Mental flexibility –> physical payoff

“… lifters adapt to whenever they choose to train and their choice should be based purely on the time of day that ‘facilitates long-term adherence’.”

So … right now. Right now is pretty weird, right? Does one of these describe your current situation/feelings?

  • You have a job deemed essential, the same childcare arrangements, but your grocery shopping life looks different. You miss the gym and shopping and freedom, but not much else has changed.

  • You are now alone in your home without much contact with the outside world. Work sent you home, essential or not, your closest family doesn’t live with you, and your social life was the gym, church, going out to eat or to the bars.
  • Your school-aged children are now at home all day, your work life is also now at home, and you are all crawling the walls trying to figure out what to do and how to do it, day-by-day, without looking too far ahead — thinking about 7 days from now is crushing.
  • Or maybe life looks a little quieter and slower-paced than normal, and you can’t help but feel relieved. No, that doesn’t mean you’re glad people are getting sick; but maybe you needed a break and didn’t know how to take it. The break has now imposed itself upon your life. I’ve been there before. Post-surgery, I recall feeling like I could relax for the first time in a very long time. Why? My choices had been all but completely removed from me. I could only do the one thing in front of me: rest. Heal. No, it’s not the same situation; but the strange feeling of relief over limited choices, maybe you can understand that.

While I’m definitely on the ‘busier-than-ever’ side of things with both my husband and myself working from home, having pivoted every aspect of our business and work lives to be online, and our kids are all home most of the time, I have been occasionally reflecting on all of the different categories of “time freedom” I’ve had over the years, and how that affected my decisions and actions to take care of myself.

I’m one of the crazies who started working from home 15 years ago, when “telecommute” was still a relatively new word someone made up (nope, it’s not just a new trend to make up words). I had just had my second child, was 100 pounds overweight, and was in a crippling amount of stress partly due to post-Iraq war difficulties. My life consisted of sending a part-day preschooler out the door for the first time ever on a bus *sigh,* breastfeeding a 5-month-old, and trying to learn to cook for an extended family who was staying with us . I grew up with a widowed father who worked 90 hours a week, and he had his couple of meals he prepared; but we didn’t eat around the table much, and I didn’t exactly come into adult life domesticated. A young mom, yes – but did I have any idea how to run a house efficiently, be a working mom, and take care of myself and the others? That was a hard no.

So adding a full-time work-from-home job, a baby nursing on my lap half the day while I edited and proofread, and a body that constantly hurt, likely because of inflammation and extra weight on my joints – and it was time to get comfortable with a new kind of discomfort.

Enter Shaun of the Dead and all of the Rocky movies.

I had an elliptical, a desk in a small office, and a tiny TV with a VCR. Yep, I got my butt on the elliptical and watched movies (or at least tried to zone out my huffing and puffing to movies) for as long as life would allow. Sometimes that required first pumping milk (if you’ve ever done that, you know it’s like a second job!), timing everything with my little ones and my job just right so I could step away from it long enough to sweat – likely only 20 minutes. The other small thing I did was try to stop drinking soda. That’s it.

Was it perfect? No, not at all. Do I wish I had a coach like what my gym currently offers, someone who’d check in with me, know I wasn’t sleeping well, and just tell me what to do that would get me results? HELL YES. But it was my first step towards flexible consistency. I added in some pilates to deal with a herniated disc and back pain, and I started to lose weight and feel better. Daily movement and less soda. That was the start and all I did for months.

The reason this fitness journey continually works for me is that, though I can easily resort back to perfectionist traits, in reality, I know that we all get to make choices about how we not only think about situations, but what we do about them. The rigidity I perceive is often mostly in my own mind. Do we believe the lie that the only way we can get good results, or feel good about being physically active, is if the workout music is just right, or if it feels exactly like it has in the past?

Then, I’m sure you can relate to this – just when I got the hang of what I was doing, my work hours needed to change — or the baby decided to veto napping completely — or the preschooler went completely nuts after a day at school (often, all of the above). Flexibility, though not necessarily my “natural” personality, was demanded of me in order for the adherence, the “stickiness” of my newfound fitness routine to, well, stick. So the specific time of day, maybe that wasn’t the key – the key became the commitment to adapt and decide that whatever I could do was going to be good enough and definitely better than nothing. And it was.

It has continued to be enough over the last 15 years as the 100# disappeared, then partially came back over 2 more pregnancies, moves, job changes, and transitioning to life as a business owner. And while there have been huge improvements in programming, nutrition and exercise adherence, increased muscle mass, and the ability to know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to rest – these all only came about because I repeatedly tried things, failed, recommitted to failure as being part of the process, and then tried again.

I chose to head all of this with the quote from a TNation article I was reading when we first transitioned to working out at home several few weeks ago. After a rough start to the year (2 of my kiddos are preschool-aged children who I swear lick everything and bring illness home), I had barely done any cardio since February. And having been sick myself and then taking care of sick children. I had just gotten back into harder workouts before this all hit. So for me to feel successful, it needed to be just so. Those rigid definitions of success had reentered my brain, yet again.

But there’s no room in my life for just so. If I need just so, I settle for … nothing. Yep, I might just end up throwing it all out. Sound familiar?

Thank goodness for hindsight. As I thought about what this quote meant in my current life setting, I thought about the consistency I’ve managed in being more flexible over the years. It’s 90% of the reason I’m still doing this, 15 years later. It is a lie that anything about this whole thing needs to be perfect. There is so much room, especially in times like these, for ‘good enough.’ ‘Great’ will come again, when the time is right. Barbells and rigs and hero workouts – those will also come again.

One of the reasons I don’t mind going through hard stuff is that I’m setting a precedent, and I can take inventory of the victories I’ve logged when I need to be reminded, man, I’ve got some grit. I’ve clawed my way out of pits before. I’ve shown up for my own life, even when it was just me, locked in a tiny office for the 30 minutes I could grab. I have found, and I can find again, a way to be consistent, steady, and show up again and again. You can say the same.

What if each time you started talking yourself out of doing that thing in front of you – eating a little better, exercising, going to bed earlier – you give yourself permission to just try it this one time. No long-term promises. You don’t have to have the entire future figured out to do one thing a little bit differently; and if it doesn’t work out well, no biggie. Now you know. If it does, now you have a starting point, a flexible framework.

Is it possible that the brain freedom you give yourself could result in a less-stressed body? Fewer tension headaches, foggy brains, caffeine binges and crashes, and more room to give yourself grace for what’s in front of you, and the permission to only think about doing that one thing – *gasp * mediocre well? If you’ve never tried it before, I dare you. I am all about excellence, intensity, and finding out what I’m made of – but I’m also about longevity and mental freedom. The type of ‘flex’ you can get from the mental practice I’m talking about can outlast any pump you can get in a single gym workout.

Let me know how you practice this – it’s really just a practice for all of us, and we’re all in it together.


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