Preparing for Your Own Worst Enemy


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.

The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” Contest: Honorable Mention

canstockphoto4598050An Honorable Mention from The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” contest goes to Leisha at cancerinmythirties for a job where the Ick Factor seemed age inappropriate.

She was sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug, a cheesy postcard from Minneapolis and I made a $25 donation to her local Red Cross chapter.

The Worst Job I Ever Had — OR — A Hairy Guy & an Old White House

by Leisha at cancerinmythirties

I was eleven years old.  I’ll give you a minute to picture an eleven-year old. At 11, you are just a kid.  So much to learn.  So many mistakes to make.  You still need someone to look after you.

But we needed the money. So I placed an ad in the newspaper:

Summer Babysitter/Mother’s Helper:  Responsible 11-year-old girl available to care for your child(ren).  CPR-certified.  3 years experience.  References. Light housekeeping/cooking if needed.

I received a number of calls.  I’m not sure that all of the men who called actually had children.  But that’s another story!

Anyway, I had been babysitting for my younger sister for years and had branched out to babysitting for friends, neighbors, friends of friends/neighbors since turning 8.  Think about that for a minute.  I have eight-year-olds.  Two of them, in fact.  And I cannot picture leaving them alone for 20 minutes.  I cannot picture them cooking.  Or cleaning.  Or caring for other people’s children!

But I did all of these things at the tender age of 8.  So, by 11, I was an old pro.

Of all the calls I received, the most appealing came from a woman who said she’d need me Saturdays and most weekdays and that I could start that Saturday.

Why was it the most appealing?

1.)  I could walk to the house.  We did not have a car, so proximity was important.

2.)  She had a two-month-old son — and I loved babies.

So I said yes.  And I walked there on Saturday morning, arriving early because I was a very responsible eleven-year-old.

But I was not prepared for what I would find or for what this job would be.

I had passed the house many times on the school bus.  It was a weathered old white house in poor repair.  The lawn was littered with bits and pieces from at least a few vehicles.  And there, in the long gravel driveway, was a run-down old truck with a skull and crossbones bumper sticker on the back window and a pair of panties hanging on the rear-view mirror.

But I was not one to judge.  I grew up quite poor.  Owning an old white house and a run-down old pick-up truck (with or without the panties) would have been a dream come true for us.

When I knocked on the front door that first day, a tall, hairy guy motioned me inside.  He looked me up and down and gave me a smile and a wink I had seen before.  Then his wife swooped in, red lipstick-stained cigarette dangling from her mouth.  She handed her infant to me with as much care as you’d expect from a football player tossing a football.  “Here are the other two,” she said, pointing to Jimmy, age 7, and Cassie, age 4.

And with that, the man and woman left, promising to be back “later.”

In the months that ensued, “later” meant anywhere from 2 to 10 hours.  I never knew.  Sometimes the couple would leave and go to an unnamed place.  Sometimes their bandmates would come and they would all go out to the old barn in the back to play while I looked after the kids all day.  And sometimes it meant that the mother would leave me home with the children and the hairy man.  And on those days, he often wore only a pair of boxers and said he enjoyed watching me bathe the kids.  Yes, hairy guy was a weirdo!

And the kids, oh, the poor kids.  I fell in love with 4-year-old Cassie and 8-week-old Joe.  They were sweet and cuddly and needed to be nurtured.

And, to my dismay, 7-year-old Jimmy fell in love with me.  I learned this when he took me back to the old weeping willow he called his treehouse and attempted to kiss and handcuff me to a tattered backseat his dad had dragged in there from his old car.  Of course a discussion about boundaries ensued.

And yet I returned.  All summer long.  And on the days when their parents came home drunk and/or stoned, I stayed late without pay and walked home in the dark.  Those kids needed me.

And I will never forget them — or the worst job I ever had.

Congratulations, Leisha!

Be sure to check her blog and these enlightening (age appropriate) posts:


Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal — Confessions of a Former Mermaid

“Give me back my peanut butter!” — OR — “My 1st Bucket List Adventure: Part I”

The Body Eclectic

canstockphoto10785869Over three years ago, I began to meet with a personal trainer on a weekly basis. My working class roots resisted what seemed like a posh luxury, but this was an indulgence I could justify. Like many people, I am juggling roles as an employee, parent, caretaker and writer. It is very easy to let the caretaking of my body slip down the list of priorities. Now, it seems reckless and unacceptable to ignore the longest relationship I will ever have.

I am being taught how to strengthen, recover and challenge my body with deliberate intention. I want to honor this amazing entity that carries me through the day, that survived grueling marches in combat boots, that housed my child, that does a million complicated tasks within a single day.

Many years have passed since I tried to starve my body into submission or indulged in punishing workouts for eating too much. I no longer see my body as an enemy, a distant necessity which must be managed and controlled. Enough has been said about what culture dictates about women’s bodies (although I see some expectations trickling down to men as well). We know the body politics and the commercialization and the airbrushing outrages. I’m a bit tired of it all, because it has become irrelevant to my body.

My body exists as is. Torturing it to meet unrealistic standards, damaging my self-esteem when it doesn’t meet those standards and having it constantly in my mind as an issue is completely useless for my health. I am learning to block the noise and pay attention to what is important. I get angry when I start to write about this topic, because so much energy, so much time, in my lifetime alone, has been wasted on the issue of what we should look like and so little on what we should feel like.

Amazing things happen when you turn your gaze inward and stop looking in the mirror. Do you feel strong? Do you feel energetic? Do you feel appreciative of all the muscles, bone structure, nerves and blood required to just move you through your day? Some days, I don’t feel any of those things, but I’ve gotten in the habit of doing a mental once-over. What hurts? Where am I stiff or sore? Am I tired? How much sleep have I been getting? Does my body need more water? So often we take better care of the car in the driveway than of the vehicles that brung us.

I’ve always had the desire to feel strong, but that desire has met intense psychological resistance. I’m self-conscious about my body and an introvert. Workout DVDs were my gateway drug, done secretly in my home where no one could see when I tripped doing the grapevine or hear me grunting while doing lunges. My idea was to become completely fit before going out into the world to exercise, so that I wouldn’t look out of shape or silly.

It’s an objection that I’ve overcome, but one of the most difficult mental obstacles for people to get beyond. I used to be one of those people who would drive down the street and see someone overweight running and think “I would never do that, looking that way.” Here’s a secret: How you look is completely irrelevant to how you feel or what your fitness level is.

You cannot look at a person and tell how fit they are or how wonderful they feel with all those happy brain chemicals bouncing about in their heads. Their being is not about you or your judgments, just as your body is not about theirs. Now I see somebody working out and no matter how they appear, I think “what have I done today to take care of my body?” Some days, it will entail a nap, or a slow deliberate walk or just stretching out a bit. Other days, it might need more, but it needs mindfulness.

I return to the YMCA on Monday, after a hiatus.  My sole goal: get there. Once I’m there, I’ll worry about what I should do next. My insecurities will raise their ugly little heads and I will be tempted to be envious of tiny Ms. Lycra in front of me or feel smug when I see someone barely able to jog a few minutes. It’s all bullshit and like cultural dictates, irrelevant to what I need to be doing.

Areas of my body will be jiggling on the treadmill that hadn’t before. I will not have coordinated workout clothing. I will sweat profusely and look and smell not particularly delightful. I will not, well into my workout, even feel particularly good. I will appear graceless doing bench presses and lat pull downs and rows. People will look at me and wonder if my red face indicates a potential cardiac event. But I won’t care, because I will walk out of there with my happy brain chemicals, my sweaty head held high and the gratitude of a body that I’ve honored.

My Workout Compass

I have a personal trainer. Every working class sensibility in my body cringes and I hear echoes of my mother saying how very “Hollywood” it sounds. Three years ago, my husband, daughter and I signed up for a family membership at the Y and I decided to meet with a trainer. In a wonderful, random luck of the draw, I met someone who brought not only her fitness expertise to the table, but also her life coaching skills. These days, I consider her a friend and mentor and a great resource when it comes to helping me create a fuller, balanced life.

It sometimes feels like a confession when I tell people I meet with a trainer. I still feel the need to rationalize and justify it. My embarrassment is more about where I came from, than where I’m going. I come from a long line of “do-it-yourself-ers” that would rather eat their sneakers than ask for help on anything. I’ve learned that doing everything yourself means that you are damned tired and probably taking an esteem beating because you’re in that insane cycle of repeating behavior, but expecting different results.

This is where an outsider, an expert and a trainer comes in, asking questions that never even occurred to you. What does fitness look like for you? How do you want your body to feel and move in the world? My first reaction was “oh crap, not this touchy-feely stuff”. Try answering those questions, though, and it changes your goals and focus from weight loss and being in shape to “I want to feel strong when I move. I want to have confidence in my balance and coordination. I want to be attractive for my husband. I want to be able to have stamina to play with my child.” It changes your goals from “blah, blah, blah” to “this is what I want in my life.”

Since meeting with a trainer once a week for 3 years, I’ve trained in Taekwondo and competed in tournaments, shortened my running times, survived numerous spinning and pilates classes, tried rock climbing, started adult swim lessons (more on that tomorrow) and been rehabbed through a variety of injuries. My workout guide has been there to keep me on the path I want to be on, to remind me that self-care isn’t selfish and to teach me safe ways to train my body. And that’s nothing to be embarrassed about.