Once upon a time (last month) I was doing what I always do when I “don’t wanna” start my workout: looking on Instagram at the fit-spirational quotes and idioms that are supplemented with pretty pictures. This practice generally helps me get over my bratty-kid-brain part, reminds me that “want” is not an option, and auto ass kick myself into gear.
However, that day, it sparked more in me than the usual cardio related thoughts such as, “Okay. I feel fat. Now I’m sufficiently guilted into some cardio.”
We don’t always consciously choose whether fear or desire is what spurs us to get on the grind or finish tasks, so long as we get them done (cue to Donnie Darko lecture about fear vs. love). But when we put it off for too long, that generally means we don’t have genuine incentive to do it… and that is definitely where I’ve been living. But after herniating a lumbar disc a month and a half ago, I had to take a leave of absence from my new job to go appointments and other miscellaneous medical engagements.
A malaise/feeling of uselessness began to set in.
It could have supercharged the already ingrained perpetual depression that’s been cyclically amplifying spiral-style for the past three and a half years. And that’s not just me. I’m sure a lot of you have had “funks”, had it worse, whatever. In any case, something else suddenly happened. I mean, I already knew this phrase. I’d heard it all before. But on this day, it actually registered. And the desire was larger than to simply hop on a cardio machine.
So was the domino effect that followed.
Remember The Matrix? Of course you do. Almost a decade and a half later, we still all have that cinema induced fantasy we wish we could do: sit in a chair, plug in a USB to our neck, and upload a ridiculous amount of knowledge or know-how. In context, it’s great for the movie because the world is not “really” real there, and Neo has to save it…quickly. However (assuming we’re not living in binary-land and none of you are telling me), for those typical things you “wish” you knew how to do (but just not hard enough to actually do them), why would you need it? Are you the chosen one? Are you saving the world tomorrow?
With that thought in mind, I realized, there are some very basic and possible things I’d been complaining about “wishing” I knew or “wanting” to obtain, but not “getting”. Some of them were barred by back problems and work taking motivational energy out of me. But now that I had some time on my hands between appointments, I now had the opportunity to consider this. What I didn’t have anymore was an excuse not to at least try.
So I made a silent vow (for those of you who don’t know, that’s the opposite of broadcasting a resolution online and then neither actually starting nor finishing it). And that was to at least attempt learning, obtaining, or reaching some long-time complaints-turned-goals regarding what I wish I knew or had (not speaking about material goods).
THING 1: Geography
I’ve complained about feeling so stupid for so long – especially about outside of the America-box.
At my age, I still didn’t know where anything was in the world: countries, where which continent is in relation to another, etc. I’m sure I learned some of it back in formative school; but it got flushed out of my grey matter and down into the recess cesspools of my brain quickly. None of it stuck because it wasn’t applied much, wasn’t relatable, and therefore not interesting.
When VICE came along, they made current events pretty interesting, but I’d still lose interest because I didn’t know where the countries were they were covering. So, one day I said, “Screw this.” I pulled up a map on one tab of my browser, a map quiz on another tab, and generated a few silly (but effective) mnemonic devices to make “learning” relatable (about everything from pirate hookers to fashion models with eating disorders).
Prior to that, I’d known maybe 10 % of where what is on the earth.
After a couple hours spent over a couple days, I’d taught myself about 80% of it.
THING 2: Current Events/Cultural Human Interest Pieces
I’m still in my fetal phase of working on this. But now that “Thing 1” was is on its way, all of VICE’s documentary episodes were suddenly much more interesting.
“Oh, they’re kidnapping brides in Kyrgyzstan? That’s cool… wait… I mean it’s cool because I know where it is now.”
“Oh, they have fat farms devoted to plumping up chicks in Mauritania? That’s in… western Africa… Wow… even the fattest betches in Africa who devote their lives to lard-eating from age 5 aren’t as obese as the average Wal-Mart patron in America”
So yeah this part is still to be honed, but knowing the “language” and having a cognitive map definitely helps, along with the solitary “reward” based system of hearing a place be mentioned, asking yourself where it is, and then feeling smart when you know it…even if I am a late bloomer. But hey, Howard Stern doesn’t even believe there’s a place called Eritrea.
So, I don’t feel too badly. I may be tardy to the party, but at least I’m making an effort to go.
THING 3: THE BUM I NEVER HAD
Is your butt also the farthest thing from the “Miss Fitness” competition, like mine?
Some of us just have bad genes. My bone structure is weird and my torso is ridiculously short; I mean, I’ve got a small waist, but unless I wear something clingy, you’d be hard pressed to tell because my ribs and hips pretty much connect. Also, my tush is always going to be toughest to tone. Even back in high school, in my best physical form (when I lived and breathed volleyball which keeps you in a permanent squat position most of the time), I still had golf ball butt.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t try.
My 4.5 years working in physical therapy left me knowing what I needed to do and how much to get at least closer to what I wanted. While my back kept me from going HAM on the squats, there were still plenty of other workarounds I could be doing; I just wasn’t. So, one day I took my own advice, drew out a hard copy diagram, and just started.
Instead of announcing every individual workout (as some prefer to do on social media), I decided to wait until I’d at least done a month or so and then upload some of the highlights. I’m only about 2/3 of the way there, but you can anticipate some sweaty/unflattering cardio snapshots, progress pics etc.
For me, this was a big step because it meant stepping outside of my comfort zone. The elliptical was hard, no doubt; but it was in my safety zone. It wasn’t making me improve. Doing a bunch of toning and target strengthening with it, contrarily, was a project whose progress I feared at failing.
It may sound dumb – but not really.
If you work really hard for months and still don’t see progress, then it means your fears of failure have been realized. Trust me, that, “My best is not enough” feeling is a horrible one (and that applies to far more than merely rocking a pair of grade A rump roasts down the backside of your Lululemons).
In any case, the moment you experience that one catalyst that gets you back up on the proverbial horse, a domino effect has the chance and potential to begin. Thus, once my vanity motivation set me into gear, I was doing more than just butt targeting. I was thinking up new exercises to do in order to combine physical therapy with physique rehab. Before long, I started to at least get more strength in my leg with horrible sciatic pain. Both it and my back still have me in agony each day. And some days are still totally lost to a heating pad and tears. But you know what? Because I braved the horrific facet injections and worked so hard and am still working so hard, I’m at least walking a bit better now. And because I’m walking a bit better, I don’t feel as much like Igor. And since I don’t feel as much like Igor, I can fake a smile a bit better. And because I can fake a smile a bit better, people interact with me a bit better. Now, although my “better-off-dead” mindset isn’t 100% gone, at least it doesn’t occupy 100% of my waking thoughts.
And that helps the motivation perpetuate itself.
Marinate on this: What if Neo had to sit in that upload chair for… a week? A month? A year? Once you’ve completed a totally achievable goal and the hardest part is over, any task feels like you could have been in the matrix chair that whole time, because it’s done. Over. In the past. But in our real world, it’s been accomplished – which is even better – because you can take credit for that shiz. So start grinding to get what you want.
Even Neo was sweating by the time he unplugged.
You don’t have to find a means to stop the bullets.
Just find that thing that stops the bull shit.