“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.” – Ned Pepper
“Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” – Rooster Cogburn
The most iconic line in either version of the movie True Grit happens when Rooster Cogburn is pushed into a killing rage when he’s called fat. That was just the last straw. Fat shaming apparently existed in the Old West, and you did it at your own peril.
Grit. Resolve, strength, determination. These are concepts I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. My four readers know that I’ve been on this crusade to get healthy, both in body and in mind. Seasonal affective disorder took its toll during winter and my exercise dropped to once or twice per week, which isn’t going to cut it if I’m serious about Captain Hammer. This was unacceptable, so I reassessed my objectives.
A crucial part of determination is motivation. I know about the health risks of obesity, and while avoidance of them is certainly important, if I’m honest, that’s the icing on the cake. Or in my case, the spinach on the more spinach.
My personal motivation stems from three sources.
A long time ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, when she said to me “You talk a great game. You say important, worthwhile things. But you’re not really much of a doer.”
You couldn’t have gotten a stronger reaction had you called Marty McFly a chicken. You would have gotten Malcolm Reynolds less riled by telling him what’s what aboard Serenity. She said my talk was good, but that’s all I was. Talk. She didn’t know at the time, but she made an impact that changed me forever.
This is the first of my driving factors. A burning need to prove that I am more than empty words. Every time I feel like stopping, or taking a break, almost immediately the voice of reason in my head (which is one mean-spirited son of a bitch) is telling me that I’m a fraud. Years and 119 pounds later, this is still a raging fire.
This leads to a funnel effect with my efforts. When I’m happy, I exercise to capitalize on the momentum. When I’m angry, I exercise because the endorphins will blunt the impact of the negativity and allow me to gain a more clear view of what the problems are. A lot of times, they are beyond my control. I can’t fix them, but when I work out, I’m making something better. When I get sad, I get angry at myself for moping, and the anger leads me to the gym, etc. etc. There are far worse ways to deal with your problems, even if there are parts of me that worry that I’m using exercise as a medication. Lately it’s been my answer for everything.
Secondly, is the knowledge of all the things I’m missing. At my daughter’s last birthday party, I invited some friends of mine and their kids. The party was held at one of those places with all of the inflatable slides and obstacle courses and such. My friends got onto them racing each other and playing with the kids. Oh, the envy. Let’s just say that the jolly green giant was a bit less jolly that day. A few weeks ago, I attended my first roller derby match. It took approximately 10 minutes of watching the game before I decided that this was something I was going to do, and nothing on heaven or earth was going to stop me. Be it from fear, shame or the physical limitations of reality, my weight is keeping me from doing things I love. Fuck. That. Noise.
Which leads me to the third motivator. I am hesitant to discuss it, but in the interest of honesty, full disclosure and the hope that someone takes something valuable away from this, I will charge bravely forth. I am driven by vanity. I want to feel good about the way I look. I want to feel good about the odds of my bravado not getting me killed. I thrive when I win my secret competitions at the gym with people in much better shape than I am. The DietBet we have going on has armed me with a laser focus. And well, people are just nicer to you when you’re not heavy. This includes yourself.
Speaking of kindness to oneself, it’s also super important to understand that these ideas are not limited to improving physical fitness. In another history lesson, the same friend that chided me on a lack of action had years before told me “Joe, as your friend who cares about you, I can tell that you are desperately unhappy. I’m going to tell you something, because I honestly don’t think you know. You have as much right to happiness as anyone else.” She was right, I just didn’t understand that. I had lived for years in a near constant state of anger, bitterness and hate, using all of my emotional energy to keep those feelings below the surface. Those words hit me like the proverbial Mack truck, and once I took them to heart, everything changed.
There are none of us without damage. None of us without scars. Scars that still ache long after the wound that created them is gone…because we keep the pain alive ourselves. A lot of us have a horrible habit of picking at them to make them bleed again, so that we have something to nurse. We’re afraid that we don’t deserve better than what we have, so we don’t look. We save ourselves the disappointment which will compound on the insecurities we’re already struggling with. We think we are dealing ourselves a kindness, but nothing could be further from the truth. When we stay inside licking our wounds, we’re spending our most precious and finite resource – time – on something that isn’t making our lives better. I am speaking to my own experience here, which I imagine will parallel with many, but certainly not all. These issues are not exactly black and white, and it can be tricky to differentiate between letting yourself feel something (and therefore processing it in healthy and ultimately productive fashion) and stewing in it in a miserable attempt to protect yourself from being hurt again. Healing happens on a continuum, and not always a linear one. The effort to improve here, like anywhere else, is what matters.
I have only a few real fears, and chief among them is that I will look back someday and see all the things that I didn’t do, and know that it was because of me that I didn’t. I can’t really imagine a worse feeling, so I actively work against this. I don’t allow negativity to stay. It shows up every now and again, same as anyone else. If I can’t stop it, I let it crash on the couch for a night, but the next day you better believe I kick it right the fuck out. There’s too much good and not nearly enough time. I’m not inclined to waste it. No one can rid themselves of the past and the marks it leaves, so my motivation here is to take ownership of my demons, and put them to work making things better. Because it’s a smart move. Because you’re damn well worth it.
Motivation from any source is valid. “Wah wah wah! I don’t feel pretty!” may seem like a damned shallow reason for wanting to lose weight or improve yourself otherwise, but it doesn’t matter. If that’s what works, you run with it. Be honest with yourself. As long as it’s something that forces action, that’s all that matters. If you want to talk stupid, when this process started for me, I was hellbent on losing weight in the pursuit of revenge. Revenge against people that could not possibly care less and were more than likely utterly oblivious to my actions. Try that one on for size. Thankfully I grew out of it.
Your path is going to be unique to you. Even if we share everything I’ve talked about in common, our experiences are guaranteed to be wildly different, even with the same goal and means to get there. Sapphire is not aquamarine, which is not cerulean, which is not cornflower, which is not some other fancy word for “blue.” You are the hero of your story, so act like it.
This fire starts with a single spark. The trick here is figuring out how to turn that spark into a well-tended fire, and then to keep on tending it without burning out. You can’t get by on sparks alone. Whatever motivates you, no matter how absurd you think it is, you take hold of it and you ride it until you’ve got a better adventure to chase.
So motivation is key, but the desire is only as good as the follow-through. Determination is crucial, and the stakes don’t get much higher. This is a war. It’s a tired cliche, but cliches don’t get to be cliches without a lot of truth to them. This is a war, and it’s against yourself which makes it significantly more difficult, as you are inclined to show mercy to the enemy. It’s not for the faint of heart, it’s not for the weak-willed, but if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: You’re worth the fight, and if you want to win this war, it will take nothing short of true grit.