Preparing for Your Own Worst Enemy

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I left the YMCA in a huff last night after a mediocre workout. A group of women were having a yak-a-thon in the corner of the weight room. This is a pet peeve of mine – rabid, loud socializing when I’m working out. It’s not just the women, either. I’ve seethed as men stood around saying creepy things to each other like “you’re getting really big” or “which protein powder do you use?”.

I’m on the road back to fitness after a tedious winter of flus and injuries and entropy. It means that any excuse is enough to make me give up and go home. When you go looking for reasons to quit, you are guaranteed to find them. My trainer used to say “you get to use that excuse only once and then it gets crossed off the list.” I’m a creative person, though. I once used the fact that I’d forgotten my headphones, to go home and have a snack instead.

My goal over the next three weeks is to show up at the gym consistently. The idea that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit is pseudoscience from the 1960s. A current study suggested that it can actually take over two months for a habit to become automatic, but it also showed that the time frame can vary widely from one individual to another.

For me, the three week repetition seems to do the trick. I emphasize the words show up, because I have walked into the gym, seen how busy it was, turned around and headed home. I still gave myself kudos for making it through the door. Most of the time, I do stick around and get some exercise done.

For the last decade, I worked as a business manager for a recruiting firm. The training for recruiters/sales people always involved starting out with a script. When the potential client/customer raised an objection or concern, the sales person had to be ready to overcome that objection. Much the same concept can be applied to personal goals. Know your favorite obstacles. Go through the script. Be prepared to counter that obstacle. Here’s the conversation I had yesterday with myself:

I need to work out today.

My shoulder hurts from the Pilates class yesterday.

Quit whining. Ice it and do leg work instead.

Fine. But I’m not going to enjoy it.

Injuries are a common excuse of mine. The injuries are real. At 45, doing high impact activities like taekwondo and running means injuries every other month or so. It’s a known obstacle and one that I’ve had to become adept at overcoming. This is where having a trainer has been especially useful. The minute I say that I need a break because of a quad injury, she has 20 exercises at the tip of her brain that I can do instead. I’ve learned enough from her to know that, unless I am in a coma, there is always something that I can do.

The practice of overcoming objections is a habit in and of itself. It’s hard for me to make excuses about anything without that other voice in my head saying “but you can do something“. Unexpected change in my schedule is high on the list of obstacles. If I planned to write all afternoon and have to take my mother-in-law to the dentist instead, it’s very easy for me to do a Scarlett O’Hara and put off writing until tomorrow. I have to force myself to think of that something that I can still do today. I have learned to jot notes and outlines in waiting rooms, during piano lessons, at an oil change or in the five minutes before I have to go somewhere else.

Taekwondo training lately has been focused on self-defense techniques in real life scenarios. The key is always awareness and thinking through the “what ifs”. Just like objections and obstacles, I have to talk myself through the B I will do if A happens. It’s important not to confuse concepts, though. If a mugger jumps out at me in a parking garage, I might whip out a notebook and jot down tomorrow’s post. Worse yet, when my neighbor needs a ride to the grocery store on a day when I’d planned on painting the kitchen, I might take out her kneecap.

When your biggest obstacle to meeting a personal intention is yourself, you know all the tricks and excuses. I give myself a mental, condescending pat on the head. That’s nice, dear. Now, go do something.