Most of you know by now that I am on a quest to get my mojo back. After five years sitting in front of my computer screen eating Oreos, writing blog posts and producing two kids, I thought it was time to get back in shape.
My first tentative step was to join a gym six months ago. I worked out one day, then paid the membership for six months without even putting my hand on the front door one time.
Then about two weeks ago, something snapped. Or rather, didn’t snap, as in most of the pairs of pants I have in my closet. My four-year old Josh said “Mom, why don’t we go to that place where you lift heavy things and get healthy?” I couldn’t argue with that and signed up to work out with a trainer.
Two weeks into the process, I am four and a half pounds lighter and feeling much better.
As I was warming up on the treadmill yesterday, it dawned on me that there are direct parallels between taking the first step out of a dreaded cubicle job and slowly melting five years of Oreos off your frame.
Here are my parallels:
- There will never be a better time to begin than right now.
It is a little crazy to focus on getting in shape the week before Thanksgiving, isn’t it? That is what I did, even though I knew it would be a challenge to eat in moderation while huge platters of mashed potatoes and gravy were passed under my nose. I didn’t count calories and skip pumpkin pie, but because I was feeling sore from workouts I simply didn’t want to eat three times more food than my body needed (only twice as much).
Cube correlation: There will always be a time that makes “more sense” to start working on your plans, like after the holidays, or your annual bonus payout, or when you get through the piles of work on your desk. Don’t fool yourself. These small delays add up to weeks, months and years of thwarted plans. Take a tiny step right now, this moment, even before finishing this post. Then come back and read the rest.
- Make tasks concrete
I love big picture planning and creative possibilities. But when I am focused on a specific goal, I want to know exactly what I have to do to complete it. When my trainer tells me “do as many push-ups as you can, ” I HATE it. Tell me to do 25 and I will do them. Give me three sets of 10 and my brain will coerce my body into compliance.
Cube correlation: You need to move vague ideas into specific tasks. “Create a profitable business next year” needs to move to tiny little tasks like “Create a 10/20/30-style PowerPoint presentation for new partners.” or “Write first paragraph of book proposal.” Your brain will get overwhelmed with huge, overarching tasks, and will end up doing nothing, or at least much less than your true capabilities.
- Schedule the time
For six months, I paid gym membership dues while thinking “I am going to get in shape really soon.” In the meantime, my calendar filled up with meetings, calls and writing projects. This changed when I added “training session with Brandon” and “Yoga, 9-10am” to my schedule. Mixed among my “important” other weekly activities, it suddenly became real.
Cube correlation: Change “I am going to start coding my new project next week” to “Write first 3 lines of code on new project, 7-8 am, Tuesday, December 15.” Guard this time fiercely, and don’t try to cram in too much to each session.
- You aren’t crazy if you panic while trying to get started
How hard is it to do 10 sit ups or eat a salad or walk around the block? About as hard as climbing Mt. Everest, if you let your thoughts get the best of you.
The wonderful Merlin Mann recommended I read The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp. I loved her description of stepping into an empty white room before composing a new dance piece:
“To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying. It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his finger hovering above the keys. Some people find this moment – the moment before creativity begins- so painful they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.”
Cube correlation: Don’t let yourself get stuck in white room paralysis. If you want to write a book, start a Word document, divide the document into sections (if you don’t know the chapter titles yet, use “Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.) and type out the most miserable drivel you can imagine somewhere on the document. Having words on the page will make you feel like you are making progress.
- In the short term, it feels better to avoid than to act
It is hard to argue that having a toned, fit body, healthy heart and clear mind will feel great. But before you get there, there are a thousand moments when you choose between feeling good in the moment (eating chips or Oreos, watching Law & Order reruns on the couch instead of taking a walk) or looking after your long-term health.
Cube correlation: As much as you loathe your job, it can feel easier to coast through each day, moving from meaningless meeting (where you secretly farm on Facebook while pretending to pay attention) to lunch to afternoon breaks where you comment on blogs like Escape from Cubicle Nation. The first step in change is to acknowledge that you are taking the easy road. Sit with the feeling that washes over you as you choose not to take the easy road. Think about where you really want to be in your career. Then take a step in the healthy direction.
- Don’t do it alone
My husband doesn’t see the need for a trainer, since he has always incorporated exercise into his every day routine. He does squats while brushing his teeth. And does a few sets of crunches before bed each night.
I am not my husband. I know myself well enough by now to know that I will never start an exercise program by myself. I need a trainer, or an instructor in a room full of sweaty students to change my habits and create a new pattern. Once the pattern is established, I am pretty self-directed.
Cube correlation: I realize you manage million-dollar budgets in your day job or direct marketing for Fortune 500 companies. This has nothing to do with your ability to be objective about your own business. Many people get paralyzed when trying to coach themselves, even if they know exactly what they should be doing. Some of us are just wired like that. So get a mentor, coach, mastermind buddy or teacher. With the right guidance, you will save money, time and resources by doing the right things in the right order. And most importantly, you will get the results you desire.
You and I may have a long way to go in our respective journeys toward health and career fitness. No matter where we end up, we will feel better for taking tiny steps in the right direction.
Enjoy the journey.