52 Weeks

This is kind of an anniversary for me. Fifty-two weeks ago, I started on a mostly internal journey. A few weeks later, I started a spreadsheet to keep track of it (shocking, I know). I began tracking some of the choices that I make and the habits that I have, and I made a few changes. After a little while, I wanted to know how long I’d been doing particular things, so I started keeping track of the weeks.

Yesterday was the last day of week 52. I’ve tried a few things and discarded them – I discovered that a super-low-carb diet is not for me. (I was, at one point, so exhausted that I thought about going to the doctor to see what was wrong with me. It finally occurred to me that it might be what I was – or wasn’t – eating, so I had a banana. Ten minutes later I felt like the Energizer bunny. Some carbs good. Noted.)

Some things I’m still trying out, or working on, but there’s one thing that has stuck for the entire year. I decided that I wanted to exercise for at least 15 minutes, five days a week. Fifteen minutes isn’t much, but it’s really just a mind game I play with myself. It’s easy. No matter how rotten I feel, I can do 15 minutes. I hardly ever do just 15. I start, and I feel pretty good, and I keep going. And on the rare occasion that I don’t? Well, I’ve done the 15 minutes. And kept the habit, which means a lot more than any one workout. In one year, I’ve missed my goal only twice, and back to back – it was the two weeks we were in Florida.

This doesn’t sound very exciting as I’m sitting here typing it, but it represents a pretty significant sea change in my life. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m having success at this when I’ve failed so many times before. Some of the reasons are still opaque, but here are a few that I think I’ve figured out:

  • It’s a grand experiment.
    Historically, I’ve always wanted to know what someone else was doing, and then tried to copy it exactly, expecting the exact same results. There is a minor flaw in this plan: I’m not anybody else. (It only took me 38 years to realize this. I’m so proud.) But seriously – what works for someone else is not necessarily going to work for me. It’s worth trying what someone else is doing. But mostly it’s going to need some tweaking, and experimenting, and trying again. I have a great opportunity here for an n=1 experiment, and the rest of my life to figure out what works. This means I don’t have to be perfect, and if I go off plan for a day (or a week, or heck, a month) it’s not the End of All Good Things.
  • It’s about behaviors, not results.
    I heard someone else say this and I feel like I should have figured it out a long time ago, but better late than never, I suppose. I don’t actually have that much control over some of the results from what I’m doing – or the results would be happening a lot more quickly, believe me – but I do have control over what I decide to do. I’m going to keep working out because I made a decision to do it. Whether or not the scale ever moves down, or I ever see any muscle definition in my arms. (I say that, but seriously, how many push-ups do I have to do to get a bicep already? Obviously the answer is “more than I have.”)
  • It’s about what I can do, not how I look.
    This is a hard one for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. However. More and more over the past year, I’ve been able to do things that I either didn’t think I could do or never thought I’d have any desire to do (see also: Warrior Dash). That’s pretty cool. I am not skinny, and I never will be. I did one of those body fat estimator things, and if I’m even close, just my lean body mass (so, 0% body fat) weighs more than all of my friend Jenn. Skinny is not in my future. You know what I am, though? I am competent. I am disciplined. I am strong. It kind of freaks me out to write that last bit, but you know what? I actually think it’s true.

So I’m flipping over a new year today, and I’m not going to focus as much on exercise. Not because I don’t think I need to keep doing it, but because I think it’s really a habit now. I feel good when I do it. I want to do it. I think I can keep it up without devoting so much of my headspace to it. I’d like to try using some of that mental energy to change something else. Maybe I’ll work more on food choices. Maybe I’ll finally learn Spanish. I’m not sure yet.

But stay tuned. I don’t think I’m done with me yet.

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