First off, don’t get in the van. This is an R-rated post about physical danger and self-defense. When you read the phrase “Get in the van,” hear it in a grim and menacing voice, the voice of a highly trained sadist and criminal who intends to do you great harm.
If you’re looking for motivation, here is your motivation.
Someone might try to throw you in a van one day. Worse, they might grab a child, your child, your friend’s child, and throw the kid in the van right in front of you. What are you prepared to do about it?
I train in Krav Maga, a system of martial arts designed for smaller, weaker people to fight larger, stronger people. A core training goal is the fighting mindset, to continue to fight when you are physically exhausted and confused and demoralized and experiencing a massive adrenalin dump. Part of our discipline is to vividly imagine specific physical threats and then confront them.
As a result, I have practiced several ways of getting out of chokeholds and wrestling my way out from under attackers. I have practiced gun and knife disarms. I have practiced fighting with knives, hammers, screwdrivers, and ink pens. I can throw eight different kinds of elbow strikes, and that’s just to the rear. I have fought five people at once. I have fought with my hands duct-taped together. I have fought in the dark. I have fought with a sack over my head.
(You have to pay extra for that, though).
The owner of our school is a man so physically imposing that it’s impossible not to notice. He trains police officers and soldiers and military contractors. He has the natural ease and stance of pure confidence. It’s arresting. He holds the room effortlessly. This is what he has to say about training in self-defense.
There are predators in this world. They’re angry because they didn’t get what they wanted in childhood and they’re looking to take it out on someone. They pick on women because we’re easier targets. We’re smarter, but we’re smaller and weaker and we don’t have the same drive for aggression. We’re also distracted by our constant multitasking, and that makes us easy marks.
We should be on the lookout, aware at all times of who is within fifty feet of us. We should have our eyes up and our hands free. We should hold our keys so that we’re ready to unlock the door, not to fight with them, because punching with keys hurts and because you might break your keys. You need them to get away.
Even though intellectually we know that we should be alert, rather than distracted, we let ourselves get distracted. We’re distracted by our phones, our music, our to-do lists, our many bags, our children, and all the other things that distract the typical multitasking, busy woman. We don’t look up even when we know we should, and we have our eyes down when we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
That’s one takeaway. No matter how else you feel about anything else I write, please take away that anyone is capable of being more alert. At least a minute or two each day, keep your eyes up and your hands free when you’re going between your door and your vehicle.
Let’s think about predators and prey. What do prey animals do? How does a predator choose its prey?
Prey are weaker. Slower, older, younger, less physically capable. A predator cuts them away from the safety of the herd and takes them to a secluded area. A predator is excited when the prey animal runs faster, getting tired and further isolated.
How do we stop acting like prey? Stay alert, yes, but what else?
Take care of ourselves.
In the context of self-defense, this should not be considered controversial. It is a basic, quantifiable measure. Fitness literally means the ability to physically survive. By definition it is a biological survival trait. It applies to a vole or a sparrow just as it applies to us.
When someone yells RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, can you? (Wildfire, flash flood, gas leak, tsunami, tornado, terrorist, bomb threat, active shooter, home invader, serial rapist, murderer). How far can you run? When is the last time you tested that ability in yourself?
How much of what we do is visualization, the momentary excitement of watching a tense sequence in an action film? How much of what we do is physical, real action in real conditions?
I know how fast I can run up a flight of stairs because I run up flights of stairs every week. I know how fast I can sprint down the street because I sprint down the street. I know I can fight five people because I train it in class. I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to get my wrists taped together because I just did it.
I do have to imagine someone trying to kidnap a child right in front of me, because fortunately that has not happened. I have, though, had to sprint to grab a child (more than once) because little kids suddenly try to run out in the street or into danger. If I were slower I can’t say what might have happened.
This doesn’t have to do with body image. I don’t concern myself much with that. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to leave the house with a black eye and a big bruise on my face. People Will Think: my husband did it, I have no self-esteem, anything other than “she is a kickboxer.” It’s none of my business what other people think about my body and what my body looks like. If they notice me at all, they must have nothing better to do, and that’s boring and sad.
What I do concern myself with is what my body can do. How much energy do I have? How capable do I feel? The feeling of “no, no, I can’t” extends everywhere, into every part of life.
No, no, I can’t try for that promotion.
No, no, I can’t update my resume.
No, no, I can’t afford X, Y, or Z.
No, no, I can’t get sweaty or dirty.
No, no, I can’t set boundaries with other people.
No, no, I can’t make a fuss or inconvenience anyone.
No, no, I can’t make a mean face.
No, no, I can’t raise my voice and yell BACK OFF.
No, no, I can’t make a fist.
When someone yells at me to get in the van, I’ll get in the van, and there I’ll join the endless parade of dead women, made beautiful in their final photo, sainted and martyred by senseless violence. Even better, the photo of the little lost child who was stolen right in front of me, that photo will look great on the news. It’ll be a movie of the week.
“There was nothing I could do,” I’ll say, weeping prettily, because I never knew I could. I never knew there was something I could do.
That’s a visual that is motivating to me. I run through pictures in my mind, images of children who are important to me, laughing and happy, and then I picture the hands of an experienced predator grabbing at them. It gets my blood up.
There’s another visual that is motivating to me. It comes from horror films and it’s reinforced by true crime. I sometimes watch movies or TV episodes before I go to class, while I’m eating the large, heavy meals I eat before I train. A man, a scary man. Chases a woman, grabs a woman, chokes a woman. Stabs a woman. Pop culture runs almost purely on images of vulnerable femininity, and this is useful for training purposes. Picture that it’s you. Picture that it’s your friend. Notice a pregnant woman out in the world, and picture yourself standing between her and danger. I got you, honey, now RUN!
The fastest I ever ran was out with my husband, trail running in our favorite park at sunset. I slapped his butt and took off, and he sped up and came after me. I imagined he was an axe murderer, coming at me through the trees as the sun went down. It was exhilarating. I could hear his heavy tread behind me, his big boots thudding as we both ran as fast as we could. He couldn’t catch me and I got away. When I explained later what I was doing, he laughed and shook his head. “Whatever it takes,” he said.
I don’t give a damn about body image. If I do, it’s because I like to make people flinch when they see my big arms. I can ballroom dance backward in high heels, I can bring a crowd-pleasing lasagna to a potluck, I can plan a wedding, I can carry a child to bed without waking her up. I can also fight five dudes with my hands taped together. All of these images are consistent with womanhood. It is a core duty of an adult female to protect children, and fighting like a crazy bitch from hell can easily be integrated with that.
I hope at least one thing I have written here makes you angry. I hope it gets under your skin and that you can’t stop muttering about it. I hope it gets your attention enough that you make a change to your default behavior, and that if you pick only one, it is to keep your eyes up and your hands free.
I also hope it gives you cause to reconsider your relationship with your physical energy level and your body image. Come join me and lace up your gloves. You can hit me first if you want, I don’t mind.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and freaked out? Has your morning face ever made you recoil, perhaps because you didn’t know you had blue ink on your mouth? (Just asking).
I woke up, wandered into the bathroom, and thought, “What have I done? I’m orange!”
A friend talked me into getting a makeover. This is probably something that most people did at some point as teenagers, or maybe even grade-school kids. Playing dress-up, trying new hairstyles, playing with makeup - none of that was really a part of my life. I’m honestly more comfortable looking at car engines than I am standing in front of a cosmetics counter.
Has anyone thought about this? I’ve done mise-en-place for four-course meals that had fewer ingredients than the number of bottles, jars, and palettes that some people have for their makeup routine. It’s terrifying!
Let’s not even talk about all the mysterious weirdness of getting... [looks up how to spell] balayage for the first time.
Confusion, intimidation, stretches of boredom, curiosity, anticipation, utter lack of idea what to expect - that’s me in a chair with a bunch of plastic wrap on my hair.
I thought getting my hair colored would mean going dark. I had nearly black hair when I was younger, in Oregon in the winter at least. It turns out that dark hair dye is really high maintenance because you wind up with a high-contrast gray stripe on top of your head every six weeks. I don’t care about having naturally gray hair, I don’t care about that at all, but I do care about adding one more recurring appointment to my calendar.
Apparently you get to an age where you don’t really get to be a brunette anymore. Either nature takes care of it for you, or you color it, and if you try to keep the dark locks of your youth then it gets to be progressively more complicated. Brows, lashes, skin tone. Eh, let it go.
If I had to choose, I’d probably opt to go silver or white or even iron-gray all over rather than Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, with pale roots.
Maybe it’ll be a thing. I probably won’t notice because I don’t spend much time clocking in as the Fashion Police.
After three hours, I got the reveal on the hair. Certainly not black, not silver, not the strawberry-blonde (???) suggested by the colorist, but... bronze? It looked amazing. A professional blowout is generally going to look amazing.
It looked so good that I got to meet the salon owner and we took pictures together.
Then we went down the street to the cosmetics counter, where I had a genuine makeup artist choose products and do my face. They wouldn’t let me look at myself until she was done.
When I turned to the mirror, I started crying. I didn’t look that good at my wedding. Or my other wedding.
“I look like Christie Brinkley!” I cried, “Don’t tell her I said that!”
Here’s what’s funny about this whole thing. I’m a size two. I can rock a bikini and get entire groups of middle-aged men to turn their heads as I walk by, not that I care, because I’m married and I’m not there for them. I do, though, have an enviable fitness level, especially for a woman my age. I know because I sometimes catch other women giving me dirty looks. I’ve been cussed out by friends. I’m like, I’ll work out with you any time you like, it’s not zero-sum. If you want to do two hundred squats or pushups with me at our next martial arts promotion, come on down. This is not genetic.
I have seen my physique as something I’ve earned through focus and hard work. I’ve seen my body as the battleground of several health issues, and the muscle I have now is the sign that I’m winning. I’m not robust enough to live the Standard American Lifestyle with the Standard American Body. I didn’t put all these years in or do all these pushups on my fingertips out of vanity but out of necessity.
The cosmetic stuff? That feels completely different.
You can run a marathon in less time than it takes to get balayage on your hair.
If you spend even twenty minutes a day on hair and makeup, that’s enough time to do a very professional, knee-wobbling HIIT workout and run a mile.
The time that goes in to applying perfect eyeliner, it all gets wiped off and washed down the drain twelve hours later.
That’s more or less what happened overnight, after all the hugging and crying and picture-snapping.
I looked lovely as a flower for a couple of hours, and then I woke up. Then I woke up and looked just like my normal self, only with bedhead and a radically different hair color.
There is a certain adjustment to radically changing your physical appearance. For a while, you might catch sight of yourself in a window reflection and think it’s someone else. Sometimes, when I first lost my weight, I would catch sight of myself and think, WHOA. I kept gravitating to the size tens and twelves on the clothing rack, years after they no longer fit (as a fourteen, and also going the other direction). The “real me” got to wear a certain style of clothes and look a certain way.
What happens to the “real me” that was? What happens when, objectively, the “real me” looks like a different person from outside?
“It’s the new you!” People kept telling me that. Um, no, you can’t just go to a salon and buy a new personality. Same me, different hair. Same me plus some eye shadow.
I came home to my husband with my salon makeover. He’s an engineer and I think he saw it as a sort of chemical, industrial process, like powder coat or electroplating. He commented that it looked more natural than my ordinary hair, which is usually reddish at the last two inches and three shades of gray on top. He’s right, and I can quit complaining about how it looks when I clip it up now. “It’s not orange,” he says (you dolt), “it’s auburn.”
After waking up in distress at the aftermath of my radical new look, I pulled my socks up and got it together. I styled my hair and tested out my new makeup samples. I am by no means an expert at that sort of thing, but it worked. I felt normal-looking again. I went out and did four pitch meetings and got everything I asked for and more.
It annoys me that most people seem so very responsive to physical presentation. That a kind-hearted person might be overlooked in favor of a rude but attractive person, that someone polished might go farther than someone brilliant. But then, how brilliant is it of me to ignore something so obvious? To disregard something that is a relatively uncomplicated technical skill? I got better results in life when I started working out, I got better results when I really learned to cook, and now I suppose I’ll get better results in life by learning what other people consider to be a basic life skill. I’ll get used to how it looks eventually, just like I got used to my gradually graying hair and my gradually firming arms and shoulders.
“Don’t overthink it!” I hear this a lot in my martial arts classes. True to form, now I’m overthinking overthinking. Or am I? I’m getting my head around the difference between athletes and people like me.
It’s also the difference between anyone who is “natural” at anything and those who aren’t.
What am I doing in class that qualifies as “overthinking”? I’m asking questions when I’m doing something wrong, for instance trying to block a head shot and instead smacking myself in the face. What “everyone else” is doing is practicing the block over and over.
Makes sense, right?
The part that doesn’t really make sense is why an otherwise intelligent person would keep showing up in a room only to make hundreds of mistakes and punch herself in the eye with a boxing glove.
This is the essence of growth mindset versus fixed mindset. I’m in the room because I believe I can be taught, eventually, despite all evidence to the contrary. I believe it is necessary to my wellbeing to push myself to learn new things. I believe strength comes from facing obstacles and overcoming them.
“Everyone else” is there for more or less the same reasons: enjoying the difficult workout, needing an outlet for intense competitive drive and physicality, or simply loving martial arts culture.
Why are my fellow students grasping things so much more quickly than I do?
A young man in my classes hit upon it the other day. He’s young enough to be my son and he started training as a beginner around the time I got into the advanced class. He’s already better than I am.
“Did you do sports in school?”
I explained that when I was in school, girls weren’t allowed to play sports because Title IX wasn’t being enforced. The only option for us was girls’ softball, but that was a league sport.
“That makes no sense,” he said, mystified, and then explained why he had asked. He had two female friends who wanted him to teach them how to skateboard. One got it right away, and she had a sports background. The other, a musician, struggled terribly. He saw it as a matter of time spent rather than a matter of aptitude.
I’ve thought about this for a long time, and it’s interesting that it would be obvious to a young person. My husband, for instance, started on athletics as a preschooler. He can’t even remember exactly when he got on the swim team. It’s just always been a part of his life. He participated in every possible sport offered in his region.
Does swimming at age five have anything to do with swinging a sword at age forty? Evidently!
What all these “natural” athletes have that I don’t is a track record. (Sometimes literally on the track team!). They were up and moving their bodies at a younger age. Every year of our lives, these “natural” athletes have spent a significant part of their day in motion while I sat on my butt reading a book.
They acquired what I have to learn. It did NOT come “naturally” - it came from deliberate practice. It came from doing different things as children. It wasn’t always even their choice; their parents may have pressured them and insisted that they do stuff they deeply loathed doing.
In some cases, they’ve built a different physical framework than I have. For instance, my thirteen-year-old training partner is shockingly heavy for her size. If someone told me she had a titanium skeleton, I wouldn’t be surprised. She’s been practicing martial arts since the age of three, and her bones are undoubtedly denser than those of another child. Her body composition is also probably much more muscular and lower in fat.
These “natural” athletes have been building better cardiovascular fitness all this time. By ‘fitness’ I mean that exercise actually grows more blood vessels and expands the lungs, among other changes. While I was sitting around reading for thousands of hours, I was not building that same infrastructure.
The biggest difference is in proprioception, I’m sure of it. My classmates are able to watch something demonstrated once, maybe twice, and then copy it. I watch the same movements and I’m completely befuddled. I have to see the same motions at least five times before I start to get it. Often I’ll misremember whether to go left or right.
I have trouble knowing where my body parts are. I can only seem to track three out of four limbs. If I’m moving both legs and grabbing someone, my other hand seems to float off on its own. After a year I’m still being constantly reminded to keep my hands up. In my mind, I am! I can’t tell when my butt is sticking out. It feels like motions that should be in 3D are only 2D for me. What I’m worst at is moving with my face blocked, when I can’t see what I’m doing.
What I have is like being tone-deaf, which I’m not, or having a tin ear for languages, which I don’t. Colorblind, I’m not either. I’m fairly good at yoga, probably because I’ve spent so long in two dozen familiar poses over the years. I’m competent at ballroom dancing because I went to the kind of dance school where you drill the box step hundreds of times and learn where to put your arms separately. What I’m telling myself is that I’m already good at certain things, because I spent time on them when I was younger, and I’m not yet good at other things, because they are new to me.
I seem to be overthinking things in class because I lack the facility to copy what I see. This is strange to sporty types who have done it all their lives. They can’t understand why not everyone can do it. They don’t understand why everyone isn’t like them. They’ve never experienced being awkward or inept in the kinetic world. To them, it isn’t a subject of study. This is part of why I stay in a class where objectively I don’t belong, because I have as much to teach as I have to learn. If they can teach me, they can teach anyone.
So you insisted on joining that gym. You know what everyone says about New Year’s Resolutions and habits, and you believe that none of it applies to you. You signed up for a bargain membership at a commodity gym.
Congratulations! It just might work!
If you really and truly love gaming, TV and movies, music, shopping, fried foods, or any of the other cute and charming habits that people try to shed at resolution time, you can use that! You get to keep all that stuff. Well, actually you get to keep it either way. You can keep it with a fitness level that steadily deteriorates from year to year, or you can keep it while using it as fuel for your body upgrades.
Simply choose a form of exercise that allows you to indulge in your favorite activities at the same time.
Anchor the time in your schedule, the location, and the habits. Make gym time your indulgent time, time to get away with all the naughty things that are so fun to do.
Personally I like spying on people and eavesdropping on their conversations. I like checking out other people’s butts and wondering what workout they do. I like looking at their shoes and their workout clothes and mentally shopping. Would that combo work on me?
I also use my elliptical time to watch video clips, read articles, play Words With Friends, look at recipes, and dink around doing all the stuff online that I normally don’t have time to do. Sometimes I’ll read a potboiler that I only allow myself to read while I do cardio. It makes me move faster at the scary parts. I’ve tried watching movies or hour-long TV episodes, but it makes one minute feel like ten. That’s why I like the fragmented articles and short videos.
Sometimes the elliptical machines are taken. No surprise, since there are only two at our apartment gym and they’re often full of married couples. My husband will shrug and lift weights while listening to all the music I don’t let him play aloud in the house. I’ll usually hop on a treadmill and use it as a walking desk with my tablet keyboard. Sometimes I buy dog food online or make appointments. Sometimes I just write out a bunch of lists. If I bring a cable then my device will be fully charged, too. It’s not really all that naughty, but when I’ve caught up on email with a full battery, I feel like I just summoned an extra hour out of the ether.
That’s one of the main secrets behind getting your money’s worth out of a commodity gym. You have to be equally as willing to do one workout as another, because often your favorite equipment will already be in use. When I was in college, there was a strict 20-minute time limit on all the cardio equipment, and each machine had a sign-up sheet. A bouncer would come over and make you climb down if you tried to stay on longer. I’d take three slots and move between different machines and read my homework. Not having a hundred pages of assigned reading makes anything else feel like playtime.
There are all sorts of treats and indulgences and cute habits that fit people associate with their workouts, even their most boring workouts.
Cardio and entertainment! The elliptical and TV. The recumbent bike and cooking shows or video games. The treadmill and a podcast. Any fitness class that plays your type of music (although beware: I had to quit one gym that kept playing the same Top 40 pop hit every time I was there. That was before AirPods).
Mega calories and endurance sports! Do it indoors long enough when the weather is bad, and suddenly you’ll find yourself doing the same routine outdoors when it’s gorgeous out. You’ll find yourself doing it with a bagel in your hand. Everyone I know who bikes or runs does it for the beer. Every race day I have willing buddies who will hang around for me, even when I’m half their speed, because I hate beer and I’ll give them the voucher off my race bib. A friend of mine used to measure his weight loss against a little poster he had made of all his favorite See’s Candies, and now he’s a century rider.
Shopping and physical transformation! It wasn’t until I finally reached my goal weight that I realized how much less uncomfortable high heels are at 120 than at 160. It has to do with the laws of physics and pounds per square inch, which is why stilettos hurt more to wear than a stacked heel or a platform shoe. I also discovered that almost all clothes in my size will fit and look attractive on me, which definitely was not true when I wore a size fourteen. One night I tried on thirty-eight pairs of pants and not a single one fit right. That just doesn’t happen anymore. If fashion or revenge are strong interests of yours, why not? Make your shopping life easier.
It is absolutely fair game to base your transformation goals around your boyfriend’s ex or an online photo of the queen bee who tormented you in sixth grade. One of my clients made her goal with days to spare because she knew her ex would be at the same party with his new girlfriend on New Year’s Eve. Chances are, there’s an innocent bystander at your commodity gym who resembles this rival, at least a little. When you see her, you can use her silhouette to rev you up. It’s also fun to outdo the young bro at the next station. Especially if you lift.
A commodity gym can be a fantastic source of material for an artist. Caricatures, cartoons, comedy, sculpture, music, whatever it is that you do, if you go to the gym you’ll expand your net for capturing new ideas and fresh inspiration. Same with entrepreneurs and trend analysis. It’s a part of the world that is worthy of exploration.
A new gym can be a weird and uncomfortable place for someone who feels self-conscious and insecure. It can be a smelly and boring and loud place, too. Isn’t that also true of anywhere, but especially any shopping mall, hair salon, grocery store, workplace, restaurant, gas station, or anywhere else in public? Just think of your new commodity gym as a place to get your money’s worth, a place to catch up on your to-do list and your must-watch list and the games in your queue. Soon it will be just as familiar as your car, only it will take you farther.
Physical transformation is hard to imagine because we identify with our flesh. We think the vessel that we inhabit is simply what it is. My personality is one thing and my body is another, a separate entity, an enemy to my peace of mind. My body is just a sort of car that I drive around. We can’t picture ourselves inside a different body because the only way for it to feel real is to already have done it, to have lived the transformation.
We don’t really believe that our behaviors can have any kind of impact on our energy level or our physical selves.
I know this is true because I’ve lived it, over and over. When I talk about physical goals, I don’t just mean “weight loss,” although I’ve done that too. I mean any kind of goal that affects the body, from the surface-level cosmetic or fashion makeover to getting off medication and everything in between.
In my adult life, I have worn eight different clothing sizes. I have changed my shoe size, my ring size, and my bra size. I have changed my thyroid hormone levels, my blood pressure, and my resting heart rate. I have beaten chronic pain, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, migraine, and a parasomnia disorder. I have been on, and then gotten off, thyroid medication, beta blockers, and an inhaler, among others.
It is physically possible to alter your own organ function, blood chemistry, bone density, muscle mass, and of course your overall composition of adipose tissue, commonly known as body fat.
If you don’t believe any of this, please do your own research and talk to a few medical professionals.
Or you can also pause and ask yourself, do you take any medications? If you do, then you do believe you can alter your blood chemistry, at least temporarily, and you can do the same with a bottle of booze. If you believe in the efficacy of a single pill, do you also believe in the potency of food that you eat in quantities of hundreds of pounds per year?
Physical goals are like any other goal. Most people fail because we can’t maintain our focus or attention on a single goal for any length of time. We’re quite capable of holding several mutually exclusive goals in our hearts at once. An example would be independence and freedom on the one hand, and desire for a romantic partner on the other. Another example would be the desire to be debt-free on the one hand, and the desire to spend lavishly without constraint on the other. A classic New Year’s example would be the desire to spend the same chunk of free time reading more, playing an instrument, studying a new language, getting more sleep, and of course continuing to do all the same things we did yesterday. Any time we choose a single goal, we feel sick inside at all the supposed opportunities we’re sacrificing.
We wind up doing nothing other than the default because we want so badly to keep all our options open.
The truth is that if it feels like a sacrifice, you’ll never do it, you never will. That’s because it means you think your default is working out great, and you love it. You think you’ll be “giving it up.” If you feel that way, then of course you’ll never meet your goal, because in your heart you believe it’s worth less than what you have right now!
That’s just as true of contemplating a pilot’s license or learning to surf as it is of changing your physical form.
I’ve never eaten a mozzarella stick. Most people would hear this and think there’s something wrong with me, that I’ve ruined my own life by depriving myself of fun and normal social evenings.
The truth is that the first time I ever saw a mozzarella stick, I couldn’t believe such a nasty thing existed in this world. They’re revolting! I wouldn’t put one in my mouth for love or money.
It’s relatively easy for me to maintain “the healthy weight for my height” because I think a lot of conventional industrial foods are gross. I don’t believe in temptation. If there’s anything I want to eat, I eat it, although I also believe that I don’t need to eat every single thing every single day to have a rich and fulfilling life. Whether I sated myself with chocolate or chips or croissants or crackers is not my measure of contentment. Any model of ‘sacrifice’ or ‘deprivation’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is meaningless to me, not relevant to how I structure my goals.
What I measure is how I feel. How do I feel when I wake up? How do I feel when I lie down to sleep at night? How do I feel throughout the day? Do I have the energy to do the things I want to do?
I also measure myself against common health metrics. Not only do I compare my own lab work to the average for my age, I also compare myself to other members of my family, expecting that what they are facing is likely for me at the same age. It’s likely unless I behave differently than they do. Most health problems take decades to manifest.
When it’s time to clarify a physical goal, it pays to get extremely specific, as narrow in definition as possible. That’s because we need to have some kind of quantifiable metric, some kind of data to track. How else will we be able to compare our results across a year?
If it’s pain or mood, come up with a rating scale that makes sense to you. Emoticons or color swatches, weather patterns, stars, letter grades, a numerical scale from one to five or one to ten?
If it’s mobility, take pictures and use a measuring tape. You can see how much your range of motion has improved that way.
If it’s posture, photos are one way to measure your progress and your self-assessment of back, neck, and shoulder pain or tension is another way.
I wear an activity tracker, and I keep an eye on how much of the day I’ve gotten my heart rate up, how many miles I walked, how many flights of stairs I climbed, how many calories I supposedly burned, and my resting heart rate. Every year or so, I have my blood tested, and I look carefully at each factor. It’s so important not to rationalize anything that is out of the norm. I’m doing this for myself, and it doesn’t matter to anyone except for me.
There are two ways to measure goals, lead indicators and lag indicators. Most goals are lag indicators, measurements that come after a certain amount of time has passed. We can only control them through repeated action. Debt is a lag indicator, a pile of laundry is a lag indicator, a failed friendship is a lag indicator. Chronic lifestyle-related health conditions are lag indicators, migraine is a lag indicator, body fat is a lag indicator. We have to find lead indicators to track that are directly linked to these outcomes. That’s how we discover systems and protocols that work better than our default. Another way to say that is that we can behave our way into a happier, easier life.
What would make your life easier? What are physical changes that could move you from tension to ease, from pain to freedom, from stiffness to mobility, from medicated to ordinary? Which body parts do you want to integrate so that they feel like working parts of your mental and emotional self? Do you believe these changes are possible for you?
Do you want this physical goal enough that you could consider shifting away from your default?
It’s that time again! Goals and resolutions time! This year we’re doing our annual review and planning session on the Las Vegas Strip, because we’re party animals and because planning leads to awesomeness.
This is the mistake so many people make, to choose a “resolution” that is grim and dire, the kind of thing that any sensible person would of course immediately want to sabotage. Get out of here with your “drink more water” and “Get Organized” and “lose weight,” just crumple all that into a ball and toss it over your shoulder, and let’s do this with a little more anticipation and delight, okay?
I’ve been interviewing various Las Vegan personages and asking them to tell me their “New Year’s wish.” Everyone had one. EVERYONE! A TSA agent: “To get paid.” A dreadlocked young fellow: “Growth and prosperity.” A balding guy, blushing: “A new baby.” A bearded kid: “To go back to school.” Wanting something better for the New Year is the driving force behind all human progress.
Personally, I don’t stop at one, because there is no upper limit on wishes. It’s also a technicality, because if you make a longer list, then your chances of succeeding at least once are increased. I’ve been doing this process in one form or another since I was nine years old, and each year’s failures and near misses have simply made me better at formulating my plans. First I’ll share how I did last year, and then I’ll go into my plans for 2019, because publishing my quarterly results keeps me accountable.
These were my goals and resolutions for 2018:
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS+
Career: Launch a podcast - SUCCESS
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together - POSTPONED
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop - SUCCESS?
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses - SUCCESS
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent - POSTPONED
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - SUCCESS?
I’m making some changes to my template this year. First, I tried doing a mantra for two years, and both times it wound up feeling like I somehow managed to troll myself. Dropping that. If I do one, it will be to come up with a word or phrase at the end of the year instead of the beginning. Instead, I’m publishing the metrics I plan to track. What gets tracked gets managed. I’m also being more careful about not trying for a twofer, because then if it doesn’t happen for some reason, it screws up two categories instead of one. Another thing is that I realized I keep screwing up my “couples goal” because it IS a goal, rather than a resolution, and goals are much less likely to lead to long-term success.
Goal: a specific outcome. Resolution: an implementation intention. Project: a planned piece of work with a specific purpose. Plan: the part most people leave out of their resolutions!
Personal: My personal project is typically something on what I call the Challenge Path, the specific purpose of which is to push my limits drastically and force me to run full speed in the direction of my greatest fears. Contemplating these projects in advance always makes me queasy. At some point within the first three weeks (aka The Gauntlet), I tell my husband I’m going to quit because it’s too hard and I’m wasting everyone’s time and I don’t belong there. Then I stay with it and within three years I’m as good as anyone. This time it’s to submit a book proposal to a publisher. I keep telling myself that I’m going to do many of these and that they will eventually become a regular, predictable part of my life, but bawkbawk-baGAWK! [chicken sounds]
Career: See above. Also, I’m in the final stages of completing the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster. If I can hold the line on all the projects I’ve been doing over the last six months, I can finish this by June 30. If I slip on anything, it will take an entire extra year. The further I go in Toastmasters, the more I see how directly relevant these skills are to what I want to do with my life. That being said, the DTM represents a massive amount of work. It will take the majority of my focus for the first half of the year.
Physical: My fitness resolution is to work on hip openers. If this works the way I want it to, it will help me with my roundhouse kick, my goal of doing the splits, and maybe even my heartfelt desire to turn a cartwheel. Currently I have the ludicrously tight hips of any distance runner and I’m ready to leave that behind. There are a LOT of people in Las Vegas who can do the splits, and most of them can do them while doing a handstand on one hand. This is possible.
Home: My home project is to set up an outdoor writing area. I spend a lot of time on our tiny patio, so my parrot can get some nice daylight, but it makes us visible to a steady stream of foot traffic. We get interrupted a lot by looky-loos. I’m going to set up a folding screen so the wandering public don’t have line of sight with my chair.
Couples: Our couples resolution is to do bulk meal prep. We’ve been taking an evening kickboxing class together, and because it runs from 7-8 it has been making weeknight dinnertime and cleanup complicated.
Stop goal: Every year, I think of a way I’ve been annoying myself (and usually others) and decide to stop doing it. It’s always something I have no idea how to handle, or I would have already done it. Spending an entire year examining my worst character flaws and most obnoxious habits helps me to figure out how to work on them, at least a little. This time, I’m trying to figure out how to clear up the wreckage of my poor health from 2018, a year of chronic colds and the worst sleep I’ve had in fifteen years. Waking up crouched on my living room floor, crying from a night terror that lobster-sized scorpions were crawling on the bed, was the last straw. In 2019 I resolve to stop being sick and tired.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade resolution is to buy a new desktop computer. I should have freaking done it last year, after I decided I didn’t want another laptop, but I’m such a tightwad that few forces on Earth can convince me to spend money on myself.
Do the Obvious: “Do the Obvious” is my thing, because as a divergent thinker one of my best skills is overcomplicating things without even realizing it. It means looking at something so commonplace, such a routine keystone habit, that even a stranger on the street could point it out within five minutes of meeting someone. This year it’s to schedule a time block for everything, every last single thing I want to be a part of my life. I’ll write more about this as I work it into practice. Basically it means I need to have an extra “power hour” every week for random tasks that don’t seem to fit into any other category. I also need to be more protective of my writing time.
Metrics: I track a lot of stuff. It’s what helped me figure out how to eliminate my migraines, for one thing. I track my hydration, I wear a fitness tracker, I record all the books I read, and I follow a budget. This year I’m going to try out gear to track my sleep metrics. I’m going to track specific HIIT exercises, because it will be funny to know how many burpees I do in a year. I’m going to track how many martial arts classes I attend, and I’m going to track how many speeches I give. A big one is that I’m going to track how many news articles I read, because that trend line should be going down. I’m also going to track my daily word count. A whole page of metrics! If I make a project of it I’m more likely to catch everything.
Quest: My quest this year is to pursue a Sleep Project and figure out how to get more and better-quality sleep. I’m enlisting the assistance of my husband, who is willing to apply astrophysics-level mathematical analysis to my metrics, just as he did to help me finally reach my goal weight.
Wish: My wish is to be signed by a literary agent. Did I just say that out loud?
Personal: Book proposal
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster
Physical: Hip openers
Home: Outdoor writing area
Couples: Meal prep
Stop Goal: Stop being sick and tired
Lifestyle Upgrades: New desktop computer
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking
Quest: Sleep Project
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent.
Coming right up is a fresh start, a brand new year. This is a tested and well-researched method that really works for a lot of people who want to crush their goals. Unfortunately, beginners tend to choose great goals but match them with the wrong methods. Then they blame themselves and their lack of “motivation” or “willpower” or “passion,” the unholy trinity of the fixed mindset. Please don’t let that happen to you. Don’t get suckered by cheap marketing tactics or lame magazine articles. Especially one thing: Don’t join that gym!
Don’t get me wrong, either. I am a total gym rat - or at least, I am now. Like many people, though, I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars on gym memberships I didn’t use, DVDs and VHS tapes I didn’t watch, fitness books I didn’t read, and equipment that sat around until it got dusty. Please learn from the ghost of what used to be my nice flat green American dollars. Don’t join that gym! (Or buy that DVD or that book or that gigundous vat of indigestible protein powder).
Let me go back to what I said earlier about the unholy trinity of motivation, willpower, and passion. Those things don’t exist, not like you think they do. Unless your excitement at eating hot breadsticks, your ability and determination to stay up past midnight binge-watching entire seasons of TV shows, or your fervent desire to own a hundred pairs of hurty shoes qualify. You only feel those feelings toward things that are already familiar to you, that you already love so much that you’ll build your entire life around them. The confusion here is that it’s impossible to feel that kind of drive around the unfamiliar.
That comes with time. It does, but only after you’ve gone completely through the beginning stages of uncertainty, distaste, embarrassment, and feeling like you don’t belong. Being a beginner at anything feels gross and annoying. That’s why the better you get at other stuff, like dipping mozzarella sticks, the bigger the gap is between where you are now and novice level at anything else.
This is important, okay? Because there are two ways you can go with your curiosity about the fit life and your willingness to make a physical transformation. One harnesses the cute habits you already have, and the other instead uses your proven ability to learn to get into other stuff that is completely unlike going to the gym. If you do choose to join a gym, a basic and inexpensive commodity gym, make sure you have the right reinforcements first. (The schedule, the daily fourth meal, the entertainment options, the triple-quadruple backups for when your schedule changes or you’re not in the mood).
When I say not to join a gym, what I’m talking about are the cheap gyms with room for a hundred people. The pricing structure of those gyms depends on the majority of people paying and not showing up. It’s a rip-off! They know full well that at least 80% of their customers will waste money, feel hopeless, and blame themselves. They’re selling false hope just like a liquor store sells booze in paper sacks down on Skid Row. Physical transformation absolutely is possible - people are doing it every day, every hour, right this minute. For it to happen at a standard cheapie gym, though, takes education that novices simply don’t have.
What you want, if you really want results and you know you can’t get them at home, is a highly specific gym. Most people truly will not work out alone in their garage or bedroom or living room, with just a book or a training plan. Nothing personal! Just ask yourself for a moment, what else in your life do you do that you learned entirely alone, at home by yourself? Even gaming you probably learned at the side of a friend or sibling. Most things that you do, you probably learned in some more formal manner, from your schooling to your job to driving a car. You can use that framework when you commit to train. Think of it as “training” in the same way you would at your job. You know how to learn, you know how to follow a class schedule, you know how to respect a teacher, and you know how to go from “zero knowledge” to “some knowledge.” Right?
The first “gym” I joined was a ballroom dancing school. I adored it. It cost me $200 a month that I really couldn’t afford, but I found a way. I basically lived there. I almost never missed a class. Now I can say I’m a “competent social dancer.” They clear the floor for us when we dance at holiday parties and weddings. I haven’t paid for ballroom dance classes in many years, but then, I don’t need them. I kept the ability and moved on to something else for training purposes.
Right now I’m enrolled in a martial arts school. It costs four times as much as the cheapie gym membership I used to have. Unlike that cheap commodity gym, though, I can credit my martial arts gym for making me the fittest I’ve ever been. It has also brought me a passion I’ve never known, which is my newfound obsession with knife fighting. (Doesn’t knife fighting make any other gym seem positively comfortable and relaxing? Thought so. That’s why I said it).
My expensive boutique gym still costs less than pay cable. Since I don’t have cable TV, I’m spending less money than most people, I have all the time I need to train, and I can also walk around at night without feeling all that nervous. I truly can’t imagine giving up my gym just to sit around watching TV five hours a night. Ugh, why?
Pay more, if you’re going to join a gym. Make a serious commitment. Show up and be awkward for a few weeks. If you hang around long enough to get your money’s worth, you’ll start making friends. Everyone will know your name. Not only will you finally get the transformation you always wanted, but you can transform your social life, too. It could wind up being one of the most fun and interesting things you’ve ever done.
Don’t join that generic gym. If you’re going to bother at all, shift some things around and join the specific gym, the one that focuses on something that really speaks to you.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 was to study a martial art. Every year I take on a personal goal that involves doing something I find scary, awful, difficult, totally unnatural and unsuited to my personality, and otherwise irresistible. This is where the utmost growth happens, from expanding into totally unknown areas. Previous goals included running and public speaking, although the hardest thing I ever did was to get my driver’s license. If you’re good at any or all of these things, good for you; now go away. And by “go away” I mean that you should go out and find a goal that is challenging to you in the way that getting punched in the mouth is for me.
When I started out, I knew so little that I didn’t even know which “martial art” I wanted to do. I didn’t even know how many there were. All I really knew was that I’d seen The Karate Kid umpteen times and that Jo from the Nancy Drew books knew judo.
January is for research. I made a plan as part of my New Year’s goal-setting. I would ask people about martial arts and solicit their advice. (People love that!) I would read a few articles online. I would find area martial arts schools and visit them. I would compare them, choose one, and sign up for lessons. I would acquire the gear.
What I did not do, which is rare for me, is to read a foot-high stack of books. I also didn’t watch any videos, which I guess sets me apart from Millennials, who often teach themselves crazy stuff like baby sign language or advanced stage makeup techniques by video.
I bumped into a personal trainer and we had a conversation about goal-setting. He signed up for my public speaking club, showed up three times, and vanished. That was long enough for me to absorb his advice, which was to try jiu jitsu because it’s designed for small people to fight off larger people. Then I bumped into a guy in line at Starbucks who was wearing a jiu jitsu t-shirt, and I asked him a bunch of questions.
I visited three schools, all extremely different, which made my choice easy. One was harder to get to, a better gym overall at the same price, but the “beginner” class looked like intermediate-plus from my perspective and the class schedule was less convenient. The third was closer but more of a club than a school. The second school was “just right.” I signed up for a free class the very next day, took the class, put on my shoes, and walked into the front office to sign the contract and buy my equipment. I came home with a big bag of gear, unsure what it all was or how to wear it.
Two belts, a t-shirt, boxing gloves, tape, shin guards, and MMA gloves, so stiff they would barely bend.
I didn’t understand the belt system. I didn’t know anything about international standards, or competition, or the history of these sports. I’d never seen a ring match. Empty cup, in other words.
So I guess I’m studying Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing?
Showed up the first morning and, to my great surprise, the very first thing we did was: PUSH-UPS. Push-ups?!? But when do we learn to punch?
Found out I could not do a push-up.
A minute later, found out I could not do a sit-up either. Grabbing onto my thigh and trying to haul my sorry self up.
Next, ten jump squats. What the heck is that? Normal people do not do this.
If I had had any idea how many thousands of push-ups, sit-ups, and jump squats I would do in 2018, I most likely would not have signed the contract. I would have “studied a martial art” in a workbook and maybe a documentary film. I would not have committed my self or my nice flat green American dollars to dripping sweat upon an athletic mat for a hundred hours.
Instead, I found myself transforming in ways that would only seem to apply to students at Hogwarts.
My shoulders and arms changed. My feet changed. My posture changed.
I quit bruising and skin quit peeling off my knuckles.
It basically quit hurting if I got punched in the nose, the eye, the mouth (most of which strikes I inflicted upon myself). My pain threshold climbed and climbed.
I quit feeling skittish when Rude People and belligerent street folk accosted me. Instead I thought to myself, “Yeah, come at me.” I learned that people almost never actually do anything other than say rude things or make faces. Pfft.
I got an orange belt in Krav Maga and then an orange belt in Muay Thai. I understand the belt system and the stripes now and I’ll totally tell you all about it if you want.
I got a surprise flu shot and realized, and nothing in my life has ever astonished me quite this much, I realized that I no longer get needle reaction. This was confirmed when I had blood drawn months later and didn’t feel woozy at all. I think I might even try giving blood one of these days.
I found that I had a new ability to fight my lifelong tendency toward procrastination. When the resistant feeling rises up, I simply shake it off and say, “You’re doing this.”
The battle magic itself is the best. Learning to get out of chokeholds, learning to wrestle someone twice your size and prevail, learning to throw people onto the mat, it’s fun! Learning to knife fight and do gun disarms, well, that’s more magical than anything really. It’s a bit like ballroom dance school but with heavy metal.
I can fight five people in a shark pit, now. How crazy is that? I can fight with a bag over my head and I can fight with my hands taped together. I can do a couple of things that I’ve never even seen someone do in an action film.
My gloves are finally broken in. My shin guards probably need replacing. I know how to shape and how to wear a mouth guard. I’m not great... I’m a lightweight, I’m not fast, I’m not particularly gifted, it takes me lots of tries to learn new moves, and I look goofy when I shadow-box. My training partner is thirteen and she’s ten times as good as me. I’m not really a beginner anymore, though.
There were few things less likely for someone like me to try, when I first signed up and didn’t even know how to pronounce the names of my new sports. Couldn’t do a push-up, couldn’t do a sit-up, couldn’t throw a jab properly. I’m a nerdy middle-aged woman, a spelling bee champion, birdwatcher, and Scrabble enthusiast. How does this work? Now I’m also a boxer and a badass, unafraid of your common street scoundrel or your garden-variety riff-raff.
I’ll continue to train. I’ve realized that the major difference between me and a sixth-degree black belt is the duration of their training. They got a head start and they might go to class more often than me, that’s all. Five years from now, I might be quite good indeed. It’s interesting enough on so many levels that I feel like I’m barely getting started at battle magic.
Tiredness is one of the top reasons people give for not exercising. This is sad, because paradoxically, exercising is one of the four ways to quit being tired.* When lack of physical energy is the problem, lack of movement only contributes to it. What I’m learning in Krav Maga is that being tired is an explicit training goal. Train to be tired because fighting will make you tired. Tired is a training goal because you need to be able to focus and keep going in that state. It’s how you find the strength to do what you need to do, at the moment it really matters.
Modern life is exhausting. Our culture valorizes busy-ness and lack of sleep. Our automatic response when someone asks, “How are you?” is “Busy!” As though being busy is the only way to be relevant. It’s quite common for us to start the day with caffeine, eat lunch over our desks and dinner in our cars, and stay up an hour or two later than we’d planned due to social media and Netflix. With all that going on, who has time for sleep, much less exercise and healthy meals?
I can speak to this, because I have a parasomnia disorder (actually several) and I’ve struggled with sleep all my life. I started having insomnia problems at age seven. Being tired is miserable. In our culture, it also doesn’t get much sympathy. Oh, you’re tired? You and everyone else! Sure, but being able to sleep when you’re tired is a feature of an ordinary person. Not being able to sleep no matter how tired you are, that’s like finding out the brakes in your car have failed. It’s a problem.
As a chronic insomniac, you have to figure out how to go to work and earn a living, even if you’ve been awake for 27 hours. You have to figure out how to keep going, even though you get sick more often. You have to figure out how to concentrate even when your vision is blurring. You have to figure out how to care for children early in the morning, even when you’re so exhausted you’re literally stumbling and walking into walls. The worst part is that you have to figure out how to drive in traffic, even if your chin suddenly hits your chest.
There have been days when a high-functioning alcoholic probably functioned better than I did at work.
It takes grit. Being an adult in this world takes grim determination, focus, and perseverance. All of these qualities are very useful in physical culture. If you can get through a rough work week on little sleep or fighting a headache, if you can get through a week when your tiny kids are sick and keeping you up at night, if you can handle the stress of long hours and money problems, then you have everything you need to be a serious athlete. Everything but the block in your schedule.
Everything changed for me when I started learning how to be fit. The first thing I noticed was that I slept more. I could fall asleep much faster and sleep longer. If better sleep was the only thing I got from working out, that would absolutely be enough to keep me going!
The second thing I noticed was that I quit getting migraines. Instead of three or four days a week lost to blinding migraines, now I get... none. I haven’t had a migraine in about four years.
Then I realized I had quit getting night terrors.
I always felt like I was too tired to exercise. Most people would probably accept that as a reasonable reaction to having a sleep disorder. Instead, exercising helped fix the exact same physical problems that made me so tired. What I thought was impossible was the one thing with the power to solve my worst problems. I ruled out what I needed the most.
Strenuous exercise is not the same as walking more, or going to yoga a couple times a month. I never knew anyone who worked out at that level until I started running, going to various gyms, and meeting athletic people. Examples: training so hard you can’t tie your shoes afterward. Training so hard your fork is trembling in your hand when you eat dinner that night. Training so hard you can’t get your foot over the two-inch lip of the shower stall and you have to grab your thigh and haul your leg up. I don’t often push myself that hard, to muscle failure, but I do it often enough now that I have a really good sense of my true physical limits. The next obvious goal is to push those limits farther out.
Tired is a training goal because working until you’re tired is the only way to increase your physical strength and power. The more you work until you’re tired, the less tired you will be. You quickly reach a point where the demands of daily modern life don’t feel like a big deal. When you’ve lifted your end of a 200-pound heavy bag over your head in class, carrying groceries and laundry baskets stops feeling like work. When you’ve done enough burpees and tuck jumps, climbing a few flights of stairs barely slows you down. When you’ve done two hundred pushups and a hundred squats, and that’s just the first 15 minutes, getting through the workday feels like a rest day. Suddenly you realize that all those times you were pushing until your arms shook, your whole body was busy transforming. Who is this muscular person with great posture staring at me out of the mirror?
We never know the shocks and surprises of accident and fate until they happen. We never know when we might be called upon to drag someone out of a crushed automobile or help up an aging relative who has fallen. We never know whether we’ll find ourselves in situations when our personal strength and stamina could make a literal life-or-death difference to another person. A spouse, a child, a parent? At some point, it isn’t wrong to ask ourselves, Where do I quit? What’s the top level of physical strength I’ll ever want for myself? What is enough for me? It’s not always a personal choice how tired we’ll be, when the random events of life come to roll us over. Tired is a training goal because it’s how we build up reserves of strength before we need them.
* The four best ways to quit being tired are: consuming food with adequate micronutrients; getting enough sleep; improving physical fitness; and drinking enough plain water.
This is paradoxically both not about weight loss, and totally about weight loss. Myself, I’m in a weight-gaining mode as I try to add another ten pounds of muscle. “Weight loss” is both a dumb and an obvious way to talk about physical transformation. For Americans, it’s probably going to be the most straightforward type of physical change, and the one that statistically applies to the most people. Where this is going is that the pop culture way of addressing one of our culture’s most common conundrums is a total failure. One of the ways it fails is in the way that it always puts “weight loss” in the time dimension. Physical change is a non-time-linear process.
I wear a size two right now. More accurately, I’m a shopping-mall zero, an LA two, and a Vegas four. Bikini sizes are so bizarre I had to go to a specialty shop. Wedding dresses? Who knows. Easier to stay married so I don’t have to figure out one more formula relating to feminine acculturation calculus. How long does it take to get into a size two? Is it realistic?
(People always say that my body type is “not realistic” but I promise, I really exist. I am in fact reality-based and I inhabit the physical realm).
It takes me zero time to be a size two.
The reason for that is that 98% of the effort involved in the physical transformation of body composition relates to food intake. I spend precisely the same amount of time eating meals as other people do. It’s not how long I spend eating or cooking, it’s WHAT I eat, coupled with the fact that my meals may be shifted earlier in the day.
If any random person were to match my meals, forkful by forkful, eventually their body composition would wind up being the same as mine.
This is the only way that physical transformation happens along the time dimension, because these changes do take a little while. They just don’t have to take any more moments out of the day. You follow? We both spend 20 minutes eating lunch or 40 minutes eating dinner. Six months from now, either we look the same or we don’t.
We can also talk about physical activity. I used to be a zero-exercise person, like 40% of the American population. I hated P.E. in school, I hated sports, and I despised active people. Couldn’t have been much further along the inactive extreme if I tried. I dropped my first 15 pounds by doing little more than sleeping twelve hours a day, because I quit drinking soda and changed my eating habits.
Now, I’m an active person. I’ve been known to work out for three or four hours at a stretch, depending on what I’m doing. (Training for a marathon, doing a belt promotion in martial arts, hiking, that sort of thing). On average, though, I put in about four hours a week. That means I train for one hour at a time on four different days.
That one hour? It was the same when I could only walk 2 mph on the treadmill at the gym, when I did water aerobics with the granny ladies, when I went to slow yoga, even when I went to physical therapy for my bad ankle. It was the same hour when I ran five or six miles, and it was the same hour again when my husband took me out paddle boarding.
The hour I spend doing burpees and jumping rope in kickboxing class is the same hour of duration as many television shows. Irrelevant, though. Like I said, almost all of the maintenance involved in my being the fabled size two is bound up in what I eat and don’t eat, not in how much time I spend at the gym.
I have gained a bunch of weight during my major fitness projects. I gained 8 pounds while training for my marathon. I gained 15 pounds in the first six months after I started doing martial arts. Some of the weight gain is muscle, but usually most of it is extra adipose tissue, also known as body fat. This is because training hard makes me want to inhale large quantities of food. Eventually I adjust, but the first few months of adding a thousand calories a day has pretty predictable effects.
Physical change happens both in and out of the time dimension. It happens outside of the time dimension when it’s a mental transformation, when additional knowledge and perspective instantly change how you think about something. You look at what is on your plate, in your lunch bag, and in your grocery cart, and you make some quick and easy changes. For instance, I eat potatoes and bread almost every day, but I almost never eat pasta or rice, and I’m probably eating cabbage or other cruciferous vegetables where most people eat starches. It’s possible I spend slightly less time cooking than other people, because greens cook faster than, say, macaroni.
Where physical change happens in the time dimension is that it does take a while to burn off significant amounts of excess body fat. Also, muscle can be grown at about a quarter pound a week. When I made the decision to make permanent changes in my life and finally reach my goal weight, I spent three months on a strict calorie-restricted diet. I lost fifteen pounds during that period. Knowing what I know now, I could have lost the same amount of weight in two months instead of three. A larger person with more motivation and more weight to lose could probably do more, faster, but the trouble is in the emotional activation, not the physical process. Eating our feelings, all the weird ideas we attach to our body image, letting our physical vessel stand in for other issues we may have, like career or relationship satisfaction. Those emotional insights can happen instantaneously if we’re ready to feel them.
I don’t think anything that I do is unattainable or unrealistic whatsoever. I have more energy than most people and I’m able to do more. My posture is better, I can run upstairs two at a time, and I can carry heavier weights. People tend to think I’m at least ten years younger than my chronological age. Not really seeing what the problem is here.
(Of course the problem is that people think the only possible reason someone would deviate from the American standard of body size is due to a sick obsession with photoshopped magazine photos).
I did what I did out of curiosity. I wanted to know what it would feel like to change my body, knowing that I could always change it back. I used science. I tracked metrics and recorded my observations. My body changed and I discovered I liked it better. It’s been a few years now. I continue the process of using my body as a testing ground for new experiments, trials of strength and agility and speed and power. I’ll continue to change my body, both in and outside of the time dimension.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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