I don’t like exercise.
I mean, it’s not like I hate it, or I think it’s the devil’s workshop or anything; I just… don’t really enjoy it.
I know; it’s good for me. It helps with blood flow. It relieves stress. It lubricates the joints (which is s’posed to make it hurt less when you move them… but doesn’t always work that way…) It’s a healthy way to start the morning. It promotes a healthier lifestyle.
I get all that.
And I want all that.
But… exercising just isn’t really my idea of fun. Plus it usually hurts, a little anyway… and as a chronic pain sufferer, I’ve devoted a whole lot of my adult life to avoiding things that make my body hurt.
Still, somehow this summer I convinced myself that going to the gym five days a week would be good for me. And truth be told, it has been good…
It gets me out of the house every morning. It encourages me take ownership over my pain. It does relieve mental and emotional stress and tension. It gives me a greater sense of purpose and direction than I would have if I wasn’t going to the gym. It puts me in an environment where people are actively seeking to improve their quality of life. And, if I take things easy enough, it lets me (literally) stretch, and grow beyond my self-imposed “limitations.”
You see I’ve had chronic pain for a decade now. And for nine of the past ten years, I allowed the pain to dictate almost every choice I’ve made. I’ve missed family events, church socials, trips to the movie theater, vacations… all because I was afraid I’d be in too much pain to enjoy the experience. (And that I’d be so miserable, that I would just bring everyone else down, as well.)
But this last year… I guess I just got tired of missing out, ya know? I mean, I still hurt. Most of the time, anyway. But since I started exercising… I no longer hurt all the time. (And after nine years of never being able to find a comfortable position… of going to bed in excruciating pain and waking up in the morning and only feeling worse… not hurting all the time is huge!)
* * * * *
I started going to the gym in August. I’d been before, so I at least knew where the gym was located, what it looked like inside, and why people generally went there. (Spoiler: most people go to workout – but just stay away from the guy in the uber tight shorts who talks way too loud and is always grunting and making it look like he’s some kind of superhero or something because he can finally lift five pounds above his head… he’s kind of a weird one…)
I’d even tried physical therapy, and working with a personal trainer, once before… and pushed myself way too hard and decided that exercise was not and never would be my friend! But I was determined this time to make it work… to adopt a new mindset… and develop a new routine… that included actually taking care of myself and learning to do things that were good… for ME…
And exercising at a slow, comfortable pace, and gradually increasing how far I’m willing (or able) to stretch, or to meander (I do NOT run, or jog… or even walk at a brisk pace… but I can meander around the track like it’s nobody’s business)… taking it slow and easy typically works for me.
I started out with maybe a ten minute routine? A few minutes on the elliptical… a few minutes on a machine that resembles a bicycle only the “pedals” have handles on the end and are raised up so that you use your arms instead of your legs.
(Also it doesn’t have any tires and you don’t go anywhere so it’s not really like a bike except that you sit down and sort of “pedal” your arms forward or backward and I guess it’s supposed to help loosen up your upper arms and your shoulders? Anyway that’s what I use it for and I don’t know the actual name of the machine, I only know that it actually helps with my upper back, neck, and shoulder pain… but only when I take it easy.)
And then I’ll end my ‘workout’ with a few minutes walking around the track.
When I keep it simple, and just try to gradually do a little bit more than I did last week, it usually does relieve my pain. And I’m usually able to do more with the rest of my day, than I would have got done in the past, when my pain literally did dictate all my decisions.
But earlier this month I forgot all that and I got a little bit arrogant.
* * * * *
On the last day of September, I went to do my normal workout routine (which now has grown into almost 30 minutes: a few minutes on the elliptical, a few minutes on the arm-bike-thingamajig, a series of pretty intense stretches, and a few laps around the track… I tell you I’m almost ready to go national.)
As I stepped onto the track to do my first lap, I got this wild idea in my head, that I’ve been going to the gym regularly for two months now! And I should really do something spectacular to mark the occasion… so I decided that I would walk more than two laps… so I committed to three laps.
But on my third lap I decided I would go for four… and on my fourth lap I decided I would go for six! And on my sixth lap, I thought to myself “well, seven laps is one mile… and I haven’t done a whole mile in more years than I can remember.”
And I almost called it quits at six laps. You guys, I was hurting at that point. I could tell that I was almost in tears, from the pain that was accumulating in my low back, my neck, and my shoulders. Even though I was taking a casual stroll around the track, and paying close attention to my posture, holding my chest out and my head up, and allowing my arms and shoulders to roll back as far as they possibly could… I was ready to die.
(Not really, obviously; but the pain was getting intense.)
I actually told myself that I dare not do seven laps, or I would surely regret it! And I recognized that voice… as fear telling me to stop before I got hurt… and, I honestly don’t know why… but I told fear to go back to the corner and let me do my thing. (Not the corner that no one keeps Baby in, though; I sent it to the corner where fear actually belongs when it’s behaving like a spoiled two-year-old and it just won’t stop yelling…)
So, I walked an entire mile around the track. And I felt great! Emotionally.
And then I came home, and I felt so sore and tired that I was miserable all weekend.
But you know what? It didn’t matter. I had done something that – even in the moment – I did not believe I was capable of. And I proved to myself that I can do more than my fear and my pain would have me believe. And that victory felt amazing!
* * * * *
(And now we come to the part where I fail… hehehe…)
So the first week of October I wake up, and I decide, “Hey, if I can walk one mile, when I used to think it was impossible… I wonder if I can walk two?” (Short answer: no. Not today, anyway… but it took awhile to figure that out….)
So I made a plan: that Monday morning, I walked ten laps around the track. And I committed that every day that week, I would add one more lap… so that on Friday, I would actually walk fourteen laps… two whole miles… and then I would be AWESOME!!!!!
Um, yeah, what actually happened is I walked twelve laps on Wednesday and inflicted so much pain on my own body by thinking I could just “power through,” that on Thursday I could only walk two laps… and on Friday I didn’t walk any laps at all. (I just went in and did a few minutes on the arm-bike-thingamajig.)
But on Thursday… and for a good part of Friday… I felt like I had failed to achieve my goal.
Well, technically speaking, I had failed.
I set a goal that by Friday, I would be able to walk two miles, and I wasn’t able to meet that goal. (I looked it up, that pretty much is the dictionary definition of failing.)
And no matter how you look at it… failing doesn’t feel good.
It sucks to set a goal, to get excited about the outcome, to work and to strive toward achieving something you’ve never done before… and to come up short… and not achieve it, after all.
It’s a difficult, uncomfortable place to be.
And yet, it happens to everyone of us, every day, week, month, or year of our lives.
We set a goal to do something, to change something, to stop something, to introduce something new into our lives… and we fail to achieve that goal. It’s literally unavoidable. And no matter what this generation of self-help gurus and online coaches tries to sell you on… it never feels good to fail…
But it’s always totes up to us… to decide how much time we spend feeling bad about our failures… before we analyze the situation, figure out what went wrong (if we can; sometimes it’s not possible to actually know), reevaluate our long term goals and vision, and formulate a new revised plan that will either help us to achieve that same goal in the future, or fix our gaze on a new, more appropriate, more desirable goal.
* * * * *
And that (I believe) is what we’re supposed to do when faced with failure… but for most of my life, what I actually did was try to pretend that the failure never happened… or blame it on circumstances outside my control… or make it that other guy’s fault… or act like I didn’t really want the thing I failed to achieve anyway so whatevs dude it doesn’t even matter… or (and this is the one that’s really damaging, for me anyway):
“Don’t look at as a failure! Find a way to make it something positive and tell yourself that you actually did succeed at something – even if that something wasn’t the actual something you originally set out to achieve! It’s only a failure if you think you failed!”
Now… I understand the sentiment in that approach. And I recognize why people encourage each other “not to look at it as failure.” But…
Failure is failure. You can’t gloss over it. You can’t just paint a pretty picture and say, “well I did get this good thing out of it so clearly I didn’t actually fail!” No. If you set a goal and you don’t achieve it… that is a failure.
The mistake… the trap… is in thinking that “failing” at something, makes me a “failure” as a person. And that’s the kind of thinking I used to fight to avoid. Because being a “failure” is like a life sentence… whereas just “failing” at something… is really just an event. Just a brief moment. Hardly even worth noticing. Unless you allow it to ruin the rest of your forever, failure is only a momentary experience… not a life sentence.
It still hurts. It still made me sad that I wasn’t able to walk two miles on Friday. I still felt like I failed to do something that I was really looking forward to doing.
But once I got past the emotional reaction… I realized that it didn’t mean anything about me as a person. It simply meant that wasn’t the right time for me to accomplish that goal. And when you cut through all the noise, and all the nonsense, that’s all failure is, really.
It’s not a condemnation; it’s not a life sentence; it’s not “proof that I’m no good and I’ll never accomplish anything in my life so I better just quit now before I really get my hopes up and have all my dreams totally and permanently crushed…”
It just wasn’t the right time to accomplish that particular goal.
So, you change your goal. Or you change your timeframe. Or you change your approach. Or you identify the steps you needed to take first, but didn’t… or the steps you shouldn’t have taken, but did…
And you go back out, and you try, try again.
And you fail.
And you try.
And you fail.
And you try.
And you fail.
And you try.
And it doesn’t even matter how many times you fail… It doesn’t even matter that you fail… Failure is unavoidable…
What matters… is that when you do fail… you give yourself permission… to get back up.
And try again.
(And that’s all I got.)