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Daily Archives: October 14, 2013

Turning Empowerment Into Weakness

I follow the blogs of more than one big person… In part because I love to see people who feel they’ve lost turn into winners. This has a lot to do, I’m sure, with my ongoing recovery from alcoholism – same principle, different addiction.

One of the most egregious mistakes I see reiterated on a regular basis, among those who struggle with getting control of their weight, is for a person of size to feel out-of-place because others may see them “sweating” while they’re working to lose that weight.

I can relate in this way: When I was a kid I was incredibly skinny. A friend in college, a body builder, took it upon himself to help bulk me up. I was 130 pounds and just shy of 6′ tall. The only thing I did have going for me was that I was , even though skinny, handsome. Still, because of my weight (or lack thereof), I was incredibly self-conscious – especially at the gym. After all, I couldn’t lift much, and every once in a while one of the buff guys would look down his nose at me – this reinforced my own idiocy.

I call what I did to myself, what I thought about myself, idiocy for a reason. Here’s how this works:

I hated the gym because I felt like the ugly duckling, like a weakling, less than the others when I was in more need of that gym than 90% of the people lifting weights in there.  Now I’ll be even a little more straight up here… I still hate the frickin’ gym – but rather than deal with the fact that my thinking is screwed up, I found a way to work around it. I do push-ups in my office, and that’s enough but I learned to hate the one thing that could have changed how I felt about myself – and that’s what this whole mess is really about.

How this translates for those trying to lose weight, especially for those too self-conscious to go for a jog or ride a bike, is a little tricky though… And I can speak to this too because I ended up a little chunky myself a decade and a half later and chose to work that off on the road – I had to put that inferiority complex away or suffer the consequences – and those consequences were less acceptable than the alternative.  That didn’t make getting out any easier though.

When I started running I felt ugly. I didn’t have any fancy running clothes, or even real running shoes. My first time out I wore a cotton tee-shirt and a pair of old tennis shoes. I think I did a mile and a half in about thirteen minutes and felt like I was going to die. Two days later I was back out there again. It was ugly running for a month or two but I kept at it because that was my best available option (that didn’t involve a gym membership).

Here’s the important part that gets lost in the weeds…  As ugly as I felt I still stuck with it because I always maintain the thought that feeling ugly was going to be a temporary problem.  Whenever I went out I used feeling ugly as my motivation to work harder and go faster.  In fact, my buddy Dennis and I came up with a great little motivational saying for when we wanted to quit or walk:  “My (our) gut hates this”.  Sometimes we’d cart that out two or three times each time we ran – once at the start (especially in the winter), once half-way through and once in the last quarter-mile.

Sure enough, my gut did hate it and before long I lost it but the process was not pretty.

Cycling was no different.  Today I have the nice carbon bike, the proper clothing and most importantly the speed to look like I know what I’m doing but I sure didn’t start like this.  Hell, I started with a half-rusted POS Huffy mountain bike that was several sizes too small, platform pedals and a pair of running shorts.  Back then I could manage about 14 mph on that junker and only four miles at that pace…  But I kept at it.  Before long I had a decent (properly sized) mountain bike that I bought used for a hundred bucks…  Then pedals and shoes, then cheap cycling shorts.  Only when I realized that I really loved the sport did I start putting serious money into it.

The point is, until recently it’s almost always been ugly but the goal was never to look good while exercising – the goal was to look good afterwards

What must happen at some point, if we really want to be slim, fast or proficient at any sport, is that we set aside the truth that we make a sport look ugly, at least until such a time as we don’t lest we never bother stepping off of the porch.  If we allow these petty excuses to fester what we’re really doing is turning empowerment into weakness.  When we’re out riding, running or swimming we are powerful, in charge of our destiny, health and life.  When we’re cowering on the porch, afraid to step off because we have a messed up self-image, we’re robbing ourselves of that power.  We allow our thoughts and insecurities to keep us weak.

In the end, it’s never about the guys who can cruise down the road twice as fast as you.  It’s not about the carbon or the kit or the speed…  If you’re out of shape at the start it’s just about putting the effort in – let the rest sort itself out later…  And when you’re finally happy – when you can look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you’re not perfect, but you’re close enough for government work, pass along what you’ve learned to those who are just starting out.  Cheer them on, ride with them for a bit but most of all, let ’em know it’s not always going to be like this – there is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train.

And remember – YOU are the impressive one, not the guy on the $10,000 14 pound bike with the carbon wheels…  He or she has been working on that for years, even decades – you’ve been out there for all of two weeks, sweating like hell, just trying to drop a few…  YOU are the one putting in the hard work… 

That is, of course, unless you’re taking it easy because you don’t want to “be all sweaty”.  In that case, you’ll be at this forever.