring Break, I took the family to a waterpark for a couple of days. An enormous and popular destination, we were packed in there by the hundreds. In very close quarters. In our swimsuits! When you are inching your way up those stairs at an elderly snail’s pace, your face is about six inches away from the next person’s bare back. Seeing another person’s body that close doesn’t bother me at all. No, the part that preys on my insecurities is the knowledge that there is a person one step below me, staring at my expanding, hairy back from just six inches away. Are they back there studying how much pudge is hanging over the sides of my suit, how many moles I have, or the uneven patterns of hair growth?

Or, are they freaking out about the person right behind them, whom they believe is judging the girth of their hips or the birth mark on their shoulder?

I am not very judgmental about other people’s bodies in these public pool/lake/locker room situations. I never find myself thinking, “That is gross!” or “What a pig!” or “He should get to the gym!” No, I ogle everybody out of pure curiosity. My comments in my head are more like, “Isn’t it interesting how that guy has such hairy legs but only a few sprigs on his chest, while that guy next to him has no more hair than the first guy on his legs but is covered on his torso, front and back.” Or, “That lady’s stretch marks make a really cool design.”   Or, “Wow, everyone’s breasts are so different, even from the other one on the same body!” I think I am unusually fascinated by people’s bodies. I could easily do an experiment of sitting behind a two-way mirror in a men’s or women’s locker room for a day, just studying the many ways we look: where the fat gathers, what sags and how far, where the hair grows, and all of our different shapes and sizes. It is endlessly interesting to me!

When I am not being fascinated by other people’s bodies, though, I am being self-conscious of my own. I wonder if someone nearby is disgusted by my body hair. I wonder if my physique is still appealing to anyone there, or if I just blend into the “out-of-shape, middle-aged dude that I wouldn’t look at twice” masses. I wonder how I rate and how far that rating has fallen. That is A LOT of stuff churning through a mind just to go swimming in public!

That’s why I wonder if other people are going through the same drama. After all, I still showed up, still pretended it was no big deal to be hanging around a large group of strangers half-naked. So did they. Are we all just great actors, or are they not as self-conscious as I am? Maybe people’s bodies and the feelings they have about them are so fascinating to me because it seems like such a taboo subject in our society. I simply don’t know what other people think and feel about their bodies, because I have never had those conversations! I have them with myself, but I have no idea if I am representative of the population at large.

The body parts of others are fascinating—not gross or embarrassing–to me, as I said, but I am guessing that they, like me, judge all of their own parts harshly, and, consequently, feel some level of shame about each. It is this shame I wonder most about.

American society has sure saddled us with some serious hang-ups about our bodies! The Hollywood and Madison Avenue version of the human body is not just difficult but completely unrealistic for most of us to attain, not to mention maintain. It is easy to get sucked into the spiral of self-loathing when it comes to our bodies. Too easy. I have seen it too many times in my friends and extended family. I still hate listening to teenage girls, who seem most prone to internalize the message and harm themselves as a result.

But honestly, I think we are all victims of it to some degree. I know I am. I think back to the few days I worked as an extra on the TV show “Baywatch,” how everyone on the set had that model body. What do they all look like now? More importantly, how harshly are they judging themselves now? It is weird how we played into the message, even while we were victims of it simultaneously. Of course, twenty years later, I am still judging my body by the same standards I did then. Even though I understand intellectually that it is a silly waste of energy to attach any emotions to my body, and that it has nothing to do with who I really am, I keep doing it. It’s a bad idea, I know, but that is where I am right now. I just don’t much like how this old bag of bones looks anymore.

How about you? How do you feel about your body? Open up your journal and dive into this sensitive subject. Which direction do your thoughts tend to go when you look into the mirror? Do you immediately focus on the parts of your body that you don’t like? Are there parts of your reflection that you really like, and do you allow your mind to appreciate those parts, too? Which parts of your physique do you wish you could change? How strong is that wish? Are there any parts that are truly embarrassing for you? Do you have any parts that you like to show off a bit? Overall, on the spectrum from praise and confidence on one end to shame and disgust on the other–with “I don’t give it a second thought” right around the middle–where is your relationship with your body right now? How has that changed over the years? How comfortable are you in talking about this subject with friends and family? Why do you think that is? I know that one of my reasons for not engaging others in a dialogue is that it seems very easy to offend others’ sensitivities, as we all have different standards for ourselves (e.g. a person who is usually extremely lean and fit but gains 10 pounds may feel awful about their body, but complaining about it to her friend who has spent a lifetime battling obesity just seems a recipe for ill will). How judgmental are you about other people’s bodies? More or less judgmental than you are about your own? Does it make any sense to feel actual shame about a body part, something that doesn’t reveal anything about your true character? Do you feel it anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you feel about your reflection?

The real you is beautiful,

William

P.S. If this letter helped you to know yourself a little better or think in a new way, pass it on. Thank you for your support!

New Year’s Excuses

DSC_0891“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bulls@#t story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” –Jordan Belfort

Hello friend,

Happy New Year! It is that time again. Time for the symbolic “do-over” we all receive every January. A chance to start fresh. A chance to do better. A chance to finally do what you—and perhaps your nagging partner—have known that you needed to do for a long time. It is RESOLUTION TIME!!! 

I have never been much for New Year’s resolutions. Up until two years ago, I stubbornly ignored the prospect altogether. I think it is because I always associated it with giving something up, like candy or soda. That didn’t sound like any fun to me. There is also my lifelong aversion to limitations. I cannot stand to be restrained in any way, and my narrow idea of resolutions saw them holding me back. For example, if my New Year’s resolution was to lose ten pounds and I did that by June, what did that leave for the rest of the year? So, I never bothered with a resolution.

As 2013 commenced, I changed my perspective on resolutions a bit and decided it would be good for me to challenge myself. So, I made a Daily To-Do List, which included several items that I wanted to not simply do once and be done with for the year, but to do every day of the year (see my post “Your Everyday To-Do List” from May 2014). I kept that priority list posted on my vanity and desk; it reminded me—or perhaps shamed me, I am not sure which—into acting better. I liked that. Did I get to them all every day, or even most days? Not exactly. Some of them became solid habits and mindsets, but a couple of them just never latched onto my daily routine. Still, that, for me, was a positive spin on resolution-making.

Whenever I think about things like goals, aspirations, agendas, or resolutions, I always find it more helpful to couch the question in terms of how I want to feel rather than what I want to do? I ask myself how I want to feel this year. The answer provides the soil for my seeds of resolution. This year, I want to feel impassioned, healthy & energized, challenged, of service, creative, impactful, at peace, nurturing, clear, and like I am growing. With those things clear in my heart and mind, I can then ask the follow-up question: “What can I DO to help me feel the way I want to feel?” The answer to this question is crucial. It is the packet of seeds to plant in the well-prepared soil. When the two are mixed and carefully tended, how can I possibly go wrong? I am sure to flourish this year. Right?

Well, maybe there is more to it. Gardens tend to grow weeds, too, and those weeds can suffocate even the most beautiful flowers. In the garden of resolutions, the weeds are excuses. Born from self-doubt, excuses suffocate us in two treacherous ways. First, they strike down our visions for a better life. Before we even make our list of goals or resolutions, they tell us why we have no business dreaming so big, that we should set our sights on something lower and more “realistic”, and that our past is a perfect indication of the limits of our future. “Think small, dream small, and you won’t be so disappointed,” they say. Second, excuses offer us a crutch for the goals or resolutions we don’t achieve. They make it someone else’s fault. They allow us to accept less because, after all, it is out of our hands. They give us a pass and don’t ask us to look in the mirror to make sure we really challenged ourselves, really did all we could, and really didn’t accept less than our very best. Then that general, Self-doubt, and its infantry of Excuses really muddy the waters by mixing the lowered expectations with a free pass for not meeting them. In the end, we are left with low self-esteem and the visual evidence for why it should be that way. It is a cancerous environment. Weeds!

I have felt the poison of self-doubt and excuses creep into my own process this year. As the New Year has crept closer, I have been pondering the way I want to feel and thus the way I want to live and the things I want to accomplish. It is ambitious stuff, no doubt. I set my sights high in many areas that matter most to me, such as quality time spent with my family, career transitions and aspirations, writing projects, personal enrichment challenges, and finally, health and fitness. And while I have felt the self-doubt and excuses rise up to challenge me on all fronts, I have been especially aware of them in the health and fitness category this year.

Feeling—and, I admit, looking—healthy, lean, and energetic have always been very important to me. I think I came to Earth with this drive, the same way others arrive with an innate drive to cook, race things, or heal people. Most years, I have not even been aware of my drive for fitness and how much I value it, as it has come relatively easily. I have been reasonably fit all my life, and when I am not able to exercise, or if I feel like I am losing the look or feel of an athletic body, I become quite frustrated and disappointed with myself. So, as I have been envisioning a lean, vibrant, and athletic body carrying me through the coming year, I have been extremely aware of an unusually strong barrage of self-doubt-driven excuses hurling themselves at me. I am now questioning what I once took for granted.

Over the past couple of years—my 40s, argh–I have become increasingly aware of belly fat. Maybe it was there before and I was just better at denial, but these days it seems I am painfully aware of its presence. I know that it is winning the war over my mind when I start to think that maybe I won’t ever lose it, that it is part of me, not just something a few weeks of running will take care of.   (Cue the depressing music) 

That running speaks to my second big doubt/excuse. This Fall, for the first time in ages, I did not have a gym membership and thus took up running outdoors for my cardiovascular fitness. I was doing weights at home and figured I could be fitter than ever with a few times per week of running. Heck, I was even preparing my mind to become a Winter runner, braving the frigid cold and wind for the sake of my health. I was committed! Then, just a few weeks into my routine and getting hooked (and fit), I pulled my calf muscle. It was devastating and frustrating simultaneously. Those feelings were multiplied in the weeks and months that followed, as each time I gave it a few weeks to heal and then tried to run again, the muscle popped.   Over and over. Then, on my first full run with it feeling solid, the other leg did the same thing. Pop! “#@$&!!!!” So the process started over. Over and over again. My wife has said numerous times, “It is your body telling you that you can’t run anymore. Ever.” I really don’t want to believe that, but somehow my self-doubt has latched onto that comment and ridden it all the way into my psyche.   (Cue the extra-depressing music) 

With my ever-softening belly and my useless legs as background, I entered this little break for the holidays still doing my best to keep the excuses for an unhealthy, low-energy year at bay. I planned to get a little exercise while on vacation and build some momentum heading into the New Year. Then I proceeded to catch a bug that laid me out for my entire vacation. I was feverish, weak, and in pain. And, oh yeah, very frustrated. It felt like one last joke my body was playing on me for the year, just so I don’t get my hopes up and generate some real aspirations for next year.

It was lots of ammunition against my ambitions for a healthy, fit, and active body. My excuses are right there for me. I am getting old, maybe too old to stop the slide. My muscles can no longer hold up to vigorous exercise. And any little microorganism can knock me out for a week, further diminishing my muscle tone and lung capacity. I am a wreck!   A wreck with excuses.

But stronger than any excuse is the choice to NOT use it. Those all seem like pretty good excuses for me to give myself a pass on getting back to fitness this year. But I choose to reject them. I am going to choose a different attitude, one that will make it easier to choose action steps that work for my values. I am going to choose to get back on the weights, figure out a cardiovascular option that works for me and my injuries, implement yoga, and eat better than I have before. I love The Gift of Choice! Instead of choosing excuses for the New Year, I am choosing ME.

How about you? What are your excuses for the coming year? Open up your journal and write out all of the things you think are holding you back from living your best life this year. What does your best life look like? What do you see yourself doing? What new habits would you like to add to your lifestyle and schedule? What things are dragging you down and need to be reduced or eliminated from your life? Who do you want to spend more time with? Less time with? How do you want to BE? What activities make you feel the way you want to feel? Can you see yourself really living the life you imagine? Okay, so what is keeping you from taking the steps to live that life? What stories are you telling yourself about why you can’t have that life? How long have you been telling yourself these stories? How is that working for you so far? Maybe it is time to tell yourself a new story. One with more dreams and fewer excuses, more passion and less self-doubt. I would love to hear that story. Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your New Year’s story?

The best time is now,

William

An Unfriendly Reminder

DSC_0408“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” –Herophilus

Hello friend,

A little over ten years ago, I came to understand suicide more clearly.

Sure, I had spent time thinking about it over the years, but mostly in theoretical terms. I would hear about people killing themselves and always wonder, “Why?” In the tenderness of my youth, I wanted to believe I was so empathetic that I really could understand the depths of despair. When my first love broke my teenage heart, I was a mess inside. I was pretty far gone, but not so far that I wasn’t aware of my thoughts. Among other things, I thought a lot about suicide. Not actually doing it—I never considered it as an option—but about the concept of suicide. Being depressed for that short time really triggered something in me, a deeper intellectualization of suicide. I thought about it regularly: about how people’s emotions can turn an otherwise-clear mind irrational, and about how belief—whether rational or not—that one’s life has no hope for improvement can make ending that life seem like an appealing option. Traps of the heart and mind. That, in a nutshell, is how suicide appeared to me until about the age of thirty. And then, it all changed.

I herniated a disc in my lower back. I won’t go into the complete nightmare sequence of events led by the HMO-directed thinking of doctors who were way out of their expertise, but suffice it to say that in the end, I was literally stuck in a sideways-bent position for days on end as they continued to multiply the doses of narcotics but failed to get me the right tests and specialists to provide any relief. I distinctly recall sitting—if you could call it that—alone in my basement one afternoon, sobbing and wailing because it hurt so badly. It was in that moment, and in the ensuing days of agony that led up—finally—to my surgery, that I arrived at a new understanding of suicide. It wasn’t only about mental and emotional pain and despair, as I had previously believed. No, the ending of one’s own life could be deemed a desirable outcome if enough physical pain was involved for a long enough time. Again, much like when I was suffering from a broken heart, I didn’t actually consider killing myself during the episode with my back, but I surely thought about the concept often. My mind just gravitated to the topic. I put myself in the position of people who are suffering from some types of terminal cancer or other chronic, severe, and debilitating pain, and believe me, I completely understood their desire to end their lives “prematurely”. In that much pain and with no end in sight, it became easy to understand the “This isn’t living” rationale. If I weren’t being careful with my words, I would describe the kind of pain I was in as “unbearable”. However, at least I knew that a solution would come eventually, and with it relief. I knew I could lay down my burden; others are not so lucky.

Even though I have some lingering nerve damage in my leg from the blundering of those doctors that did not get me the proper care in time—yes, I am a little bitter still if you couldn’t tell–my essential health was restored eventually. There is a scar on my spine that will stay with me, but otherwise my body moved on. After a year, I had pretty well put behind me my medical nightmare and the horrific pain I was in for those dark days. One lesson I kept with me was to always try to maintain strength in my core muscles and overall fitness. The other lesson that I was sure that I would hold onto forever was to be grateful for my health every day that I have it. The incident had made me keenly aware of how precious and fleeting good health is—much like life itself—and thus how aware and grateful I should be each day to be alive and relatively pain-free. I vowed to never forget. How could I?

Well, I did forget. I got complacent. I did the right things physically to try to avoid another disaster, but I got sloppy with the gratitude part. I stopped reminding myself what a magnificent gift it is to wake up and breathe easily in the morning, to be able to wrestle with my kids and give them shoulder rides, to run around and hit tennis balls, to survive a hot yoga class, and to simply walk the earth without the distraction of pain. Sure, I have had pretty regular injuries to remind myself what a hassle they are, but mostly I have been able to press on and continue an active life. And, I am sad to admit, a blindly ungrateful one, too.

It seems that the better my health has been, the less grateful for it I have been. For me at least, it is the biggest one I let slip through the cracks when it comes to prayers of gratitude. I feel like I am pretty self-aware when it comes to how lucky I am to have such wonderful people in my life. My parents and siblings are the best ever, and I wouldn’t trade any of them in. I can hardly imagine my luck in finding someone who actually chose to have me around for life, so, needless to say, I am grateful for my amazing wife. And of course, my kids are the greatest things that have ever happened to me. I feel like I know that every day, too. I am so aware of how they make my heart overflow, so I pretty much ooze gratitude when it comes to them. I know, too, how lucky I am to be allowed a schedule that matches my priorities, offering me tons of quality time with the family, as well as some stolen moments to pursue my passions, such as writing this letter to you. I am well aware of how spoiled I am in this regard, so I am deeply grateful.

I always tell people that one of the biggest benefits of keeping a daily journal is that it makes me intensely self-aware, and that the main benefit of this self-awareness is gratitude for my beautiful existence. As I said, I feel like this is very true in all of the other areas of my life. So, why do I do so poorly in acknowledging the blessings of good health? Being a sports lover, the analogy that comes to my mind is of the referee (or the ballkids in tennis). The goal of the referee—or the ballkid—is to NOT be noticed. If you notice them, it is probably because they are doing a bad job. Health seems to be, for me, like that. If I don’t notice my health, that means the job is being done well. If I do notice it—like this past week, when my spine has again gone awry and left me agonizing—something is wrong. I can see now—pain sometimes has a way of clarifying things—that this is not fair to my health. I am hereby vowing to do a better job of acknowledging—DAILY–the wonderful fortune it is to be in good health. I love Herophilus’s quote at the top of the page; it really is true that without health, our other gifts cannot shine through. I am so driven to maximize my potential, so I would be a fool not to honor the instrument through which all things flow. Like with so many people around us, a simple show of gratitude and respect can do wonders. It is time I started to set things right. I am only sorry that it required this week’s unfriendly reminder from my spine to help me see the light.

How about you? How is your relationship with your health? Open up your journal and start writing. Make a list of the aspects of your health that you appreciate. Can you make it through the day without pain? Do you require any medications or devices to function normally? Do you like a good fitness challenge? Do you sleep comfortably? Are you able to “act like a kid” sometimes, full of energy and freedom? Can you run? Could you still climb a sledding hill? Jump in the pool or lake for a swim? Run through the sprinkler? Ride a bike? Chase a kid around all day? Do you set goals for your health and fitness? Do you go to a gym or have a regular workout routine? How is your diet? If you could change your weight any amount in either direction, what would you choose? Do you know of people who are less healthy than you? Perhaps they have cancer, cardiovascular disease, an autoimmune disorder, arthritis, or obesity. In thinking about them, does it make you more grateful for the health that you have? Does it motivate you to take action to improve your health? How grateful are you about your status? Are you like me and take it for granted when it is going well, only to be reminded of your ingratitude when you are stricken down with something? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you appreciate your health, or does it require an unfriendly reminder? 

Start your day with “Thank you”,

William