At Least I'm Here...

"At least I'm here, in the moment, improving."

This mantra came to me when I was in the process of earning my first black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Our dojang (training hall) had a gallery where parents, friends, and visitors could freely watch classes. Usually, those watching appreciated the effort we put forth in our training and offered a lot of encouragement along the way.

However, occasionally, those who weren't acclimated to the etiquette of the school would see this as an opportunity for comedic entertainment. On one particular evening, a guest in the gallery set his sights on my stiff, clumsy movements as I was learning a new technique. The more I failed, the harder this guy laughed, and the more pointed his barbs became. With my concentration now centered on his comments, the frustration grew until I literally couldn't do anything right. I was awash in self-doubt and I knelt to catch my breath, fully contemplating throwing in the towel right then and there.

Then it happened.    

"At least I'm here."

It was a voice that filled my thoughts and calmed my nerves. 

"At least I'm here."

The more I heard it, the louder it became, and even though it was a big class with a lot of onlookers, I was alone. I was calm. I was confident. Strength filled my spirit, my mind, and my body.

I stood to look into the gallery and made eye-contact with the heckler, and though he may have still been there, both he and his words were rendered powerless.  

"At least I'm here, in the moment, improving."

It takes a lot of courage to do something new, especially when you are in a public forum. Regardless the activity, it's easy to become super self-conscious being the newbie among more experienced people. You can sense that you don't look or move or act like anyone else; it's frightening to be a learner on the path of self-improvement. And that is why most aren't there, content to sit in the crowd and cast their own self-doubt on those of us who are.  


Just Starting Out...

There is an earnest feeling of freedom in being a beginner.

With nobody to impress, no expectations, and no obligation to demonstrate skill, beginnings are a time when each experience offers up a universe of possibilities to explore. "Staring Out" is a wondrous time, indeed. 

However, something happens when we begin to assimilate knowledge and put it into practice; our egos become engaged. Fulfillment is no longer derived from learning, but in receiving recognition for our accomplishments. 

Here's the rub. When our ego dominates our actions, we are literally just reliving the past! Questions become filtered to hide ignorance, we overlook opportunities to improve, and progress stagnates.  

Keeping a beginner's mindset allows us to remain in a constant state of learning and growth. Each day, each exercise, each set, and each rep exist independently of one another. Therefore, each action affords us the ability to affirm that we are "just starting out".  

Remember, the next time you feel self-conscious trying something or that you aren't as accomplished as those around you (basically, anytime you feel at risk of looking foolish), that is your ego speaking.

Remind yourself that you are "Just Starting Out" and experience the freedom of the beginner.  

Inspiration in the Wake of Setbacks

Fight on my men, Sir Andrew says,
A little I'm hurt, but yet not slain;
I'll but lie down and bleed awhile,
And then I'll rise and fight again.
--Excerpt from Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton (Author Unknown)

Setbacks are a part of life. 

Things seem to be going well when sometimes the wheels just come off the wagon.

A major step backwards is sometimes exactly what we need to take 5 giant leaps forward. It isn't fun to fail, because the taste is so bitter. We're inevitably left feeling that the time and effort we've spent has been somehow meaningless and wasted. In the shadow of failure, our goal seems further away than ever. Giving up is always the easier route.

Instead, accept failure as a gift to meditate on your methods and to seek alternatives. It's okay to stop and rest when feeling overwhelmed, but use that time for reflection and refocusing. Saying goodbye to old methods is difficult, but the power of change is exciting. 

In the light of day, are the changes that bad? That major? 

Detach yourself from the methods and philosophies that are holding you back and have trust that your alternatives will guide you to a better place.   

Rather than starting over, you'll be changing direction!

Step 1: Define our Motivation - Getting to the Root

What makes exercise, or any activity enduring and worthwhile is not the goal, but our underlying motivation. 

Goals are to motivation as leaves are to the root of the tree. 

Great. What does this mean?

It means that goals are great tools to measure short-term progress on our true motivations. Nothing more. 

By nature, each goal has a definitive end whereby success implies the cessation of activity. Prolonged failure has the same result. Either way, it's "game over." Basing a lifestyle on a subjective outcome that has a limited scope doesn't bode well for long term engagement. 

Looking back to our example in the last post, by focusing on just that single leaf, all of our awareness and energy was tied up examining the temporary product of an infinitely dynamic organism. So, when the leaf dies, we are unaware that the rest of the tree eminating from the root remains. We lose perspective; we become lost. 

Just as a tree has many leaves, our motivation can be realized through numerous, interchangeable goals. The art herein is to utilize a particular goal until it no longer suits our motivation, and swap it with another goal that is a better fit. This method ensures a higher probability that progress over the long term can be sustained.

Getting to your root, or motivation, may take some time pin down what you really want to achieve. Sometimes, what we say we want and what we really want are  two different things.

Many people list losing weight as a reason they want to become active. Excellent start. Now, ask yourself "why?".   

A possible answer may be, "To look and feel better".

But why do you want to look and feel better?

"To have more confidence and control". 


See where this is going?  

Try this on your own by writing down each answer, following each with "Why?". The deeper you go, the longer it should take. I encourage you to try this out over the course of a week to see how far you can go. I normally go 4 to 6 levels deep, depending on the topic. You may be surprised where this takes you, and all of the wonderful opportunities for motivation this provides. Remember, no two people will be alike and there are no wrong answers.

We do this so that when we lose 10 pounds, we don't pack it in and say goodbye to exercise. It affords us the option to keep going down this route to lose additional weight, or choose another active path altogether. Perhaps one may chose to switch goals and tone muscle, build endurance, or become active in a sport? Losing weight may no longer be important, but being active still is

Your motivation keeps you centered and engaged. Once you discover the root, you are free to explore and enjoy all of the fruits of the tree.

Next time we will discuss Planning and its importance to exercise.

Step 1: Define our Motivation

Let us take a step back and think on why fitness should be an important part of our lives.

I'm sure many people would say something along these lines of losing weight, getting stonger, getting back into shape, etc..

A good start, yet I would argue that the real reason, your true motivation, runs much deeper than this. 

Imagine your initial thought as the leaf on a tree. As you touch the leaf, you can inspect it's color, shape, and texture. Your leaf is very tangible in this moment. However, if you stand back, you will notice that this leaf is attached to a little stem, which may be attached to a bigger stem, and then a branch. The branch attaches to the trunk which held firm by the root. 

Your motivation is the root.

When the seasons change, that leaf may be gone, but the rest of the tree remains, only to replace that leaf come spring. Thusly, it is so with motivation. 

Motivation is not a static end unto itself, it is an ever evolving blueprint for our life.

As one leaf leaves us, thousands more emerge, all from the same root.

"Leaves, roots, blueprints? How does this help me do situps?", you're probably asking. 

In my next post, we will get to the root!