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When Life Changes
Remember that object called a 'pen'? It's time to blow the dust off it.
Photo: Aaron Burden via Unsplash
"A goal without a plan is just a wish" - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Life is unpredictable. I know you know this.
It’s just one of those things that we are all aware of even in the deepest of denials. The most positive people among us have that little alert system somewhere in their minds that is in a constant state of mild attention for whatever may happen next.
When life deals us an unexpected challenge - to whatever degree that may be - our focus tends to shrink to the singular.
We become fixated on the change event, and regardless of its previous importance - all else becomes trivial. We may even wonder how those previous irritants were ever even a 'problem' in the first place.
Fitness goals? Please. That rarely makes the list when upheaval enters our lives.
There is nothing wrong with temporarily suspending the focus on fitness in order to address the issue that we have been dealt. Taking a break is even advisable.
But barring an absolute tragedy, there is hope for our gains yet. It's part of the hope that everything will be ok again at some point down the road.
Sometimes it just takes a little visual reminder.
When s**t hits the fan
Adults in our society are tasked with more deliverables in life than ever before. We are trying to get a foothold in our careers, we are raising kids, juggling work and life and taking care of elderly parents. Perhaps all of the above?
I’m right in the middle of that pack.
For the last 12 years, I have been my mom’s caretaker. My mom has a variety of health issues and requires a whole lot of assistance to enable her to live in her own home safely and with relative comfort.
Lacking siblings, I kind of fell into this role slowly over the course of time and the gradual worsening of my mom’s health.
Throughout those years, there have been periods where my mom’s health problems became so acute that she had to be hospitalized.
The first few times this happened, I automatically threw everything else aside. I stopped going to the gym, ate whatever was convenient and spent a lot of time sitting on a chair in my mom’s hospital room. Fitness goals? Please.
But it was specifically during those highly stressful and energy-sapping periods that a certain self-preservation started to kick in for me.
I don’t know if this is necessarily unique to how my mind works, but when a traumatic thing happens over and over again, the mitigation processors in the brain start doing something interesting.
The mind starts shifting from pouring all available energy into solving the current problem to planning around a dreadful possibility: what if this never actually ends? What if this is life from here on in?
Whether that’s a scary idea brought on by immense stress or a sort of setting the stage for the rational to start pulling order out of chaos, I don’t know. That part would probably require a lot of research and therapy.
What I do know however, is that it was that feeling that got me looking at ways to handle the situations I’m handed and maintain focus on my own well-being.
And just a side note: doing both is not selfish.
There are good reasons why you’re supposed to put your oxygen mask on first before attempting to help anyone else.
But more importantly, there is a way to look at your current situation as an opportunity.
It may just be a way to not neglect your health during tough patches and to lay down foundations for when the brighter days return.
Photo: Chris Lawton via Unsplash
Start to write
Normally, one would think that the whole idea behind writing is strictly reserved for the mental aspects of a person.
It's no secret that writing down our thoughts, whether they represent what's currently going on, what happened in the past that's still bugging us or what we want for our future helps a great deal.
However, as all complex human actions begin in the mind, there is no reason to believe that we can’t translate mental strength into the physical.
I'll say it again: during times when we are in upheaval due to circumstances that we don't have control of (yet), the last thing on most folks' minds is getting to the gym.
But the truth is that it is precisely during those times that we need to create hope. And the most potent hope is created by ourselves.
So, start a ‘Wellness Journal’.
Use a pen to create it. And I mean an actual, physical pen. At the expense of sounding horribly tacky, it just works better when you need to feel the words.
Write down what your innermost desire is for your fitness goals. Without guilt. Without shame. It’s your journal.
This journal can then be revised in any way you want the future to look like. Read it when you need it. It will remind you of the all-important "why".
All about the base
In this journal, establish a 'baseline'. You may not have the time or mental/physical capacity to do full-scale what you did before your world changed. Write down what you will do at a minimum. This can be things like water intake and paying attention to what you are eating. If you can sneak in some exercise - no matter what form - write down what those will be and when you will do them.
Stay realistic when establishing these goals. The physical and mental bar should be reachable here. You already have enough on your plate. If there is a time of day when you tend to be less busy than at others – that’s the time to schedule in your chosen activity. Work with what you have.
When we don’t have a massive upheaval in our lives and things are kind of humming along as they normally do, we can focus more on achieving new heights. In fact, it’s something we should do in the name of progress. But for the time being, root everything in the current reality.
Promises to keep
Whenever you have a little bit of time, get out that wellness journal and write down some promises to be good to yourself.
Make them concrete, workable promises and make sure to spell out the reasons for it.
This can be something fairly simple such as "I promise that I will treat myself extra well during this tough time because I deserve it and I will come through this better than I've ever been before. I will do this by drinking xx glasses of water every day because I feel better and think clearer when I'm hydrated."
You can do this with anything. Eating healthy, exercising, reaching out to friends and family to support you and cheer you on, whatever you feel will be of help to keep you on track.
Listing the purpose and the benefits of your actions is very powerful. It allows your head to wrap around these necessary steps in an intrinsic way. After all, the words you are reading came from an innermost part of you.
Getting to it
When you do put the steps you planned for yourself in action, some mindfulness will go a long way. Being in the moment while you're performing the task anchors your mind to it easier. It will feel more and more natural and as part of you as merely walking from one place to another.
If you’re not feeling it, don’t punish yourself. This is not about self-criticizing. Maybe try the activity for 5-7 minutes. A nice, short timeframe.
Sometimes when we don’t feel like doing something, it just takes a small step and the rest will flow. If after those minutes have passed, you’re still not feeling it, stop and move on.
You’ve already just done far more than your old self would.
The bottom line
It’s pretty amazing how the actions of writing things down and then looking at our own words work.
Setting our own goals, baselines, promises and actions can have great impact when we need it most.
Neuropsychologists have dubbed this the “generation effect”. That is, the information that people create for themselves just ‘sticks’ better than something that they’ve read by someone else.
The visuals of this comprehensive plan you write down keep the whole picture at the forefront of the brain. This way your mind stays primed for the ultimate in self-care at a time when your energies are taken up by something else.
I believe in this wholeheartedly because I’m living proof that it works.
And by the way, if you really want to be proactive about it, there’s nothing to say that you can’t write a wellness journal right now.
It will be ready for you for when life changes again.
Until next time,
Be your greatest motivation!
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