A Curious Co-worker and the Comfort of Routine
Who doesn’t love those ‘before and after’ pictures of body transformations? I bet you’d have a tough time finding someone who isn’t impressed to some degree by the dedication and subsequent reward that these pictures represent. It’s only natural to wonder then if there is a secret to the success of those lovely, lean people with the wide smiles and glowing tans in the ‘after’ pics.
Although there are many ways of achieving those types of changes, I’ve never actually thought about whether there are important, common elements (“secrets”) until someone unexpectedly presented me with a mental challenge on the topic.
First, some background: After decades of struggling with body image, failed diets and workout programs, it dawned on me that I needed help from outside of myself – which my fellow introverts will understand very well. Thanks to an amazing trainer and nutritionist, I was able to transform my body completely. I will go into more detail about this in a separate post, but for all intents and purposes, I became my own ‘before and after’ story.
It was a more profound experience than I had ever expected.
Far more than my physical body changed for the better. My attitude toward life and the people in it were completely altered and I walked around with an abundance of dopamine in my brain from all this positivity. The outward glow showed for the world to see!
Naturally, when something like this happens, people will ask what you’re doing and how you got there.
One day a co-worker who I normally tried my best to avoid (nice fellow, but super chatty and not too good at reading body language) managed to yet again corner me in the lunch room. But instead of unloading the latest deep thought, he asked me: “If you could boil down the key to your body transformation to just one thing, what would it be?”
I was stumped for a moment.
I’ve never heard it put that way. I was getting used to questions about specific angles on exercise and nutrition, but his question challenged me to go introspective. How dare he. And all this with the microwave signaling that my lunch was now heated!
Since this brave soul took the risk of standing between me and food, I figured he at least deserved a real answer to his inquiry.
There are several choices that came to mind that would all be solid candidates. Persistence. Sense of Purpose. Drive. Never Miss Legs Day. Sure, all of that has validity, but none of them seemed to be the ultimate component.
A deeper quality was at work here.
We are all too aware of the fact that we live in a universe that is filled with uncertainty and constant upheaval largely beyond our control. Our protective mind leads us to the calm waters of sweet comfort that is the familiar. The things we don’t have to expend a lot of effort on.
But how does this affect our health and wellness? Like so many other things on life’s journey, it’s a truly double-edged sword. The familiar gives us the mental calm and peace we desire and offers the ‘escape’ or stress relief our busy adult lives long for, but sitting on your laurels is a dangerous position for those of us who look to improve ourselves in any capacity.
To actively change is to face head-on the discomfort of being pulled away from familiar and safe spaces and face our collective greatest fear – the unknown.
So after giving it some honest introspection and reheating my lunch again, the response to my curious co-worker’s question as to the single-most important key to success in any type of transformation or improvement is to make active change the habit.
We humans are master adaptors both in body and mind. The stress we put our bodies through with exercise will eventually be adapted by the body. No growth has to be made anymore and energy can be saved for other functions. Our bodies' reactions to the same stimuli simply disappear over time leading to frustration and burnout. This becomes especially problematic given that desired results of exercise depend on constant exposure to increasing overload.
To actively change is to face head-on the discomfort of being pulled away from familiar and safe spaces and face our collective greatest fear – the unknown. This is not an easy ask and it’s why sometimes we’ll see people in unimaginably bad situations hesitate when they are given an opportunity to escape and even fight tooth and nail to stay where they are.
Those comfort sensors in our brains will naturally always try to pull you back into the calm waters at the first sight of an impending storm, but you are the captain of your ship. You are in charge of which direction your fitness plans and your life go. Staying in still waters is comforting, but there are few greater rewards than going through the storm and finding what you truly desire. For a lifetime of health and fitness – both physical and mental - understanding the importance of this is the very foundation for this journey.
No matter what your specific goals are, make change a constant feature in your health and fitness journey. Regularly vary the types of exercise, reps, weight, equipment, frequency of workouts - absolutely everything – once a month. Nutrition and supplementation are subject to this as well but with different time intervals (longer topic - future post).
Nothing has to be changed all at once either. You could start off by maybe rearranging the order of your exercises or cycling off some supplements. The bottom line here is that comfort equals stagnation. Keep the body guessing on all fronts. You will force muscle growth and increase aerobic capacity by introducing constant newness to your body’s functions.
And here’s something super important to keep in mind: Never feel bad about not succeeding at something the first time. This is hard work you’re doing. You’re up against the force of our very nature, but there’s nothing to keep you from trying again until creating constant change becomes your nature.
Do you have a similar experience you want to share or some tips on how to keep things fresh and new for your mind-body work? Got a question? Leave a comment below. I love to hear other people’s experiences and learn new ways of building a better self physically and mentally.