I completed my first triathlon in 2004. Since then I have had many ups and downs in life, many failures and many victories – which includes several more triathlons, a marathon and a century (100 mile) bike ride. The one constant through all of this is a dimly lit desire to attempt an ironman triathlon some day. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the magnitude of that goal, an Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run, all within a 16-17 time limit. It is not an easy feat for anyone but for me it seems downright impossible. And that thought has kept me from really pursuing it in the past. I recently did a short triathlon (first one in several years) and it has rekindled that desire. It became a desire hard to ignore after watching my good friend complete her first Ironman last month in Tennessee. I really want to do this. When I assess what has stopped me in the past, in an effort to push through that boundary, I recognize that there are 2 main fears I had about this goal that have limited me before.
The first is that doing an ironman is impossible. Certainly when you look at the odds, it seems to be at least highly improbable. I am still about 30-40 pounds overweight. I have had 8 orthopedic surgeries. I have chronic foot and ankle problems that limit how I can run. I have arthritis in me knees that is advanced enough that my orthopedic surgeon told me to never run again after my left knee scope a few years ago. I recently had some genetic testing done which suggests that I am more prone than most for developing soft tissue injury due to a mutation in the genes for collagen production. I work in a high stress, time demanding job that I will have to navigate to even have time to train. The list goes on. The old me looked at these and quit before I ever started. The new me looks at these as challenges to overcome. I am preparing my body for the toll training will take by doing rehab work (stretching, strengthening, etc) that will limit my risk of injury. I am committing myself to a clean anti-inflammatory and anti oxidant diet which will help reduce inflammation and risk of injury as well as support weight loss efforts. I am preparing my financial life to get to a place where I can cut back on work hours to have time to train. I am mentally focusing on the reasons why it is possible instead of the reasons why it isn’t. All of these things – these solutions – are ENTIRELY POSSIBLE; and entirely within my control. Does this guarantee success? No. But it certainly makes doing an ironman feel more possible than ever because I am empowered to find a way rather than listen to the excuse.
The second fear attached to this goal is that of failure. For years I have ruminated in my head the what ifs… What if I train and I don’t finish the race? What if I get really close and then get swept off the course because I’m too slow? What if I train and I get injured and never even get to the starting line? I would tell myself that I don’t want to spend 9 months of my life sacrificing and then fail. It was an all or nothing proposition. I wasn’t viewing it in terms of the journey – it was simply finish an ironman or fail. And given my beliefs that it’s fairly impossible, my fear of failure was even more heightened (even well trained athletes sometimes don’t finish these). The fear of failure stopped me dead in my tracks from pursuing a goal that I have wanted to pursue for a long time. Something has changed though and I am now all in on this goal because I have realized (after a couple of years of self reflection and growth) that this goal isn’t really even about the race. It’s about the journey. And when I think about what this journey will teach me about myself I smile. I am not naive to what this is going to take. That is what makes it so exciting. It will require much dedication and sacrifice – and it will require it over a long period of time. This is something I have never been very good at – long term commitment. Heck, the training for this race will be longer than just about all of my relationships have lasted….. Point is, the challenge here is to commit myself to a goal and stick with it though thick and thin. There will be times when I have to push myself harder and farther than I thought I could go. There will be moments – probably lots of them – with physical pain. There will be times when mentally its tough. There will be plenty of moments when I will want to quit. I can pretty much guarantee it. However, the idea of rising to the challenges and pushing on is also exciting to me. The idea of not quitting when I want to is the goal. The character I stand to develop though this journey is unlimited and I cannot wait to see the growth. The goal here is the CHALLENGE, not the race. The race is the anchor point to steer the challenge, but all along this has been about testing myself. Ultimately, it would be great to line up at the swim start on race day 2 years from now and cross the finish line 16-17 hours later as an ironman. But what I have realized is that even if I don’t finish – or even if I fail to make it to the starting line (due to circumstance beyond my control – i.e. injury,) , as long as I accept the challenge and do my absolute best then I have won. The personal growth will not vanish if I don’t finish – in fact it might even add a notch to the character belt. When I look at it this way, the fear of failing to finish the race disappears and it becomes merely a personal challenge to rise up and do everything with in my power to work towards a goal. If I can do that, I will be forever changed for the better regardless of the outcome of any one race. And that, my friends is ENTIRELY POSSIBLE.
I recently wrote a blog about loving myself. I mentioned several things that loving myself has done for me including increasing my capacity for joy and fun. Another thing I have noticed is that how I treat myself has dramatically changed. Not only in my thoughts and how I talk to myself but in how I treat my physical body as well.
I used to be very self critical and my head was constantly full of negative thoughts that put myself down. I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m slow. I’m stupid. I’m lazy. The list goes on and on. If it is negative, I have likely said it to myself sometime over the last 40 plus years. Someone once asked me if that is how I would talk to a dear friend and of course the answer was no. Or, would you remain friends with someone who constantly talked to you that way? Also probably no. I know personally If I had a friend that was always telling me I’m fat and stupid I would probably stop hanging out with that person. But yet for a long time I allowed myself to talk to me like that. Over the last year or so I have come to understand the wisdom in that analysis and as I have evolved into a self loving creature, I find the negative thoughts have decreased and I now talk to myself in a more endearing way – one in which I might talk to a good friend. After all, we are all our own best friends right? I try to think nurturing and kind thoughts. If I do something that might not be the best decision, I allow myself space for mistakes and tell myself I’m human and doing the best I can rather than “I’m stupid” or “I have no discipline”, etc. It really makes a difference in how I feel on a daily basis. In the spirit of total honesty, I have numerous moments still in which those negative thoughts creep in – in fact I have a name for the altar ego. More than one name actually. But now, as I become more aware of these thoughts I am able to recognize when that altar ego is trying to emerge and I am better able to tell her to sit down and shut up. Sometimes I’m not as successful as others, and it’s a work in progress – but every time I hear that voice it gets a little easier to ignore it.
On a physical level, as I evolve into someone who genuinely cares for her own self, I find myself much more interested in doing things that promote my physical health (and avoiding things that are detrimental). It’s much easier than it used to be to avoid junk food, alcohol, etc. When you don’t love yourself the tendency is to abuse yourself. Mentally AND physically. Overeating, alcohol, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, etc. For me, it was eating too much of the wrong foods, drinking too much alcohol and not moving. I just didn’t care about my health because why care about something you don’t like? Now that I love myself I find myself eating better, exercising and even making sure I get enough sleep. I treat my body like a precious commodity. Do I have moments where I give in to cravings or imbibe a bit? Yep. Absolutely I do. But there is a difference between those indulgences now versus in the past. Previously I did it mindlessly – it was automatic and habit. It was a subconscious way of keeping myself in a space that “deserved” the negative thoughts. Now, those indulgences are mindful and intentional deviations for the purpose of an occasional pleasure. It’s also only an occasional event as opposed to a full time occupation and it’s done with self love in mind as opposed to self sabotage. After all – having a piece of cake or a social drink on occasion is pleasurable when done from the right place and allowing pleasure is a way of expressing self love. The work I have done over the last year has allowed me to get to a place where I can recognize the difference and before indulging I stop to think just a bit about the intent. Yes, there are times when I sense the intent is not for pleasure. But those are getting much less frequent as I travel this path. And when I do have those moments, I go back to allowing myself space for mistakes. As I allow myself that space, I find that I make far fewer of them. Another distinction in my relationship with food is that in the past I was able to diet and eat well but the intent behind it was “dieting” because I needed to lose weight in an attempt to get that “I’m fat” voice out of my head. It was a form of punishment for being less than perfect. However, eating now is for the purpose of being good to my body and being healthy. It’s not a punishment, it’s a desire to treat my body with respect and to live healthy. I am also much more physically active again. There is a difference in mentality there too. In the past, the exercise was again, a punishment of some sort for not being good enough – a necessary evil for needed weight loss. Now, it’s an activity I enjoy because my body likes moving and being active and it likes to be in shape for things I find pleasurable, like hiking mountains and doing triathlons. I also find myself grateful for the opportunity and ability to participate rather than resentful that I HAVE to do it.
These changes would not be nearly as easy – or even possible really – without a look inside and a shift in mindset from self abuse to self love. I now have a mindset that I am absolutely worth the effort it takes to treat my mind and my body in a loving caring way and take the steps necessary to maintain my health – mentally and physically. And as a result, I am much more amazed at what I am actually capable of than I have ever been before. In closing, I look at the picture of me as a child below and I grieve slightly at how poorly I had treated her for so long. Not anymore.
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act”. Author unknown.
I am 45 years old. I have spent most of those 45 years not liking myself. I can relate to the self self doubt and even self hate train as much as anyone else that has ever lived, and I can honestly say that that self deprecation has driven many, if not most or all of decisions I have made through my life. I am not alone in this regard. In fact, it is estimated that “self help” is a 10 to 11 billion dollar a year industry with services ranging from books and audio to online streaming and even life coaching. I know I have personally contributed to that and have numerous half read self help books on my shelves to show for it. None of which really seemed to light me up. Every where you look, there are books and products that would suggest that there is something wrong with you and that you need this book or that product to be a better person. Even religion, and in particular Christianity, implies that as humans we are inherently flawed and need something (in Christianity’s case – Jesus as Savior) to redeem us – something we are incapable of doing on our own. It’s a message that we get from early on and hear time and again through life. Is it any wonder that many of us, myself included, grow up thinking less of ourselves than we should? No, it isn’t. People spending 10-11 billion dollars a year on self help is a good indication that this is an epidemic.
A year and a half ago I found a self help approach that finally took hold. I hired a life coach. I did it with the intent of again improving myself – but originally it was an attempt within the confines of my vision of myself – which wasn’t good. I had very little expectation of myself and wasn’t really sure what I would accomplish. I was striving to be better because I didn’t like who or where I was in life but had very little confidence in myself that I would actually ever really “improve” long term. I was simply trying to alter circumstance to make my misery more manageable. But what I have ultimately altered is the lens through which I view myself and it has been life changing. I have spent the last year and half spending a lot of time working on liking – no – LOVING myself. I found a coach who shifted things from “fixing myself” to “embracing myself”. While I still have moments of old thought patterns, in large part I have been successful at learning to embrace who I am regardless of circumstance and it has certainly changed my outlook on life. And I now consider myself a rebel. I reject society’s message that I am somehow not good enough. I am enough. And that idea is so freeing.
I used to push myself to accomplish things out of some need to “prove” myself worthy because deep down I didn’t feel very worthy. One such area I did this was in endurance sports. I have done a marathon. I have done a century (100 mile) bike ride in the mountains around Lake Tahoe. I have done numerous triathlons. All in my former “I hate myself” life. All are incredible accomplishments but I never really allowed myself to just celebrate them because there was always a voice in the back of my head that told me, ‘yeah but”. “But” it was really slow. “But” you finished in the bottom 10 percent. “But” it isn’t enough to prove yourself. All symptoms of the self hate flu. Due to a variety of life incidents, it had been a few years since my last event when I hired my life coach and I spent the first year just working on getting some weight off and getting back into a fitness routine. This last weekend I participated in my first “event” since my life shift. It was the shortest race I have ever done – but I did my absolute best and finished in a time under the goal I had set for myself. It was slow. It was in the bottom 10 percent. But I didn’t care. I was simply happy with my decision to try, happy with my effort and happy with my results. Despite it being short and despite not being in the kind of shape I was in before I have to say it was my best race ever – because I HAD FUN and celebrated it rather than ruminating over negative self deprecating thoughts. It was after this race that I really understood just how much of a shift in thinking I have accomplished – It was pure self love at the finish line and it was a great feeling. I did it because I wanted to and because I enjoyed it – not because I needed to prove myself and that is a BIG difference.
This is just one example of how freeing actually liking yourself if. It has altered my perspective on life. It has altered my decision making (I now make decisions with myself at the center). It has altered my interactions with others. It has increased my capacity for joy and fun. I like being a rebel. My advice to you is to do the same. Buck the message, be a rebel and like – no LOVE yourself. The best part is, loving yourself is free.
Note: This was originally written before I started my “transformation journey”. I had periods in my life prior to that where I had glimpses of where I was headed and this was written during one of the periods. But it still fully applies to where I am now, so I am publishing this on my blog because it is as true today as it was when I wrote it several years ago.
Self acceptance. Some argue it’s the key to happiness, and from my own personal experiences, the lack of it can certainly lead to a lot of misery and frustration. I have spent years learning to accept myself for who I am, and I have finally reached some success in that regard. But what I have found along the way, is that it is a slippery slope from self acceptance to complacency, and with complacency comes stagnation -in some cases even regression. It’s a very fine balancing act to accept who/where I am and yet stay motivated to become better. It is difficult to not mistake desire to get better/improve in any area with self dissatisfaction/self hate. If there is complete self embrace, it is difficult to channel desire/motivation to get better. For me, my struggle is with body weight and fitness level. I find myself having to balance being ok with the extra weight or the slow bike time and yet maintain the drive it takes to stay motivated over the long haul to achieve results in these areas. The ultimate self love would seem to just say you are perfect the way you are, in which case there would be no need to watch the diet or exercise. The ultimate self hate would seem to say that you are very imperfect and will never be any in which case there is no need to diet or exercise. The balance is to accept the now but strive for better.
I think there are two keys to this balance act. They are confidence and patience.
It is easier to accept where you are if you are both confident in where you are ultimately going and have the patience to allow yourself the time and grace to get there. If either one of these is lacking, then that balance slips to one side or the other of the beam.
Having the confidence of self allows you to know that whatever or wherever the goal is, you can and will achieve it. For me, I have struggled with my weight my entire life. It is only when I learned to accept where I was but KNOW that I had the power to and eventually would lose weight that I was able to actually achieve it. The self acceptance moves beyond the frustration of the now and enters into a place where you feel empowered and at peace knowing that the “now” is going to change.
Most things, losing weight and becoming fit included, take considerable time. Not much happens overnight. I tend to be an instant gratification type person and well, when weight loss didn’t happen dramatically overnight I became frustrated and dissatisfied with myself in my efforts and was less able to accept the now. It was when I learned that it is a process and allowed myself the grace and time needed that I was able to succeed. Patience here refers to not only temporal patience but also patience with yourself. Not all days are good, and some will seem like setbacks or disappointments in terms of the ultimate goal. However, when you are patient with yourself, there is room for mistakes and even failure. In patience, these setbacks don’t reflect on the person in the now – only delay the inevitable success.
With the confidence and patience needed, I can accept who I am because I know that I will always strive for and ultimately get better and I have the patience to allow myself however long it takes to get there.
I have been on this journey of “transformation” for well over a year now. In all reality, this journey started long before I started working with my life coach. There have been moments and phases in my life in recent years that, looking back, I think was necessary “prep” work so to speak in getting me to what I will call my official “starting line” for transformation. And over the last 18 months I have set many goals – some of which I have attained, some of which I’m still striving for and honestly, some of which I might never attain. I have met some goals that are only stepping stones to bigger ones. For instance, I set a goal of losing 100 pounds in a year. I have lost 100 pounds(took me a little longer than a year), but I want to lose 50 more. In the area of personal growth and self discovery though, there are no real tangible goals.
What I am discovering is that the ‘finish line” is fluid, elusive and difficult to define in terms of when can I say that I am completely and “officially” transformed? Transformation ultimately is a life long process because it’s the growth and evolution of who I am that is important. The “end product” isn’t nearly as important as the growing process itself. “When you stop growing, you start dying”; William S. Burroughs, author. So if growing itself is the goal, how do we define success? It’s not by keeping a finish line in view. The finish line will seemingly constantly change. We do it by keeping the STARTING line in view. To accurately measure change it is important to measure it in relation to a rigid fixed point. If you measure it against a comparison point that is also changing, it makes it a relative change not an absolute one. The starting line is the rigid point.
There have been many times over the last 18 months where I have been frustrated at what I perceived to be lack of progress or change. Periods where I felt stagnant and at times it even seemed as I had lost ground on my path. There have been times where I felt like I was the same old person I was before. Times where I felt like none of my life circumstances/stressors had changed despite making effort to change them. Times when despite earnest attempt, the number on the scale didn’t want to dip. In those times it seemed I would be entirely focused on what little “growth” was occurring because I was taking all the growth that proceeded those moments for granted. I was moving my starting line. For instance, going a month without losing weight would really irritate me (still does…) and I would frame it in terms of “I have lost no weight in 4 weeks”. My starting line would always move to the current weight. I was simply looking at the relative change. But when I would step back and frame it in terms of absolute change, “ I have lost 80 pounds in the last 10 months”, I would suddenly feel much better. When I keep my original starting line in view it really puts things in perspective.
The same applies to the more elusive “personal growth” arena. I still have moments where I tend to slip back into old habits and thought patterns. If I sit in those moments and think “ I haven’t changed” it is because I fail to recognize how I relate to and deal with those old habits and thought patterns. If I compare those moments to the finish line of how I “want to be” versus the starting line of “how I used to be” I can get lost in the moment and fail to see the difference. For me, even just recognizing that I am having old thought patterns creep in is a big improvement to when I behaved in a certain way without even realizing it. And where those behaviors used to be the norm, they are now the exception. So again, stepping back to look through the wide angle lens at where I started puts things in much different perspective. AND rather than feeding the perception of lack of growth, it highlights the tremendous growth that sometimes I fail to see.
After the first year of working with my coach, Jill she had me complete a “year in review” exercise to look back on what I had accomplished in that time and it was an effective exercise in keeping the starting line in view. Every once in awhile, taking inventory of where you started can help keep where you are now in perspective, particularly during times when there is perceived lack of growth.
“Everything is hard before it is easy” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Isn’t that the truth? We are all beginners at whatever we take on at one point. And right now, I’m a beginner at this blog thing. There will be growing pains and mistakes but the beauty is that while everyone starts as a beginner, we generally don’t stay there – if we grow. So my hope is to grow – both myself and this blog – with time, into a creative and fun collection of my thoughts, ideas and experiences (as well as lessons) that not only document my journey in this thing called life but maybe also give some hope and courage to others along the way. I encourage you to read through my “about me” section to gain a little insight as to where where I started and where I am headed as I “transform” from a successful but “stuck” person into a successful but fulfilled and genuinely happy person, who as my mentor says is “living out loud”. I sometimes joke that if I can pull this off, ANYONE can – but it is so true. I was the epitome of stuck. I can’t say that I’m entirely successful at reaching “the other side” , however I’m learning that you never truly reach “the other side” – you only continue to strive for it, growing along the way. It is in the process of growing itself where the fulfillment and living out loud occur. I CAN say that I am successful at growing.
Finding a starting point for this blog was difficult for a couple of reasons. First, unlike the blog, I am NOT a beginner of this transformation journey. I’m solidly planted somewhere in the middle – so there is a lot of “catching up” to do in terms of my experience so far. Second, I have a vast array of ideas and interests which make it hard to focus on just one. I often joke that I have a little touch of Attention Deficit Disorder and like to bounce around from topic to topic. But my goal is to allow myself to touch on a variety of my interests and ideas in an organized way because I think the majority of them are important to the journey. There will likely be entries on topics ranging from health and fitness/clean eating to music to spirituality/mindfulness and everything in between. I might even organize a few of my favorite recipes or music playlists. I also foresee a few book reviews in the future. All of these things have played a role in my journey and I hope through the variety that you can find at least one thing/topic that interests or encourages you. If you are here and have additional insight or have a topic of interest I haven’t hit, let me know!
This will be fun and exciting endeavor to build this blog from the ground up but with it comes the almost obligatory fear of failure – what if it isn’t good? What if no one reads it? What if I can’t stick to a regular schedule of posting? Etc. Well, moving past the fear is one of the lessons I have learned because if we don’t it paralyzes us into inaction. And honestly, it took a few months after creating my blog to post. But ultimately, if no one ever reads this blog but myself it will be successful; Because I know that just the process of writing and documenting my thoughts will contribute to my growth. And that is enough for me. If people come along for the ride, all the better.