It was this time two years ago that I decided to take control of my health, no, for real this time. I decided to get serious, get a coach, and make some major life changes prior to my upcoming birthday in March. I decided to compete and be in the best shape of my life – quite an aspiration for a former gymnast and kickboxer. Needless to say, I had a lot of work to do and it was challenging not to allow myself to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.
So how do you manage your feelings as you aspire to conquer new challenges?
Step one: Make a decision.
If you aren’t sure, you’ll never progress. Success doesn’t happen by chance and it isn’t guaranteed. The only real guarantee is failure. If you aren’t working against that persistent threat of failure, then you will most assuredly succumb to its greedy grip. This is how the undefeated champion can be upset by the underdog. He’s forgotten the hunger for the win and the fear of defeat. He’s relaxed; and a relaxed champion is a vulnerable one. I should know. In the past two years, I’ve gone from overweight desk jockey to bikini pro champion to overweight and back again. Talk about a rollercoaster. The first step in the whole process began with a decision. I made a decision to get into shape and there was nothing anyone could say or do to convince me to change my mind. I was going to do whatever it took, and when that wasn’t enough, I would do what was required.
Step two: Commit.
After making a decision, I wavered in my commitment for about two months. I think it took me two full months to build up enough belief in myself to realize that I could, in fact, accomplish the goal I had set. At first, I decided, but then I wasn’t sure if I could actually pull it off. So many people claim genetics and age are the reason that you are in shape or not. What if I was too old? What if my genetics that used to serve me so well had decided to throw up their arms and give up years later? What if it was truly outside of the realm of my control? After Christmas, I – along with so many people around the world – used the new year to my advantage and took the momentum and hope of a brand new, fresh start to jump start my commitment to the process.
Step three: Get help.
I got a coach. I’m smart, but sometimes, it ain’t all smarts that gets you there. Sometimes, you need someone to hold you accountable. Sometimes, part of the gift of fitness (or whatever your goal) is the mental and emotional strength that comes from learning to accept criticism, critique, and instruction. Being able to accept coaching and help from others was a growth area for me. I wasn’t the best at listening to someone else and doing what they told me. I like to make my own plans and do things my own way. In this area, however, I needed to surrender. I needed to rely upon someone else. I needed to learn how to ask for help. All these things serve me well in my life, but it all started with wanting something so bad I was willing to do the things I didn’t like – ask for help and receive instruction – in order to make it happen. Embrace the hard parts, because the hard parts can sometimes become your biggest strength.
Step four: Be persistent.
Like the previous step, this can be hard for most people. The art of not giving up is a skill worth cultivating. The better you are at persistence, the fewer boundaries you’ll have in any area of your life. Decide that your commitment is worth it and stick to it, even when things seem like they aren’t going your way or when progress is slow or maybe even nonexistent. Refuse to give up and if that’s not working, experiment. Don’t do things the same way over and over again and expect something different to happen, cause that shit cray. You gotta make changes to see changes. So, if you are always giving up, you’ll never see lasting change. Stick it out when times get tough and see how far you can push yourself. I bet you’ll surprise yourself at how much you’re capable of if you just resist that first temptation to give up. That’s the funny thing about temptations, they exist and sometimes seem insurmountable, but if you just resist them for a little bit, their power fades quickly. Resist that piece of candy. Time yourself. Commit to resisting it for exactly five minutes. If you resist for five minutes and you still want it, have just one piece and start over. If you wait five minutes successfully and remind yourself why you want to resist it, I bet you nine times out of ten, you won’t want it anymore.
Step five: Find your why.
Find a reason why you want to make a change and remind yourself every single day.Hint: this should be bigger than just you and self-gratification. I wanted to make a change to prove to myself and to all my friends and family that fitness is a decision and not just a consequence of age or genetics. I wanted my family and friends to be healthy and happy too. I knew if I could find a way to be healthier and happier with myself, I could share those lessons with them. I also wanted to show my niece and nephews that you can set goals and achieve them no matter where you come from. We live in a rural area in central Virginia and I think sometimes it creates a feeling of hopelessness because the school system isn’t that great and there’s a pervasive attitude that somehow life has to be a struggle. I wanted to prove that isn’t the case at all. In fact, that might only serve those of us who are disadvantaged well because it gives us a hunger that people with more money and more education might not have.
Step 6: Maintain.
Once you reach your goal, you aren’t done. You have to work to maintain those accolades, that fit body, that job, that house, that car. I used to hate hearing people say – it’s all about the journey. It seemed so hokey and not useful at all, but after the progression I’ve made to champion, overweight, and back to a fit lifestyle. I can honestly say that enjoying the journey is a huge part of the process. This time, I’m learning to be thankful for my ability to make choices about my lifestyle. I can choose to eat healthier. I can choose to learn about fitness. I can choose to workout. I am not hindered by disabilities or financial limitations or anything that would prevent me from making the changes that make me happy. Some people don’t have that luxury. Some people can’t choose what to eat or even when to eat. Some people rely on the kindness of others for their only meal that day. So now, when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself or wish that it was easier, I remind myself that it is easy! It’s so easy and it’s so worth it and I owe it to myself and to those that cannot choose to follow this path to make the most of my circumstances. I learned to be thankful when my lungs are burning while I’m running because I have legs to run! I can celebrate the burning in my chest because I am not injured or incapable of moving. I can celebrate as I choose not to accept candy every time I’m offered a treat because I know that I enjoy my body and when I want a treat, I can budget for it, but I can enjoy the self-control of knowing when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.
At the end of the day, I’m thankful. I’m thankful that I took this journey. I’m thankful for my failures. I’m thankful because these failures allow me to understand other people’s pain and frustration. I’m thankful for overcoming them because I can help others overcome their struggles by sharing tips, tricks, and strategies that helped me. I’m thankful that I have a support system that believes in me and supports me regardless of how lofty my aspirations.
I’m thankful and I’m happy and I’m still learning how to be better at the balance of it all.