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I’m back, and I survived!

1 Jun

It has been an extraordinary journey over the last 9 weeks. My face to face study time has finally reached it’s end, and with the exception of completing some written assessment tasks, I have made it through my training to qualify as a Personal Trainer! While there has been a lot of pressure and stress, there has also been a lot more in the way of fun and learning, and I have had the pleasure of meeting, studying with and working with some really amazing human beings, who I will count not only as colleagues, but also as friends.

Each person that I worked with was unique and wonderful, and each also taught me a little more about myself.  From one of these new friends I learned a lot more about how inner strength and fitness are intertwined, and how believing in yourself can really make a difference with how you face and ultimately overcome the adversities that cross your path from time to time. This person also pointed me to a really great quotation by Socrates:

“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

Those of you who know what it is to have been in a place in life where you don’t enjoy a great physical quality of life will probably find that this quote really resonates with you. I know that it does for me personally from my own experiences, and yet it also resonates in terms of my experiences during my course.

One of the great joys I have is when I teach someone something and I can see an improvement in their knowledge or skill. This was something I really got a kick out of when I used to be a kids soccer coach, and in the years since I had almost forgotten what it felt like. Those “feel good” vibes came back quite strongly during my PT course when I spotted some problems in a basic movement pattern with one of my colleagues, and I was able to use my newly learned skills to correct the movement pattern. Not only did I feel really pleased to have done something that helps someone else, I could also see with my own eyes what it is that Socrates was banging on about when he made is quote. There really is great beauty in watching a body move efficiently, and yet for the person who is moving efficiently there is also this delight that appears on that person’s face, and a sense of satisfaction when they realise that they can do something that they weren’t necessarily aware they were already capable of.

When we feel that our bodies are letting us down, it can be easy to convince ourselves that we can’t do something. We can convince ourselves that failure is inevitable, or that it will take a long time and incredible effort in order to overcome whatever obstacles prevent the thing from being achieved. In some cases this may actually be true, however for many this can simply be because they don’t really know how to move their bodies efficiently, and a few simple corrections to posture and technique can reap huge rewards in a very short time.  For myself, I have never been able to do something as straightforward as a chin-up, which has admittedly affected my enjoyment when I am rock-climbing because certain movement patterns will tire me very quickly. So imagine my delight when I completed my first ever chin-up only a few weeks ago, and how now within only a few weeks of training I can now do 3 in a row!!

I saw something similar in others, where a weight was difficult to lift or a movement difficult to do, and when I corrected their posture and movement they were able to comment that yes they felt I had worked them hard, and yet the work itself became easier after the corrections. In a couple of people, their obstacles were less physical and more in the way of mental barriers. One person in particular kept telling me “I won’t be able to do…” certain things, and yet with a little mental coaching and encouragement, this person found the motivation within to persevere and apply the inner strength required to break the mental barrier and achieve more than she thought she would be able to do. I felt great pride in this person for her achievement, and so pleased that I had the ability in that moment to coach her past her blocks. Even better though was the “payback” when it was her turn to train me, and she pushed me harder than I might otherwise have worked myself. Karma may be a bitch, but it can also be incredibly fulfilling on both sides.

I’ll admit that I had some doubts when I entered the course that I might not have the ability to succeed as a personal trainer, and when the stress started to rise, those doubts began to talk louder in my brain. Now at the end of my training, I’ve realised that those doubts were some of my own mental barriers that I hadn’t realised I would need to face. I feel very pleased to be able to say that I’m hungrier than ever for this new career I have chosen. I know that I will be a great PT because I love helping others to achieve, and because I really do believe that it would be the greatest shame if my future clients could not enjoy the beauty of their bodies which they have an inherent right to achieve.

So what’s next? Well, the good news is that I have a job to go to. I’ve been asked by the PT Director of a local gym to attend their staff induction, and within the next couple of weeks I’ll be working for myself as a contractor and personal trainer in a place that is less than a 20 minute drive from where I live. I’m finishing off my assessments so that I can officially receive my certificates, which I will need in order to get my fitness industry registration and insurance, and I am rapidly creating the processes and products that I will need to start running my own small business in Fitness and Personal Training.

Yes… this shit just got real people!!

I am really excited about getting myself out there helping others to grow, achieve their goals, and fulfil some of their dreams. In doing so, I’ll be achieving a few of my own as well. 🙂

Finally, to those of you special people who have been following my blog and my journey, and who’s lives have touched mine, I’m so glad to be back!!  I’ll be allocating blog time so that my own physical fitness journey – which is far from over – will continue to be a feature here. I’m looking forward to catching up with all of you very soon to see how you’ve been going and to reconnect after being away for so long.

What do you do when the wheels fall off the bus?

23 Mar
Failure_Freeway

Failure_Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

To say that I’ve had a tough past couple of weeks would be an understatement of epic proportions. I won’t go into all of the details, so suffice to say that I’ve been on the proverbial emotional roller-coaster, and that life has decided to chew me up and spit me out for yet another attempt at trying to get my shit together. I’m not going to make any excuses, and whatever the reasoning is won’t change the fact that the past couple of weeks have been a write-off in terms of diet and exercise.

Yes, somewhere along the journey I fell off the wagon… well, perhaps not completely off the wagon, and it wasn’t entirely falling off either. It is more like I went and took a running leap to try and get off the wagon, only I’ve tripped, got my foot caught, and ended up being dragged along by the wagon with my foot still on it and the rest of me bumping along the path while I lie there thinking to myself “WTF am I doing?!!”.

So where have I failed?

  1. I haven’t been drinking nearly enough water. I am probably mildly dehydrated, and have probably been this way for over a week now.
  2. I haven’t paid much attention to my food, so I haven’t been eating nearly enough vegetables, nor have I been eating a wide enough variety of colours or types of vegetables.
  3. I’ve been lazy about getting my exercise. The last workout I put any effort into was when my kids were here about 3 weeks ago, when I went for a run with my youngest son. Since then, I’ve ignored my weights, bands, routine, gym clothes… all of it.
  4. I’ve not been getting nearly enough sleep. Waking early, and going to bed late.

These don’t appear to be very good signs for a future personal trainer do they. I mean, how can I expect people to take my advice seriously if I can’t even stick to it myself? What do I expect is going to happen, how am I going to make a success out of my new career, and what will become of all of those future clients that I want to help?

The last couple of paragraphs show you how easy it can be to create a negative mind set around a problem area in your life, and is really the culmination of all of the negative behaviours that we learn as children, and which are reinforced as we become adults. Yes, all of this negativity is learned behaviour, and we all know that negativity can be a bad thing when it becomes a focal point in your life and in how you deal with the challenges that life places in your path.

So what can you do to prevent negative emotion having it’s way and bringing your life to a standstill? How can you ensure that negative emotion won’t either send you or return you to an emotional place where you don’t wish to be, and how can you create an emotional environment for yourself that will help you to keep yourself focussed on your goals and ultimately motivated to achieve them regardless of the emotional hurdles which you face? I believe that the answer to these questions is really all about understanding your priorities, understanding where you are emotionally, and deciding for yourself how you wish to live emotionally.

Yes, what I am saying here is that you can actually choose to exist in a poor emotional state, and when you live in a place where you surround yourself  with negativity, you yourself have chosen to be there. No one made you do it. Nobody is forcing you to live that way. It is something that you have deliberately chosen to do – even if only subconsciously – and all because it is your response to life’s challenges which you unfortunately learned from your parents, teachers, bosses, and others who all seem to believe that teaching through failure means to hold up failures as examples to be made and to feel bad about, rather than examining how failures occur in order to better understand them and to learn from them.

negative feedback system

negative feedback system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clinging to negative examples in life doesn’t teach you to learn from them. It instead sets up a negative feedback cycle that gains strength with every additional failure, and it encourages you to behave in a manner that is consistent with feelings of guilt, poor self worth, and depression. The longer you live your life in this state of mind, the more attractive negative thought and emotion becomes, the more normal it seems to be in a negative state, and the more learned and ingrained will negative behaviour become. So much so that you can reach a point where you and can feel as if a negative state of being is normal and that you can’t remember ever living any other way.

As I mentioned, I believe it comes down to a question of priorities. I’m talking about choices here, and how it’s up to you to choose how you wish to live your life. Do you choose to live your life surrounding yourself with negative emotion, feeling negative, and focussing only on your negative thoughts? Or, do you choose to take each moment in life one at a time, to face your problems and your negative feelings, and to use those negative emotions as a teacher rather than as a torturer? Or to put it more simply – and perhaps a little less dramatically,  do you strive to be happy or do you choose to give up and be unhappy?

For me personally, I find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude all of the time, let alone when life keeps sending me curve-balls and sliders, when all I want is a good fast ball that I know I can hit. The thing is, you need to accept in life that you don’t always get what you ask for, and there is no point getting all pouty and depressed when you aren’t getting things all your way. I do like to believe though that like the song says, while you don’t always get what you want you will often find that you get what you truly need, and often you won’t realise this until a lot of time has passed and with the benefit of hindsight you can appreciate how things eventually ended up.

I consider myself very lucky to be able to recall two very profound moments in my life where I found myself aware enough to recognise in that moment that I was getting something that I truly needed. In both cases they were words of advice which not only changed my outlook in life, but which also came to be incorporated into my own core values. The first happened about 5 months prior to separating with my ex-wife back in 2007, and while the advice given was something I already strived for in myself, I don’t believe I truly understood it or recognised it until it was spoken to me.

Sadly I don’t recall the name of the guy who I was speaking with. I do remember that he was a psychologist at the time, working as a marriage counsellor with Humaneed in Carlton, Melbourne. I had travelled to see him to engage his services as a marriage counsellor, and to help me find a way to try and recover the shreds of a very sad and tattered marriage. While his advice and work didn’t get me the result I had asked him for, he did give me some very good advice that has stayed with me for many years now, as well as some tools to recognise how unrecoverable my marriage was, and how I could survive those awful days after separation when I didn’t get to see or hear from my sons for several weeks.

What this psychologist said to me was the following:

“When it comes my time to die, I’d like to think that I will end up standing before the gates of heaven, and that in order to pass in I will be asked a single question… ‘What have you learned?’ “.

This single statement has had a profound effect on my life. While I’m uncertain whether I should believe in a heaven, pearly gates, and white-winged folk with little gold halos, the mental picture that it created for me was such that it has stayed with me as something to reflect on whenever I am faced with a negative moment, and sometimes it’s something I reflect on during some of the more positive moments as well. For me this has grown as a concept, so that when I personally reach that inevitable moment in my life where it is time for my own journey to end, I’d like to be able to reflect not only on all of the things that I have learned, but also on the number of lives I will have been able to touch in a positive way.

The real message behind this story however, is that it was a very timely piece of advice that came to me when I needed it most, and that in some ways continues to come to my aid in those moments that come from time to time where I fail to get what I want, and when it is this reminder of something that I truly need, and that is to learn from all of my experiences in life so that my life can be enriched by all of those experiences, and by that I mean both the positive and the negative ones.

The second really profound moment for me is both about some words of advice, and also about a way to approach everything in a way that really reinforces the lessons which I learned through my earlier experience. it was another psychologist by the name of Rob Cunningham who I went to see when I  found myself dealing with an emotional breakdown round the middle of 2011. I have written before about how it is thought which creates emotion, and it was Rob who taught me about this by getting me to keep a thoughts diary, where I only needed to write a couple of lines to note how I was feeling, and what I was actually thinking about as I felt it.

Rob also taught me about another concept called mindfulness, which I have more recently learned is a practice inherited from Buddhist tradition that has been a very useful tool in the Western psychologist’s bag of therapeutic tricks. While Rob help me to learn to become more mindful – that is more self-aware – as a means to treat anxiety and depression, he may not have realised that he was also giving me a tool which is also very useful in helping me to find enrichment in my life through all of the experiences that I encounter.

As I was learning to become more mindful, it was like I was having one of those light-bulb moments of pure clarity, where something very profound and difficult to understand has suddenly become easy and so meaningful that it makes you wonder how you could have been getting by in life without having realised it before. I could see at the time that I had a long way to go to learn to employ mindfulness effectively, and yet I could also see that being mindful was not simply a way to distract me from my negative thoughts, but was rather something I could use to examine thought in such a way that I didn’t need to focus too heavily on it to understand it, and to learn from it.

Even better for me was the realization that I could enjoy the benefit of learning just as well from my positive experiences and thoughts as I could from the negative ones, and in some ways it was this process that not only set me firmly on a path towards recovery from long term anxiety and depression, but which also taught me to open my mind to greater possibilities in life and to be more receptive to them. So much so that I don’t believe I would have found my desire to become a personal trainer had I not allowed myself to be mindful and open to the possibility that I could do something else quite fulfilling in my life.

So as I often do I start one story, yet I end up telling another. The thing is that the two are intimately related. You see, it’s because of these profound experiences that I had – a kind of “spiritual awakening” if you like to think about these things in such terms – that I feel gives me the ability to look back over recent events on my life quite objectively. And just as I prefer it to be, I have remembered to be mindful, to reflect on my recent experiences, and to see what I have learned.

Yes, I slipped into a bad habit of neglecting my dietary intake of water, and yes I’ve been lazy with some of my meals and maintaining a good dietary balance, yet I have also experienced something very positive, and that is that I have maintained the quality of the foods which I have been eating, and I have not slipped into a habit of binging on processed foods. I can be proud of myself because I’ve changed some habits and I no longer seek comfort in food, nor do I use negative experiences and emotions as an excuse to go off and cheat on my diet. I have also been paying more attention to my fluid intake, and I have nearly returned myself to the strict hydration habit that I was trying to instil in myself before my “March Madness” began.

Yes, I have been lazy about my workouts. I have however been moving a lot of furniture and other things about the house, and when I have found myself in places where it is customary to sit, I have learned that sitting for extended periods of time has now become incredibly uncomfortable for me. So much so that my legs kind of “hurt” in a way that encourages me to stand up and move around, and when my back starts to feel sore, I do my little hula exercise, and a couple of Psoas stretches, and after a short while the pain goes away.

Even though I have skipped out on the exercise, by maintaining my diet, and encouraging myself to stand more often, I have also continued to lose excess body fat, and a recent weight measurement shows that I am now at least 1 kg lighter without any additional effort required. In other words, my journey hasn’t really stalled or failed, it has simply gone into a temporary recess, awaiting the return of my more positive and enthusiastic self.

Yes, I also found myself not getting enough sleep, and this is probably because my water intake became quite low. The thing is that I am recovering in this area also, because I recognised the problem, I connected the cause with the symptoms, and I have taken action to correct the problem. In other words, I have become proactive about dealing with each of these things that I have seen as negative symptoms of the events which have been occurring in my life.

So what do you do when the wheels fall off your personal “bus”? You stop the bus, get out, step back, and look at the problem from a distance, look at each wheel in turn, and if a wheel has fallen off take action to put the wheel back into its place, and when the bus has all of it’s wheels again, get back on the bus and continue your journey.

photo credit – theboringrunner.com

For those of you who hate metaphors, I’ll spell it all out with a little psycho-babble thrown in for good measure: You take a moment, try to be mindful of your situation and how you are reacting to the situation in your thoughts. You take each problem that you face, examine it mindfully, accept that it has happened, see what you can learn from the experience, and then take steps to return yourself to a place where it doesn’t matter what the problem is or whether it happened, and you permit yourself to move forward from the experience with an open mind. You deal only with those immediate problems which you feel are barriers to your self-improvement or life journey, and you leave the others until you actually need to address them. Then, you simply return to travelling your life journey one moment at a time.

I have also learned that I don’t necessarily need to maintain a positive mindset all of the time, and that’s it’s OK to have negative thoughts from time to time. No emotion is truly bad, yet how we respond to those emotions and what we choose to do in response to those emotions is important and something that we need to be more mindful of. In reflecting on all of this, I have reminded myself of the things that I feel are most important to me, and I have remembered that I would rather learn from my failures than sink back and wallow in them.

In my own recent experience, while it may have felt at the time that I had thrown myself under the wheels of the wagon I should have been on, the reality is that things were only feeling so bad because I allowed myself to feel that way. I learned that I was mistaken, and that I didn’t need to feel this way. I learned that my journey hadn’t ended, but rather that it simply took a detour and that it was up to me to determine the length and quality of the detour. I learned that even while I felt myself failing at some of my goals and tasks, I was also succeeding at most of my other goals and tasks.

Something else that I’ve taken away from all of this is that the purpose is not to balance successes against failures to determine how well or how badly I have done. Instead, the purpose is to either try alternate strategies when a failure occurs and keep trying until I feel comfortable that I have reached a point of success, or to reflect on the failure, learn from it, and to identify if my goals are sensible and achievable, or if I should be redefining my goals to better reflect my abilities and my needs.

What all of this means is that I don’t need to feel guilt, or low self esteem simply because I have failed to achieve my goals. I don’t need to allow myself to become depressed. I can instead choose to take something positive out of every negative experience, because no matter how tenuous the positive connection may be, it is still a good thing and something to feel good about. So for every negative experience and thought you might have, remember that there is something positive to learn, and that in itself is a small goal that you can set yourself to achieve every time something occurs in your life, regardless of how you might otherwise choose to feel about it.

Today was supposed to be a “rest” day!

16 Feb

If you knew me 15 years ago and held me up against the person I am today, you probably wouldn’t believe that I was the same person.

Exercise? Strenuous physical activity? Healthy food?!! Surely that couldn’t be me?!!

Fast forward to today and here I am doing regular workouts, eating a healthy diet, and turning my life around. The funny thing though is that it seems like I am trading addictions, going from being addicted to junk foods and sitting in front of the TV to my new addictions of healthy food and exercise. Yes, it’s true, I’m becoming addicted to the workouts. So much so that on my recovery day when I am supposed to be avoiding a workout, I choose instead to work some of the muscle groups that I didn’t work yesterday.

Yes, it’s true, I deliberately set up some weights and worked through a short set of exercises to make my arms and chest ache as much as my calves do after my run yesterday:

  • Dumbell Hammer Curls
    • 10kg x 10 reps
    • 8kg x 12 reps
    • 6kg x 16 reps
  • Bench Press
    • 35kg x 10 reps x 3 sets
  • Incline Pressup
    • 10 reps x 3 sets

Yeah, I’ve kind of totalled my arms and chest today, but it feels like it was well worth it! 😉

I’m enjoying the workouts so much, that I’m thinking of revisiting my 28-day workout plan to reduce the number of recovery days. I figured at first that I should include the  recovery days to avoid over training, but given I tend to keep my workouts short and intense, I figure I could do more HIIT workouts during the week, have a larger more gentle workout at the weekend, and if I am careful about how I arrange my workouts so that I target different specific fitness goals, I can reduce the number of recovery days and still avoid overdoing things.

Perhaps it’s the vanity that comes with enjoying how my body is changing to fit the image I have in mind of a fitter and more healthy me. Maybe it’s the release of endorphins as I exercise, or perhaps it could even simply be that I am enjoying the sensation of muscles that ache with honest effort and not because of weakness and neglect. Whatever it is, it seems that I’m hooked, and I seem to have a new motivator to help me keep on track with my goals.

Yes, I know I’ve written before that my why is powerful enough to keep me motivated to keep working hard to achieve my goals, however I’m now realising that motivators don’t necessarily need to affect you as if you are an unwilling slave who needs to be driven with a stick to push you to reach your goals. Motivators can also be the carrot which lures you into making an effort and actually wanting to make that effort simply because you are going to enjoy doing it.

I’m making sure that the workouts are deliberately challenging, either by pushing the intensity or by picking exercises that I personally find are either difficult or something that I’m not used to. Each time that I complete a workout, or an exercise, rather than feeling hot, bothered, sweaty & tired, I’m now simply feeling as though I have achieved something – as well as being sweaty and tired! I feel as if I am a step closer to my goals, but I am also feeling stronger, more capable, and perhaps even a little more confident. On top of all of this, I just get this urge to be physically more active, and if I’ve had a relatively low activity day, I feel compelled to pick a few exercises or set up some weights, and to work my muscles until I feel both spent, and satisfied.

I know that I set my feet on this path months before I actually committed to this personal journey, and yet it’s also less than 2 months since I began transforming myself and I feel I have already achieved so much. The achievements though seem to be more personal than physical, and while those physical changes are still very important goals to me, I’m realising that they are only the tip of the iceberg, and that the most profound changes are the ones which are allowing me to rediscover the person who I truly want to be. I am letting go of all of the things that I allowed to hold me back for so many years, and learning to embrace new and exciting possibilities in my life that allow me to be a better me.

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