Over the past year, I’ve worked with several ideas and tools to manage my issues of anxiety, depression and distraction brought on by my mTBIs. I’ve written about my bullet journal, my daily practice and the book that worked like a “key in a lock” for all of it. One of the most recent tools, and perhaps one of the more practical, was a simple sentence I heard from my wife.
We were discussing the ideas of mindfulness, staying in the present and battling anxiety. She brought up information she had been given in a leadership workshop and said, “Did you know there have been studies done which show the brain cannot contain thoughts of anxiety and gratitude at the same time?”
I immediately began chewing on this and coupling it with my current practice. I decided to put that statement to the test as soon as possible.
One of my biggest issues had been that shortly after settling into my breathing, my environment and the simple truth of the present moment, my heart would take off and wave upon wave of anxiety would hit me. Little panic attacks would shock through my system and I’d get hit with a flood of adrenaline. I’ve written about this previously and how it refused to stop. Though recently I had been able to work with the anxiety, it still arose occasionally.
I also had found that I could be in a quiet, relaxed state of mind and anxious thoughts would still skitter across my awareness, like mice scurrying in the corner of your eye. Occasionally, I would unwittingly latch on to one of those thoughts and found myself taken for a ride.
However, now I had been given a new tool! If anxiety and gratefulness basically had some sort of oil and water combination in the brain, I could use that to my advantage. Basically, the same as offering a chew toy to a dog that is chewing on your shoe. “No, no, bad brain. If you’re going to chew on something chew on this.”
The moment I began to become aware of my anxiety or a thought based more on depression, I would immediately find one or two things I was grateful for in that moment. If I could not find something immediate, I could easily find something from my life or my family. I would then focus on the grateful thought instead of the anxious one.
I coupled this with the information I read a few days later. You can retrain your brain based on how you respond to a situation. You have two choices, Love or Fear. Your brain will wire itself accordingly. If you have been wiring your brain with Fear based responses (which a good chunk of the population has been doing for decades) then it will continue along those neural pathways you have built.
However, thanks to recent research, the brain retains a plasticity and, if like me, you realize your mistakes you can begin to rewire things. Like your own personal brain garden you can begin retraining neural tendrils and vines that have grown closer together due to anxiety. You can redirect them to move apart and reconnect through gratitude, Love and optimism. Just like a garden, it won’t happen quickly. You will have rainy days, tangled roots and pests but it will happen.
And so I began applying all of this, joining it with my mindfulness practice, my meditations. Whenever I found myself thinking an anxious thought or letting myself rush to quickly towards the future, I’d drop back. I’d think about one thing I was grateful. If that didn’t replace the anxiety, I’d find something else. It didn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as feeling the wind on my face, being able to climb stairs, being able to read, having a comfortable work chair. Anything. I focused on my blessings.
In my bullet journal I created a gratitude journal where I listed the top two things every day that I was thankful for having. Some days I’ve written, “A warm bed,””Amazing sunset,” or “Time with family over a board game.” Other times it was, “Grateful for a safely built dishwasher that didn’t catch fire.”
Currently, my strategies are working. It’s been like the anxiety has had the rug pulled out from underneath it. It has no traction and slides away. It’s not perfect, of course. It still comes back. When it does I simply meet it with more gratitude. It slides away again. At work, I noticed my days moving faster. I’ve noticed things going smoothly, or, at least my reaction to them has changed.
I was retraining my brain.
I still have reactions that are the old way of thinking. Just yesterday, at work, I fell down the yucky rabbit hole of frustration, anxiety and anger. However, instead of sitting in it I did something else. I left my desk. I took a brief walk outside. I got back to the present. I didn’t scold myself for getting angry but instead started focusing on what I was the most grateful for in my life. I realized I was allowing myself to get too invested in my work. I sat and watched nature around me, watched the wind in the trees and repeated how grateful I was. Things calmed down quickly.
The difference between that and what might have been a year ago? Before, I would have allowed it to tank my day. I would have gone home exhausted and distraught. Now? The whole thing took 20 minutes and I was able to get back into my day, get things done and go home in a good mindset.
And the first thing when I got back to my desk? I sat down and took a moment to be grateful for having a job that allowed me to go for a brief walk. I have had more than a few where that could not have been an option.
And today? Today I simply start all over again.
Just me and my brain garden.
Here are some other links that have helpful information:
I’m not sure why I’m writing this.
My muse has been quite certain about the fact I’m supposed to write something here and has been very annoyed I’ve not been listening. You can tell your muse is annoyed when the idea she’s sent you becomes a constant, nagging and repetitive thought in your mind no matter how much you try to ignore it. Matter of fact, the more you ignore it, the worse it gets! At this point, I’m only really writing this in the hopes of getting some sleep. (Don’t tell my muse!)
When I find myself worn at the end of the day and still looking an hour long workout in the face, a blank word processing screen or maybe just frustrated with the job and or ignorance and hatred around me, I like to watch short motivational interviews. While watching one a week or so ago, I heard a quote from motivational speaker, Les Brown.
“Oh no, there is no guarantee you will show up tomorrow. There are a lot of people who were here yesterday, but they’re not here today. There are a lot of opportunities that were around yesterday; they’re not here today.”
When I heard those words they stuck with me. Maybe it was because of my own recent experience. My mind rolled it around and around and then I came up with a slight variation. It’s my mantra. I try to carry it with me into and through every workout, every day going into work, every time I sit down to write, every night as I go to sleep. Sometimes I forget but, lately, it seems to have a memory of it’s own, popping into my head like a helpful genie. It goes like this.
“There were people around yesterday that wanted to be here today. They’re not here. You might be the one that doesn’t show up tomorrow. You have today. You have right now. “
I’ve said it to myself so much it’s not really the words anymore. It’s the essence behind them. The key is taking the time to really sink into the concept that, really, you may not be here tomorrow. What does that look like? How does it feel? What immaterial things disappear? What dreams for the day come to the fore?
I’m no stranger to history and philosophy and I was struck with the similarity it carried with all manner of ancient thought regarding the concept of Death and “Not being here tomorrow.” There is a massive amount of literature and internet links out there on the concept of carrying Death with you. It’s not my intent to go deeply into all of them. However, I did want to present some of what I found.
First, I thought it was very similar to the Hagakure, the 18th century treatise on the Samurai code. That simple idea that by acknowledging Death daily you fully experience Life. I did a bit of digging and found this little gem written by Daidoji Yuzan, an Edo samurai.
“One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind…the fact that he has to die. If he is always mindful of this, he will be able to live in accordance with the paths of loyalty and filial duty, will avoid myriads of evils and adversities, keep himself free of disease and calamity and moreover enjoy a long life.”
And the unstated, “If things don’t go well and you accidentally step in front of a bus, at least you were at peace with your impermanence!”
I also found a reference that I was unable to validate to an original source. I have no idea which “masters of old” he is referring. Regardless, I thought it was pretty good. It came from Philip Kapleau and “The Zen of Living and Dying”
“Masters of old advise, ‘Stick the word Death on your forehead and keep it there.”
Finally, while bouncing around the web, I found a great piece by the Dali Lama. If you want a more in-depth read I highly recommend it. I’ll leave you with this part of it.
“Our present lives, however, are not forever. But to think: “Death is the enemy” is totally wrong. Death is part of our lives. Of course, from the Buddhist viewpoint, this body is in some sense an enemy. In order to develop genuine desire for moksha – liberation – then we do need that kind of attitude: that this very birth, this body, its very nature is suffering and so we want to cease that. But this attitude can create a lot of problems. If you consider death is the enemy, then this body is also the enemy, and life as a whole is the enemy. That’s going a little bit too far.”
I’m far from any kind of guru or samurai and I think sticking Death on your forehead would make for a very weird tattoo. It would probably, depending on the job, cut down on job interviews. Would maybe a post-it note work? It would probably fall off a lot. I think it might also get you a visit from your office Human Resources.
Joking aside, I’ve simply found a nugget of old wisdom, a phrase that works for me and which, oddly enough, brings me peace with a daily thought process and routine. I feel blessed to have stumbled upon it. It’s a helpful reminder and it brings me focus about what is important. I share it in hopes it helps someone else down the road.
So, this is my final post in this particular series. As I mentioned in Part One, and with a direct reference to the amazing movie “Hook”, back in June I had a bit of an apostrophe.
The first goal that came out of that was to be stronger and more healthy than I had ever been before in my life. The second goal was to get in shape and to run obstacle races. Those are now in full swing. Now, it’s time for me to go over the third, and possibly the most important, goal which came through that little “lightning to the top of my brain” experience.
I’m returning to being a writer.
You see, Life came around a little while ago and I kind of forgot I was a writer. Like Peter in Hook, I got spun around in the world and forgot. In this world of finances and internet and fun computer games and laundry and hiking and children and, well, all of that, it’s an easy thing to do. I think it happens to all of us. You forget your passion. Like anything else, you get your hands full with everything else and, in haste, you set it down and forget it.
It seems odd you would treat your passion with such abandon but we do it, don’t we? Your passion is important! It’s what makes you YOU. But, it’s easy to do. We all have done it for one reason or another. We do it out of Love, out of Survival and, yes, out of fear. (I think it happens mostly out of fear but we’ll talk about that later.)
You passion comes whispering back to you in quiet moments. For me it is always, “Hey, this would be a fun story.” or “You know that epic fantasy story you’ve had in your head. You want to get back to that sometime? If so, here’s a cool scene to write out.”
They come in during the half-asleep times or when I’m running or in the shower. (My creative muse, for some reason, lives in the shower. I really need her to show up more while I’m running…) They come back and you wave your hand at them, sending them away. “Not now! I’ve got this THING to do.”
And they flitter away, flying off into the bushes. But…
“Listen to us,” they pleadingly whisper. “You’re supposed to do this, you know?”
They always come back.
I actually made the decision to do this back in July. However, I wanted to have a month or so to get focused on my workouts, on being with family as we got through a transitional August and I wanted to get the rest of my RPG rules written. However, I quietly made a very fierce goal with myself. September. Regardless of anything else going on, I’m starting this in September.
And so, I am.
I have several goals in this but most important is just the simple one of focus. Like my workouts, I started slow. I’ll start by looking at a few old stories of mine and starting edits. I’ll start small batch writing on projects that interest me. I’m not worried about the fire coming back and pounding out 3000 words. That will come of it’s own.
I’m just going to, every day, turn my head to the writer’s block.
I know the momentum will build from there because that is what happens when you listen to your Passion.
In my last post I mentioned the commitment and investment of working out and getting healthy.
What I’m spending financially in September on my health goals and personal training, once it’s all said and done, could do a lot of things. It could get our family a new television, a new computer. It could buy a new set of winter clothes. It could help get our old car ready for winter. I had to get my brain around spending that money on myself in order to get healthy, especially with the fact that I am not overweight or in poor health to begin with!
I wanted to discuss it further here because I think the idea it’s ok to invest money on our health while we are healthy is something which is not thought about or supported in our culture. We are taught to consume and to play and to have fun, to spend millions of dollars on items we are told we “need.” It’s even alright to spend money on fixing ourselves AFTER we have consumed too much; IE – food, movies, video games, etc. Yet, when it comes time to spend that money on ourselves and improve ourselves, when there is no “obvious” reason why we should do it, the mind (and the minds of your friends and family) seem to take a stutter-step. At least this is what I found mine doing. Why is that? What is it about our culture that teaches us to hesitate on our goals like this?
I latched onto the idea of an investment. This is my investment to myself. However, it is also an investment for my family, for my wife. By getting healthy I am insuring I am able to help carry items in my son’s move, to pick my daughter up for a hug, to go for a long, adventurous hike with my wife to see beautiful wilderness or to help my mother as she gets older to help keep up her house with outdoor maintenance chores. When I go to volunteer, as I did last weekend for a food drive, I could carry more bags of food to the waiting car. I could stand longer on the concrete and hand out flyers without my back or feet hurting. The amount the investment will return on itself is incalculable because it does not focus entirely on dollars and cents. It has a much higher payout down the road.
On the fifth week of my Spartan workout (my second 4th week because I repeated it) I had to do my workout later in the evening. It was close to 9:00 PM, going on 9:30. I had a full day under my belt and not much food in my belly. I was tired. When I took a breather I muttered, “Why am I doing this again?” I laughed because the answer came to mind immediately.
Because, right now, I’m building the body I will grow old in. As time goes by, do I want it to be strong and healthy or weak and problematic?
As I looked at our budget and what my wife and I are doing for ourselves, I shared this thought with her and she agreed. Our souls may be fiery meteors of energy and life but our bodies are infinite and will, eventually, decline. We, right now, are building those bodies as strong as we can so we can, hopefully, grow old in them.
And that, hands down, beats any kind of new television, clothes, laptop. Besides, when I get in better shape I won’t need a car in winter, right?
I’ll just super leap over to my job! Problem solved!
Another challenger arises!
Tomorrow morning my son and I head north to GenCon, the largest gaming convention in the country. This is a very good thing and I’ve been looking forward to it all year. (Next year, depending on how this workout thing goes, I might even do some costuming.) I’ve been going to GenCon for mucho years. I’m no stranger to what I like to call “the hallowed halls.” For the event coming up, I’ll be posting pics and commentary over on my game blog. Feel free to wander over there if you want to see more.
However, because I know this arena, I know where the pitfalls lie and what dangers lurk! The challenge comes in the fact that I have three workouts to get done over those four days. My son, who is also in a workout program, has four workouts to get done. “No problem!” you might say, “Get those workouts done at the hotel either before or afterwards.”
This is a true statement and exactly what we are going to do. However, it’s easier said than done. Here are the details.
- Our hotel is not close and we have about a 20 minute drive.
- We need to be downtown by no later than 9 AM to stand any chance at all of decent parking. The real deadline is 8 AM.
- Most nights we will not be returning to the hotel until around Midnight and we will be wiped out from lots of walking and enjoying ourselves.
- We each have 30 to 45 minute workouts. We also need to shower afterwards and clean-up.
- We absolutely have to get a good breakfast before hitting the convention floor.
You should be able to see where this is headed? It would appear that we are looking at around a 5:30 or 6:00 AM wake-up time for us to get those in, get cleaned in the hotel room, get breakfast AND make the downtown parking garages in time.
Tomorrow is somewhat easier. My son has a rest day and I plan on hitting my strength/calisthenics first thing in the morning. It will be tomorrow and the weekend where the real test will happen!
The secondary challenge comes in the fact that it could be a struggle to find healthy food in this haven for dice, food trucks, board games and soda. Oh, it can be done but it will not be easy. We’re packing our own snacks and protein bars for back-up. Though I am not placing myself on any kind of strict diet just yet, I’ve been trying very hard to watch my sugars and any kind of fried foods, etc. My son is on a very regulated diet with his program. We are going to have to dig deep in our creative convention exploring skills to find what he needs. I’ve scouted out at least one vegetarian option for him and I’m sure we will just have to be creative when the time comes. (Or walk a butt load of city blocks to find a good food place.)
Will we have the skill rankings and the fortitude scores to succeed? Will we succumb to the seduction of late night gaming and an inability to hear our alarms in the morning?
There’s only one way to know for sure!
Today is Cheeseburger Day!
The story of Cheeseburger Day starts with a very special dog that passed 5 years ago. I wrote about him originally on another blog I had going. The post was lengthy and, let me tell ya, it’s a real tear jerker. I’m not going that route. (I may re-post the other one later to have it in these archives.)
The dog’s name? Pooka Grasskiller. He earned the last name due to a weird thing he would do when he became really excited. He would kill grass, tearing into it and tossing it into the air. He’d then look at you with that stupid, tongue hanging out doggie smile.
Pooka was my best friend for eleven years. We were inseparable.
So much so that when I took over my old job of managing a game store he was allowed to come with me. Every day he would come into work and hang out. Of course, customers loved him. He was, quite simply, “the best dog ever.” Pooka began to earn quite the following and nearly every week (every day?) we would have customers come in just to see him. He loved everyone and he loved the attention.
He also loved cheeseburgers.
This is from the previous post. It sums up Pooka and cheeseburgers pretty well.
“He loved cheeseburgers. It came about when we were on the road. I once stopped for lunch at a burger place when he was in the car with me and he went nuts when I opened the bag. Being a buddy, I ripped off a piece and gave it to him. It sealed the deal for him and from then forward he’d get excited about the promise of another “snack.”
Then, there’s this story that sealed the connection between Pooka and Cheeseburgers.
“I once found out that a friend of mine had stopped at a fast food place and picked up a cheeseburger just for Pooka. They knew I was, at this point, cutting Pooka back from “people food.” As he aged enough was, after all, enough. However, Pooka’s subliminal mastery of the human mind was too much for some people.
Knowing my stance, my friend called me over to a shelf of product and distracted me. While I was talking to him and not looking he motioned to Pooka with the cheeseburger. I’m told Pooka hesitated at first but then seemed to realize what was going on. Pooka came up behind us and snagged half the offered burger from behind the friend’s back. My friend thought it was hilarious. Later, I found out this had happened more than once and Pooka was “in the know” quite a bit. Like I said, a trickster.”
When he passed I received condolences from people I barely knew. By being in that store for so many years he had gained a huge following. I had left the job before he passed but still, two years after he passed, I was stopped on the street by an old customer who wanted to tell me they thought Pooka was amazing. Even now I can mention his name to people and it never fails to bring a smile. “Damn, that was a good dog.”
On the first Anniversary of his passing, I was still grieving and my family created Cheeseburger Day as a way to celebrate him and to never forget him. We went to a cheeseburger place and piled them high. When I announced it over social media with a picture I didn’t expect anything. I just thought it would be nice to remember him this way. What happened next was a wonderful surprise. I was amazed at the outpouring of love that came back and of friends posting pics of cheeseburgers.
It became a thing. Flash forward to now. For some reason, Cheeseburger Day got jostled around in my addled brain and I thought it was next week. Besides, after 5 years, it was just a family thing, right? Oh, nothing more powerful than the wash of time to ease the pain of grieving. Out of nowhere, a friend sent me a message on Facebook and gleefully reminded my friends and I that we can’t forget the 28th is Cheeseburger Day! I have to admit, I got a bit teary when I saw it.
So, lest none forget, today is Cheeseburger Day! For me, it will always be about him and our connection, a once in a life time thing. It’s about the people who knew him celebrating one of the most amazing shop dogs they ever had the pleasure to work, game, or hang out with.
Maybe you didn’t know Pooka? It’s ok. If you’re a dog lover than maybe you know a dog, or knew a dog, like Pooka? If that’s the case then how cool would it be if Cheeseburger Day could be for them as well? It’s about that connection with a gentle soul that always wants to be by your side, who always wants to follow you out the door no matter the weather or the time. If you’re lucky, you could share a piece of that cheeseburger with your pal?
Regardless, for my family, friends and I, today is Cheeseburger Day.
Pile it high for my friend and your friend. For the gentlest of souls and the laziest guardian of all gamer geeks everywhere! For the Grasskiller! For the Lord of Belly Scritches! For the sneaky Cheeseburger Thief! Pile it high and feast upon the burgers of cheese!
Pictures of said glorious feast to come… 😉
This weekend I started Week Three on my journey of intensive training. (It was actually week 5 as I had started doing workouts two weeks prior.) I plowed through my running day with no problems and felt great afterwards. Sunday was my calisthenic and strength day. According to the workout plan, sets and exercises were amped up one small step towards reps. My energy was down a bit but I was ready. I could do this. I was excited for no other reason than the simple fact I would be putting those Bear Walk Holds to good use and actually doing some Bear Walking. I was also going to start doing Crab Walks. How exciting!
I opted after warm-up to do it outside. The sun was out and it was warm. It was also humid and because I had decided on a lazy Sunday morning, it was about mid-day. That laziness choice would bite me in the butt and teach me a solid lesson later.
My set rotation is push-ups, plank holds, squats, lunges, side lunges and then bear and crab walks. Today, I was to do 4 sets. A pretty tight and efficient workout. Right after my first plank I knew I was in trouble. It seemed like all my energy went into holding that plank and as I went into squats I was sweating and tired. The heat quickly went from mild to oppressive over the course of the set. (I’d not looked at the temperature before going out and found out later the heat index had been up near 90. Smart move!)
I took my break eagerly and then hit Set Two. After Set Two I was a mess. My Pandora music station wasn’t working for me. My form had been bad throughout and it felt like the wheels were coming off. Not only that but mentally things had started to crumble. I started having variations on the following thought, “This sucks. Maybe I should just repeat Week 2?” or, “You’ve not done that much and look at you. You’re no spring chicken. Take it easy. Just stop here and you can reset to Week Two.” And, my favorite, “The air conditioning feels so good back at home…”
I almost bought into it. I was gasping for air, my shoulders were on fire and I was pretty miserable. It just seemed like I had nothing in my tank! On top of that my monkey mind was chattering about how uncomfortable it was. I took a knee after that second set and decided to take a longer break to get everything back under control. So, with my knee pressing into the concrete, sweat rolling off my nose and chin, I stayed there until I could get my breathing back. I did some mindfulness meditation around my breath and went inward.
Did I want to tap out? No. Did I want to reset to Week Two? No but maybe I should… And that’s when something clicked. Wait a minute. Should? Should?!?! It was time to look at that word a bit more closely. I was told several years ago to be careful about “shoulding” on myself and how the word itself should (ha!) be avoided. I realized this was a defining moment for me.
In the past I would have opted for the reset to Week 2. The “should” would not have come up. I would have mumbled some excuses to myself and taken the reset. Make no mistake, I was miserable in that moment. Yet, somehow, I latched onto that one word and while I focused on my breathing and on the moment, everything fell into place. It was not just a simple choice at this moment. It was a big choice. It was a defining choice.
Thinking back on it I wonder what it looked like on the outside? I like to tuck myself away, back in an out of the way corner near my apartment’s workout building. I doubt no one saw me in this moment. If they had, it would have been a simple sight. An exhausted middle-aged guy, on one knee, recovering and getting his breath back. “Gee, he looks tired.” That’s it. No sign whatsoever of the inner battle, struggle and decisions going on. How turbulent it was internally! How often do we see athletes like this and we just think, “Oh, they’re just getting their breath back,” and have no concept of the battle being waged on the inside.
I made a decision. I was going to finish this damn thing. I would take breaks if necessary but I was not resetting to Week 2. I was finishing this damn workout. As I stood up it was as if the Pandora Gods were looking out for me because what happened to play next? Battle without Honor or Humanity from Kill Bill, Vol. #1. It was perfect.
Make no mistake, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t smooth, sure movements. It was a battle with myself with no honor and I’m real glad I was alone in that secluded corner because I was spitting, cussing and growling my way through every rep. Either I went down or it did. It was more than the “breaking through” I posted earlier. It was a fight with deep self-esteem based beliefs and habits that had made a little rat’s nest inside of me. When the fourth set and my past habits lay broken and bleeding on the concrete behind me I was exhausted. I stumbled home and had to use both hands to lift my water bottle because my arms were shot. The rest of the day was a downward spiral towards sleep and I crashed out at around 7:30 or 8 PM.
But, you know what?
I walked away from that spot knowing I had won, that I had surpassed anything I had ever done in my past. And that feeling? That sense of completion, attainment and courageously breaking new ground?
It was, and still is, amazing.
(However, next time, I won’t be waiting to do my workout at Noon in the middle of July!)
Post edit – Looking back over my workout schedule I saw that I was not required to do 4 Sets at all. This week only required 3. *headdesk* 😀 But I did it anyway, right? RIGHT?
I decided to move ahead and do a light run on Monday. With the family schedule getting jam-packed with the Otter Wife’s own training and schedule, I was unable to run until about two hours after dinner. I’m glad I did because I was treated to an amazing sunset and some lovely evening weather. It was a perfect time to be out!
Tuesday morning, I woke up from sleeping on my right side and the soreness in my right hip had returned. As the day rolled forward the stiffness stuck around. It’s about a 3 on a 1-10 and more an annoyance than anything. I made sure to get up from my desk at work about every 45 minutes to walk it out. Luckily, Tuesday was a rest day and after forcing myself out to do something Monday I gladly kicked my feet up and chilled out last night.
As the family scrambled for coffee, breakfast and prep for the work day, a topic of discussion came up. Maybe it goes without saying but my middle son is starting a workout/weight loss program for the first time. A lot of this is new to him. Getting healthy, and I mean going the whole route of exercise, diet and habit changes, requires a change of focus. It is so much more than just “working out.”
I think this is, ultimately, what bounces people off the path of getting fit. It’s not the workout. It’s everything else that comes along with it and what you have to sacrifice to do it! If all I had to do was workout 45 minutes five days a week to be healthy, so what? A little soreness, yeah. A little exhaustion, alright.
However, in order to do it right, it’s much more. You have to change your diet and your habits. If at all possible, you need to shop mindfully as well as make your own meals. This also includes lunch at work. This takes time. You also have to clean up after your cooking. This takes time. In the summer even a short thirty minute workout can drench me in sweat which tacks on a shower and clothing change to my day, sometimes twice a day if it’s bad outside. That’s more time added. In no time, that simple idea of a 45 minute workout can turn into almost 2 extra hours. Now, you’re talking close to 10+ or more hours a week. When you tack this onto a work day that often stretches to 9 or 10 hours (with prep for the day and travel and errands to and from), a need to get at least 7-8 hours sleep, and, well, you can see where this is going.
It’s not the workout. The real discipline comes with all the things surrounding the workout. That’s where the sacrifice comes in and can be tough to match if you have young kids or are, for instance, working two jobs. It’s also a challenge if you are just in an entirely different life pattern or in a different habit of what you eat. No more quick stops at the fast food joints! Instead, it’s time in the grocery store, time in the kitchen, time in the gym. You also cannot forget that buying solid, healthy food is more expensive. Now, you have a time sink AND a money sink.
Sure, the number of push-ups, squats and miles running help strengthen you but it’s the recognition of the need to change habits, your thought patterns, and making sacrifices to them that get you moving in the right direction!
Today is my first big workout since the weekend. The weather looks to be perfect and I am thinking of going to a nearby woods and lake to do it. Give me that over a gym any day.
Is it weird I’m actually looking forward to it?
Early in June something odd happened to me on the way to work. To be honest, I’m not sure where it came from. I was driving down my normal route and while sitting at a red light I was practicing some awareness exercises. A thought or maybe a phrase or, well, I’m not sure what it was came into my head from literally nowhere; one statement and then a question.
“You’ve got a good 10 – 15 years left. What are you going to do with it?”
It was startling. I wanted to ask my wife, “Did you hear that?” It was very clear. Thinking back, I’m not sure of the source. If it came from my mind then it was proof positive your mind is not efficient nor interested in self-preservation because right afterwards I was so distracted I almost caused a car wreck! Aren’t these questions, situations, moments of enlightenment or whatever supposed to come while you are sitting quietly on a mountain or peacefully meditating in a woodland glen?
What a sobering thought. An intense boot to the head. I’m “that close” to 50 and though it sounds quite ego filled and born of a mid-life crisis, it actually was not. It had no sense of pressure, of hurry, of a rush to gain money or prestige. There was no panic (which I assume would happen if the Ego was involved.) I think it was the plain, non-emotional statement and question that impacted me so strongly. I sometimes wonder if it did come from some outside source or was it just some sort of poorly timed epiphany?
It was just a simple, non-judgmental question. “What are you going to do with it?”
I’ve spent much of the following weeks working over the question. It’s had a life changing effect on me to be sure. I’ve come up with a few things. Some are personal, others are more public. What I am planning to do is to start writing about them here and using the blog to help keep track of the progress along the way.
First up on the answer list to the question from nowhere?
I want to not only get back in shape and be strong but to surpass anything from my past.
I’ve always been athletic. I also suffer from one too many concussions. This is what happens when you are freakishly tall and a bit of a daredevil. After my last bad head hit in 2000, I suffered for a long time from post-concussion syndrome. For several years, most physical activity was out of the question. Playing sports, jogging, etc was just not a good idea. Even now, though I can take the occasional bump or tap, I have to be careful about hard bonks to the noggin. Anything that jarred me too much would bring on a headache, sensitivity to light, dizziness. It was a pain. I remember taking my oldest son out to shoot around with a basketball. Even that caused me to wear sunglasses indoors the next day. As you may guess, my activity dropped considerably.
Last year I had started to do some trial running with good results and enjoyed an occasional run. Otherwise, that was it. Last summer, I suffered a shoulder injury and had serious pain and reduction in mobility. A month ago I couldn’t even raise my left arm over my head higher than shoulder height. In addition, I work a desk job and had developed something I call a “tall man stomach.” When I was younger I saw a taller man with an overly developed paunch and gave it that label. Right afterwards I vowed never to have one. Yet, here I was looking at one in the mirror. What was I going to do about it?
After my little esoteric experience mentioned at the beginning, I decided enough was enough. I had to admit I had been making far too many excuses. I was once told there are excuses and there are reasons. Reasons are valid. Excuses are not. The trick is determining one from the other! The concussion and shoulder injury? Reasons. Reasons to be careful, reasons to be wise. Choosing not to ride a roller-coaster at a theme park because of my concussion issues? Reason. Being too tired after a normal day of work and sitting down at a computer game after dinner? Excuse. Not going to the gym or doing anything at all because my shoulder was a little sore? Excuse.
I realized that in many ways I had been letting the past dictate my excuses for far too long. Growing up as a lanky, string-bean kind of kid who loved superheroes I had a long standing dream of having a strong, muscled form. How many times had I looked at my dream of who I wanted to be and opted not to push for it? (Ok, if anything, I have to admit there is a bit of mid-life crisis in there. At least I’m making good choices with it, right?) I wanted to be strong for my family, my wife, my kids. I wanted to be ready should a situation demand strength and endurance from me.
When I make changes like this I prefer to start slow. Last year, when I started running again I was doing more walking than running. I’d walk and when I felt like it, I’d jog. I’d do this until I wanted to walk again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I still do this when I hit the trail. However, I’ve gone from wheezing through .8 miles to doing almost 2.8. (And to think, at the height of my fitness as a basketball player in high school, I couldn’t even run a full mile! Different bodies, different times!)
For initial strength, I opted for yoga. As I get older yoga appeals to me. I wanted something that was steady, slow and powerful. I decided I would do just a little bit, focusing on my bum shoulder, and see what happened. Every morning I got up and did downward facing dog for as many breaths as possible, then a plank and then Warrior 1. Then, I sat in stillness for 5 or 10 minutes. Within a few days I noticed that my left shoulder was working better. I started running again, twice a week. Within two weeks I noticed things getting more and more comfortable. Recently, I had my first real session working out in our apartment complex’s weight room. When I look in the mirror, I’m starting to see changes, changes that I am very happy about.
As I’ve been working on and editing this post, there have been new developments. I will talk about those in Part Two. It would appear I’ve stepped on to a particular pathway I would have never seen coming.
All from a random thought/inspiration at a stop light.
At least I can say that I have an answer to the question.