Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reclaim Your Motivation - Everyone Loves a Comeback

A close friend of mine reached out to me recently. He's someone who's struggled with his weight and body image for a large part of his adult life. In the last couple of years he managed to really turn himself around and completely reshape his entire body. He lost close to a hundred pounds and then packed on a solid fifteen to twenty pounds of muscle. As his friends, we were all blown away. A lot of my male friends even started to wonder if he was taking....something. Jealousy is a funny beast.

Anyway, my friend got in touch with me because though he had been really killing it at the gym for a long time he had somehow misplaced his motivation and felt like he couldn't find it again. No matter how he tried he just didn't feel like going to the gym or eating clean. It was too much work and not enough reward anymore.

Anymore. That's key. Remember that.

Now there's certainly a line of response that goes something like this: "SUCK IT UP FATTY! WORKING OUT IS CALLED WORKING OUT BECAUSE IT'S WORK! FITNESS ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! NOTHING WORTH HAVING IS EASILY ATTAINED!" While I agree with the central sentiment of a lot of those, that kind of response is also pretty much the worst possible way of dealing with his issue.

On some level we all already know that stuff is true. That's part of why he's frustrated and why we all get frustrated. We know it's work and that it's hard but we'd found a way to get past that. We'd found a program or a diet that, though it was work,  it worked for us. To me, that is both the problem and the solution.

Fitness is easiest when it's a routine. It's a universal truth that if you have to completely alter everything about your life to include your workouts you're not going to keep up with them. Yea, yea fitness is a journey and it's about changing your life but that's not what I'm talking about. It's simply much more realistic to throw in a workout at a gym that's on your way home a few days a week than it is to sign up for some crazy bikram/ashtanga yoga fusion class at a studio that's at least half an hour from any of your stomping grounds.

When people work hard enough and successfully make the changes that my friend did it is typically because they found a routine that worked for them and they were able to stick to it. The really unfortunate problem with this is simple: boredom.

It's like when you first get a new job that you're really excited about. Maybe the pay's great or its a shift into a better industry or something more in line with your eventual goals. For whatever reason, you got a job you're really excited about and for the first year or two you work as hard as you can and you get consistent returns: raises, promotions, a bigger office, managerial duties; whatever it may be. You love your job which gets you to work hard and you get consistent returns which motivate you to work harder.

Then, like in many organizations, eventually you top out. You hit the ceiling of the upward mobility available to you in that position. Work simply becomes a grind. You're going in and putting in the same effort and getting less and less in return. Eventually you're just showing up to keep collecting a paycheck. When this happens you have three options: keep grinding, quit, or start looking for a new job.

This is almost exactly what happens with your body and a new workout routine. Your body becomes acclimated to any stress placed on it, this is what gives rise to the plateau effect: given the same exact program with the same parameters and loading schemes your gains will begin to decrease even when load and intensity increase. This is one of the main reasons athletes periodize their workouts: to avoid stagnation.

When your results stagnate your motivation follows soon after. Who wants to keep cranking away in the gym when you're not getting anything out of it? Unfortunately when this happens a lot of people's instinct is to do just that. They keep trying to do their old routine, keep trying to get BACK to the thing that USED to work.

Unfortunately that's the trap that too many of us fall into. We want to go back in time to when that routine worked for us but you can't and even beyond that you shouldn't want to. So what do you do instead? Try this:

Tips To Reclaim Your Motivation:

1. Stop kicking yourself. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Read this
2. Do what you did before, but in a different way. What worked initially? You CHANGED your habits. You started something NEW. Do something new, again. 
3. Acknowledge your progress. When you first started you were having trouble with the basics but now you're running and lifting with the best of them --> it's become boring. Try something different - take up kettlebells, powerlifting or oly lifting. 
4. Stay within your relative comfort zone --> If you initially had success with lifting you don't have to give it up and become a cross country runner. There's many different types of lifting. Maybe just try one you're not familiar with. Same thing with bootcamps and the like. If you're bored of your bootcamp find a different one you like or sign up for CrossFit (it's what most bootcamps wish they were anyway).
5. Conversely, don't be afraid to try something completely new --> Maybe you weren't in good enough shape to take an honest crack at kickboxing or hot yoga before. Maybe you didn't feel comfortable signing up for your first spartan race....but now you might. Just don't get too upset if you find it isn't for you. You'll never know until you try. 
6.Keep moving forward. Fitness is a journey and while some journeys involve retracing your steps, they are always moving decidedly in one direction. So your routine worked for 3 years but doesn't work anymore. So what? Don't get caught up wondering why it doesn't work because it's usually not just one thing. Keep your eyes out for the next thing. That's what matters. 

I've been doing this for a long time...coming up on about fifteen years. Thats fewer than many but still more than most. I've done martial arts, gymnastics, bodyweight fitness, SPARQ, CrossFit, P90x, Bootcamps, bodybuilding and all sorts of weight lifting. I've spent more time on a bosu than anyone should and attempted a couple of very cute exercises on very pink physio balls. My point is that to stay interested you have to keep it interesting. You guys know how I feel about bullsh*t "functional" training, but that's not what I mean. You don't have to wrap yourself in rubber bands and try to do walking handstands while doing leg extensions with a kettlebell hanging off your foot. There are literally hundreds of different entirely legitimate approaches to exercise. You found one that worked for you before. I'm willing to be you can do it again. Here's a few ideas to get you started.

Just remember you didn't fail and you're not done. You hit a speed bump. I've been there and you aren't alone. It's just one more obstacle to overcome and you overcame the f*ck out of it last time. You're going to do it again. 

Besides, everyone loves a good comeback.

Good luck and good lifting.


Monday, December 2, 2013

On Bullying and Creating Cowards

Bullying sucks. Plain and simple. It's no good for anyone involved. Even for the perpetrator of the wrongdoing bullying is like heroin. It feels really good for a while but once that short lived ecstasy has run its course those feelings of pleasure are replaced with sadness, pain and a longing to escape them which often leads right back into the already vicious cycle. As I said before, bullying just sucks.

What causes bullying? Well, that's a bit more complicated and I'm not entirely qualified to answer. I think at the most basic level we can all understand the driving sentiments. Humans are competitive by nature and it seems to me that Americans are even more competitive by culture. Competition requires a winner and a loser and we all know which role we'd prefer to play. When we feel badly about ourselves we want to feel better so we find a meaningless and ambiguous competition (bigger, funnier, more popular etc.) declare ourselves the winner and then from our new ivory pedestal we laugh at all of the peasants far below in the lowlands. Unfortunately, oftentimes said peasants don't believe themselves to be the losers so the bullies are (in their minds) required to demonstrate the truth of this matter to them, whether it be through name calling, Facebook stalking or plain old fashioned physical violence.

I have a very personal relationship with bullying. I used to get the sh*t kicked out of me as a child. When I was very young it was predominantly emotional but it got worse as we got older and bigger. Supposedly I used to come home from school crying on a regular basis. I don't remember that. My mom claims I blocked it out (possible) but I think she's exaggerating (likely). Either way the point remains that I was bullied so often and to such a degree that it significantly affected my childhood. I was afraid of people for a very long time. This was compounded by the fact that I was a very sick and frail child and not particularly physically capable unless the feat under examination was the strength and dexterity of your thumbs (I crushed at video games. CRUSHED).

Like a lot of children I sought solace in fantasies. I played video games and when my mother banned me from the living room lest the yet-to-be-discovered gamma rays emanating from my NES melted my brain, I retreated into the world of superheroes and high fantasy.

Despite her penchant for robbing me of my digital gaming fix, I had an incredibly tolerant, loving and supportive mother. She was and still is a saint (she has fostered eleven children in the last ten years for no reason other than she wanted to). Unfortunately this led me into a pattern of running away and crying for my mommy. To bullies this is more or less chumming the waters and frequently I was just making it worse for myself. Hey, I was like nine. Cost/benefit analysis of social interactions wasn't something I'd discovered yet. Frankly it's something I wish we never really needed even though I'm pretty sure we all do it on a regular basis.

There's nothing particularly unique about my bullying story I don't think. I was bullied when I was younger and it made me insecure. I still carry some of those insecurities with me today, even though I like to believe I have the worst of them under control. What's frustrating for me, now, is watching all of the reports on bullying in children today and what seems to be the typical response: don't fight back.

I'm sorry, what?

If you watched the video I posted on this subject my current stance might confuse you. "But Bob," you may say, "you said in your video that simply because someone punched you it does not give you the right to cripple them, didn't you?" Why yes, faithful follower, that is precisely what I said. I'm not saying that we should teach our children that anytime anyone offends you in any way whatsoever you should probably kick them in the teeth. I'm saying that telling our children to run away and find an adult isn't always productive.

What happened to teaching kids to stand up for themselves? What happened to letting kids figure it out on their own? I think we all know in one way or another that we're supposed to let our children fail while they're still young so that they can experience it when it's still safe, when failure isn't really failure it just really feels like it. Unfortunately we also have an entirely understandable mama-bear, don't-touch-my-child-or-I'll-murder-you instinct that, while understandable, is also highly detrimental in most cases. There's nothing wrong with wanting to protect your child. Pretending as though the other small child that is tormenting them on the playground is not another small child just like yours but is in fact a sociopathic, insult-flinging evil-genius that may be the one true son of satan made flesh, on the other hand, is a little problematic.

If the number of articles fling around the internet is any indication, then it seems that a lot of us seem to have noticed a running theme about some members of my generation. We're afraid and anxious, like, all the time.

Maybe it's because we were raised on a steady diet of entitlements and being told we were special. We were never forced to try because even if we lost we'd get a medal for participating. At some point in time we all became so terrified of hurting our children's feelings that we never really considered the consequence: an entire generation of adults who don't know how to deal with anxiety or take positive risks. We (and by we I mean the people that raised us) fostered a culture where the average 22 year old with a bachelors degree in art history believes that being a Starbuck's barista is below them.

Yea. It's like that.

Now I will say that every time I see one of those articles it makes me a little nuts because obviously our entire generation isn't like that. Even so, there does seem to be a fair amount of this stuff that applies DIRECTLY to bullying but some of us have yet to make the jump.

We don't want our kids playing dodgeball or getting physical in gym class. We might be getting rid of recess (in an already dangerously overweight nation) to "combat" bullying. I've got some news for you. None of this is dealing with the issue in any way. It's avoidance. It's more of the same. Rather than equipping our future generations with the self worth and strength of will to be bullied and weather the storm, we are teaching them to run like hell anytime it happens because, you know, it'll probably never happen when you're adult. Nah. Adults don't do that sh*t to each other. We're past that.

Right guys?

Even beyond that we're teaching them that they shouldn't stand up for themselves because they can't. You can't solve this problem without someone helping you. Without even considering what that does for their mentality long term, we have to be tanking your self worth. They're already in an uncomfortable situation and rather than first trying to support them through it on their own, we're conditioning them to believe that they shouldn't even try because they'll never be capable. It might not be the message we mean to send, but I'm sure to a lot of children it sounds awfully similar to, "you're just not good enough."

I can't tell parents how to parent because I don't have any children of my own. What I can focus on is the other things that we do as people and as a society that contribute to this crap. Making light of each others feelings. Popularizing mean spirited humor that offers nothing in the way of intelligence or satire. Reinforcing the idea that there are only a handful of very specific societal ideals and teaching our kids that if you don't fall into them you shouldn't value yourself. This, of course, is where it all becomes very complicated very quickly.

The problem, ultimately, is that we judge and value ourselves far too much based on external feedback. This is nothing new or mind-blowing. We love our bodies insofar as they resemble someone else. We value our intelligence insofar as it meets the guidelines laid out by another person. Our own athletic capabilities exist only to the extent that they can fulfill external, already determined requirements. The complicated part is that ignoring all of those things would very quickly make you a social outcast. In order to be a functioning member of society we simply cannot reject and disregard all cultural feedback on who we are as people.

So what do we do? We remind ourselves what we were all taught as children.

Treat others as you would like to be treated and not only when it's convenient.

You don't need to be like everyone else or even like everyone else, but you have to respect their right to be them.

True inner strength is your ability to resist and be yourself. When caught in the raging rapids that are popular culture and society, the truly strong individual will follow their own path. Not the hard path because it is hard nor the easy path because it is easy, but the right path because it is right.

You must always defend yourself and others, but never let your enemies make you the attacker.

Being different will always be painfully, heartbreakingly hard. It will also always make you beautiful.

We can't fight our children's fights for them. Perhaps more important than that is a simple question: how many of us are truly qualified to do so anyway? I've often said that insecurity and denial are the root of all evil, something I believe because I personally know they led to many of my own flaws. When it comes to fighting, both physical and metaphorical, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Winning may feel good, but it's losing that drives us to become better. We can say this to each other over and over and there's a chance the kids might listen but I think we all know that sometimes it's not real until it's actually real.

Sometimes we need to lose.

Good luck and good lifting.