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Creatures of Habit – Managing the Funk

April 2012
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I am, for the most part, a creature of habit as I believe most people are.  For the longest time after I quit drinking, I had to break the habit – or more aptly stated, the pattern of behavior – that landed me in a bar, hammered.  While that transformation was occurring I had to also change my habit of slacking and sleeping in so I could hold a real job.  While menial at first, the jobs I held progressively got better and paid more.  As I moved up the ladder, the tasks became more demanding (as did the responsibilities and bosses).  I had to adapt and change my habits.  The same went, and still goes for my marriage, and has expanded to fatherhood.  When my youth no longer kept me at a decent weight I had to change some habits in the way I ate and the amount I exercised.  The exercise and eating habits have changed considerably even over the last two years, where I gave up a 4,000+ calorie a week cola habit and more than quintupled my weekly mileage by adding bicycling – from road to mountain biking.

Unfortunately, changing all of that takes time and practice.  I find that as I evolve, some of the changes in habit are easy but most aren’t.  An easy example would be waking up early to prepare for work and without a snooze bar.  I’ve been waking up at or before 4:30 am for years, and the longer this has gone on, the easier it gets and I can count the number of times I’ve slept in longer than intended on one hand in all of those years and it was actually a pretty big change – I had a love/hate relationship with the snooze bar.  I loved the extra 10-20 minutes of sleep for the longest time, until I strung a few days together without it and realized that I woke up more refreshed if I didn’t use it.  From there it was just a simple choice – I decided to not hit the snooze bar, no matter what, for two weeks.  At the end of the two weeks, I was infinitely more happy about waking up so I just kept with it.  Now I’m almost always up well before the alarm.

Other changes require a lot more mental work.  An obvious one would be not drinking or keeping a positive and good marriage.  For some, implementing a fitness/diet plan would fall into this category.  Just over the last two days I wrote about a little “funk” that I got into and came out of in regards to getting my miles in, and I believe the way I manage to slog through the funks is important, if not critical, to minimizing their duration and effect on my happiness.  This is where this all gets wrapped up with a nice little bow on top – managing funks takes a lot of practice.

Before we jump into the “how to”, it’s best to go through a little bit of the how, first.  There are two distinct “types” of funk – the “I’ve just come off the pink cloud” funk and the “I’m a seasoned vet at [insert item here – work, running, riding, relationship, etc. here], I shouldn’t be going through this” funk.

The pink cloud funk is considerably different, but easy so we’ll deal with that description first.  You’ve just started running and found that you absolutely love it.  You run like there’s no tomorrow, gains are fast and furious, and your life makes sense again…  Then running becomes work all of a sudden and you don’t know why or what to do about it.  You’ve just fallen off of the pink cloud.  This is where many fitness noobs run into trouble.  All of the sudden the shine and excitement of finally doing something to be fit wears off and you’re left battling to stay on the move.  There are dozens of ways to bring back the excitement, but in the end, it all comes down to want to.  You either have it or you plop back down on the couch until you try again, falling from the pink cloud once more to complete the process.  If this describes you, fear not.  Help is two paragraphs away, and don’t worry – almost everyone goes through this.  This is also called the “honeymoon effect”.

The seasoned pro funk is a little tougher to deal with – you’ve maintained your “want to” for a considerable amount of time, changed things up a bit after falling from the pink cloud, and created a nice little habit.  Then one day you come to the conclusion that your heart just isn’t in it any longer – you’ve lost your “want to”.  This is a very tough scenario to deal with, losing heart.  We can push through it hoping we find our “want to” again, we can change things up a bit, we can quit, or we can fall into a pit of despair (of course, quitting and the pit of despair are usually one right after the other).

The How To:

Pain is an excellent motivator, whether physical or mental.  Use it wisely.  When I quit drinking, I was on an emotional roller coaster.  Like the Millenium Force at Cedar Point, I shot to the top of the big first hill, quickly:    but I hit the peak and plummeted back down – and ended up lower than where I’d started (mentally speaking).  That pain of the doldrums forced me to work on some character defects, which in turn boosted my attitude, which created the need to work on more defects and I started back up the second hill…only to fall down again and rebuild.

Eventually I was taught that the goal was to smooth out that roller coaster ride a little bit – not so high and not so low.  This is done by shortening the duration of the highs and lows at first.  On the way up, I learned to calm myself down a bit – to moderate.  On the way down, I realized that work needed to be done on my mental state to avoid a crash and rather than wait for the bottom, I simply got to work.  So whatever it is you happen to be looking at, smooth out the roller coaster – not too high, not too low.  We’re striving for something a bit higher than middle ground with some rollers thrown in for fun – just to let us know we don’t actually wear a cape.

With that said, the first priority to managing a funk is to realize that I’m in it.  In some cases this can take all of ten minutes, like my Tuesday funk, or it can take days or even weeks, depending on how subtly the funk comes on.  The reality is, the more I practice recognizing and managing my funks, the easier it becomes to see them coming…and to start the necessary work of getting out of it before I hit the bottom.  This was my Tuesday.  It was the first day in ten months that I really didn’t feel like going for a ride (did I mention I’ve only been riding for ten months?).  I know for a fact that this is abnormal and could be detrimental if not managed immediately, if not sooner…  Right there I put on the roller coaster’s brakes.

The next step is an honest analysis of the situation.  Keeping with my 24 hour riding funk:  I’d just had a really bad afternoon with my dad the day before and my heart was torn up.  I couldn’t go on my Monday ride because I was with my dad – and I was really looking forward to it.  It was cold out – snowing in fact, and Big daddy don’t ride when it’s snowing.  It was gray – ugly clouds, mixed with the cold, it was just plain nasty.  I just didn’t have enough time to get it in (but this had nothing to do with my missing “want to”).  So let’s say I was in a pretty bad way mentally, and only half of that had to do with actually riding a bike.

We have to correct that which can be corrected and accept that which can’t, next.  While there’s nothing I could do (beyond what I did on Monday) for my dad’s health, his status was bringing me down – he’s my dad after all, and he is a good man and watching him deteriorate sucks.  So how can I fix what’s in my head to keep from spiraling down?  That’s the trick.  First, I called my mentor and talked to him about it.  Then I talked to my wife about it.  Then I called my mom and talked to her about it.  Finally, I wrapped everything up with my wife on the issue last night.  When I talk about a problem I’m having with friends and family, not only do I share the burden on my back, I can take their advice on how to work through it.  I believe that God speaks through people by the way, so I have a tendency to pay attention and look for solutions or things to work on to get these things resolved.  Each conversation brought me closer to my normal, each step I took to accept things as they are brought me back.  There was nothing I could do about the cold and gray – it just was what it was.  I could have gone for a run though (note to self, next time lace ’em up).

Finally, I have to fight for my “want to”.  There isn’t anyone out there that can make me want to exercise – that’s an inside job.  I had to make a decision on whether to stay in my slump or get back on that horse and move.  I chose that which I will be happiest with in the end.  I had an awesome ride, if a little slow, yesterday because I wanted it.  It wasn’t easy either – I was making excuses as I was getting dressed to go out the door, it was still pretty cold out etc., but I suited up and went out anyway.  By the third mile I knew I’d made the right choice.  By the 10th mile I was smiling again.  By the 16th mile I was sad that it was over – so I turned around and did an extra four just to make sure that I’d had enough.  I fought for my “want to”.  I’d be hard pressed to describe in written words the relief I felt after I parked my bike and changed clothes.  I went through a complete mental change in just a little over one hour.

It’s always quiet on that extra mile.

There is one final item to look at that is of the utmost importance.   Still on the roller coaster ride, we must be very careful that if we do make it to the bottom, we must have the steam to make it up the next hill.  This is still on the “want to”, you’ve got to fight yourself for it.  Depression is when you don’t have the steam to make it up the next hill – we start back up, but peter out before we make the next peak and we slide back down to the bottom.  Once we’re there, only sheer determination (and maybe a good shrink) can get us up the next hill.  Life may not be easy, but it’s not meant to suck – for anyone.

To wrap this up, we are creatures of habit.  If we are prone to looking at the down side of life, that’s what we’ll fall back on when times are either really good (because we’re waiting for “the other shoe to drop”) or really bad.  Only through diligent practice can we ever escape the grips of gravity.

Good luck.  I hope this helps.

Jim

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4 Comments

  1. hcah says:

    Great post and great advice as always. many thanks!

  2. CultFit says:

    Once again excellent post! It has been like 20 years since I have been to Cedar Point…Time to gather up the kids and get them over there!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thank you. My wife and I went down while the kids were up and grandma’s house – we had a BLAST! They’ve got a lot of great new roller coasters in addition to the old mainstays. We’re looking at taking the kids down in the next year or two. Have fun.

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