Small patterns of behavior often evolve into fully formed habits when left unattended in the shade of our disregard. Especially so when you’re treading water every day in a sea of stress, bobbing up and down between worries big and small.
A little more fast food begins to creep into the diet. And so do a few more drinks. And you’re still walking a lot, but cycling and running have slacked off to nothing. Your last set of pushups occurred at an indeterminate point in the foggy past. You can no longer touch your toes.
Then, on a day when you find yourself inspired to be a bit more active, having watched a movie or TV show with a particularly fit actor in it, you grab your jump rope and go to the park.
The jump rope itself looks practically new, because it is new. You bought it years before when you were still single, and the person you were interested in romantically was lithe and fit and you felt self conscious. So you bought a new swimsuit (they swam laps) and a jump rope (you’d watched a boxing movie).
The swimsuit still languishes at the bottom of your drawer of athletic clothes. The jump rope sat atop it. And when you dug it out and headed off to the nearby park, you felt good, as though you were about to do something important. You were convinced that this was going to be the start of something great. A new chapter, one jump at a time.
Having arrived at the park, you got in 250 jumps and nearly died of the effort.
And it wasn’t just your relative lack of fitness. No, something fundamental had gone all weird. Despite not having gained that much weight, your body composition had shifted its proportions to a ratio that favored fat and neglected muscle more than it used to.
And then it hits you. At the age of 38, unmarried and without kids, you have eaten, drunk, and lazed yourself into becoming the unenthusiastic new owner of an introductory model dad bod. You then thought to yourself, This is unacceptable, and set about making a plan.
The you, of course, is me, and that was the flash realization of a sneaking truth that had been creeping up on me for months. On the evening of Tuesday, September 15, 2020, I came face to face with my own softening jawline and overly tight belt. No fun, but necessary.
So this morning I weighed myself for the first time in months and found an increase of three kilograms over the four and a half I had already wanted to lose. Seven and a half kilograms I didn’t want. To some, worrying about this amount of weight will seem foolish. My problem of mass is not on the same scale as those which others face.
Still, it’s important to me. Those seven-point-five kilos (sixteen and a half pounds to the Americans in the room) mean my clothes don’t fit the way I’d like, and I don’t look as much like myself, to myself, as I would prefer. But more importantly, every gram hangs as a tiny, squishy monument to having gotten off track. The temporary flab I can ultimately forgive. Having lost focus on my priorities is harder to accept.
As I noted in my last post, sometimes you feel crappy and stuck, but if you actually face the problem squarely and are honest with yourself, you probably already know damned well what you need to do to straighten shit out.
Off track is fixable. I’ve fixed it before and will fix it again. I do, in fact, know exactly what I need to do to get out of these unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior.
This afternoon I did some figuring. Took some time to consider the details of my lifestyle and what changes within it would be both easy to adopt and apt to encourage the results I’m after.
To be clear, I’m not trying to engineer a problem-specific solution. Rather, I’m aiming my efforts at establishing modest but meaningful changes to the operating system of my life, such that the desired results arise naturally out of the proper, well-adjusted function of an improved system.
Despite my tendency to state that I am not good with numbers, in truth I love playing with them. I’m not doing anything advanced. There is no calculus up my sleeve. I love to analyze and strategize and see how small changes are likely to pan out over time. I’ve mostly moved on to Excel for this stuff, because I can play with more things more quickly, but it’s really the same impulse and execution I’ve been following since the early days of playing with numbers with a quad pad and a mechanical pencil.1 This afternoon’s all-in-one number play and problem-solving session yielded results.
There are three practical elements that I will enlist to yield the desired results, and they will be backed up by appropriate emotional self care. New, positive habits will be formed over three consecutive thirty-day phases, taking me from the here and now to mid-December 2020.
Each thirty-day phase has the embedded goal of losing two-and-a-half kilograms (five and a half pounds), one third of the desired total loss. The ultimate target weight is not exact. It’s a matter of reaching a desired physical state, which is not based on a number, but which lives in proximity to one.
The three practical elements are:
- Focusing on a more consistently healthy, lower-calorie, more heavily plant-based diet
- More consistent exercise, with the aim of getting something more into my day every day than just my usual walking, and more intense sessions a few days a week
- A strategic pattern of intermittent fasting
These things have all worked marvelously for me in the past, and there is no reason to doubt they will do the same this time around.
Elements of self care include but are not limited to:
- Daily meditation practice
- Daily journaling practice
- Doing what I can to get more and better sleep
- Various positive psychology exercises that have helped before, but which I am still embarrassed to talk about2
These are all things based on personal experience and learning how my mind works. I know what’s worked in the past. I know what’s gotten me out of a long-term funk. I know what keeps me stuck, and I know what gets me unstuck.
If we are immersed in troubles and have the means to address them, it is our responsibility to make use of those means, for our own sake and for the sake of everyone who cares about us and/or depends on us.
We live but once, and I don’t think I’m here to struggle, but to thrive. I have struggled the shitty struggle rather than fought the good fight. I’m not asking for life to be easy, I just don’t want to be the source of my own suffering.
Maybe your life is going well. Maybe not. I don’t know. But nobody’s life is perfect, and so I invite you to join me. Go ahead, do the work and unfuck your beautiful self.
UNF (stands for unfucking) refers to the ongoing process of doing the work of getting back on track and fixing all the stupid stuff I let break in my life. All posts in the UNF category follow this theme.
Has to be a mechanical pencil. Aside from as drawing tools, I cannot grasp how some people like wood-cased pencils as much as they seem to. They’re tools that cannot help but degrade continuously as you use them. ↩︎
If something is sincerely helpful, why should we be loath to talk about it? The perception of “self help” in the public eye is still one of much projected embarrassment. ↩︎