Today's cup of decaf is a little tricky...
Sometimes I need to trick myself. People may call it discipline, but I think of it more like a game to get yourself to do things that might be really hard to do. For instance, when I first started drinking decaf, I told myself I could go back to caffeine at any time if I chose to. It was a trick I played on myself because I needed to ease the grief and loss one feels when they give up a beloved beverage. Or, when I made the public commitment that I would write 52 blogs this year and post them with 52 pictures, in order to stay creative and revitalize my empty nest. It was a trick to get myself in gear and do something other than just work all the time. (That particular commitment is proving to be really difficult to keep alive. However, the mind trick does keep me from giving up on the whole project when it becomes so challenging.)
I have played these tricks on myself over the years with exercise routines as well. I generally haven’t worried about my loyalty to exercise because I have basically always enjoyed it. Literally, since age two, I have danced, run, taught aerobics, belonged to gyms, swam, hiked, done something to keep me active and feeling generally fit. Obviously, I have been much more fit at some times rather than at others! I think back to my 20’s in New York, when on an average day, I went to a three hour dance class, auditioned, taught aerobics, and then waitressed all night. I look down at my body now and really wonder how was that all possible?
Interruptions came with age, children, jobs, different schedules, and of course, injuries. So, the mind trick thing has usually worked to my advantage, especially when I get out of a rhythm and need to create some structure. I promise myself a week in advance to get to dance class, or I set my alarm for a hideous hour to go to the gym. The problem is that the mind tricks work in the reverse, as well. I can’t go to dance class because I have too much work to do. I don’t have to exercise today because I’m not quite over that injury. I need sleep more than I need exercise. I need to relax today because I have been so stressed. When will I food shop and do laundry if I go for a run now? And the worst trick of all; the aches and pains of aging might get worse if I work out.
In a recent attempt to combat my inner saboteur, I had to devise a new level of trickery. During a particularly hectic time at work, post foot surgery, and post 14 months of dealing with the foot, I found myself feeling woefully out of shape. I was hunched over in the morning like my father used to be when he shuffled his arthritic body around. I was going to the chiropractor as often as I could and I noticed that eating right and doing my simple exercise routine was not helping. I feared I would not regain the strength or the “in the game” feeling I had 14 months prior. I kept talking about hiring a trainer, but didn’t. My mood was irritable, my job was killing me, and I felt…well…old.
Then it occurred to me that I can’t expect my low-level maintenance routine to support me if my stress level and body problems were increasing. If the need became greater, then the interventions had to increase. I spend a fair amount of time teaching parents that positive reinforcement is critical in the reduction of negative behaviors in children. So, I simply applied that research knowledge to myself.
Yes, friends, I made myself a sticker chart! I think it is my best mind trick yet! I drew little squares on blank paper and filled the squares with daily exercise plans. I wrote down what exercise routines I would do every day for 15 days. I taped it inside the bathroom cabinet and I found some little post-it tabs in my desk. At the end of the day, having completed my routine, I placed a little post-it sticker tab on the square! I laughed at the amount of pleasure that gesture gave me. Honestly, it was a bit embarrassing how well it worked. That gave me the motivation to continue. I had promised myself I would earn a sticker every day for 15 days. Surprise! I made another chart and another, and now I am past Day 40!
I told a friend about my sticker chart and she asked, “What do you give yourself as a reward?” To which I sheepishly replied, “A sticker.” I haven’t felt the need for anything more than enjoying the chart filled with green post-it tabs. I have stepped up my exercise routine to more than double what it was pre-sticker chart, and all because I tricked myself. Obviously, I could have increased my work-outs at any time without the chart. As the research shows, however, the visual chart and the satisfaction of the little green post-it tab has made me so happy and motivated. “That is all the reward I need,” I told my friend.
The Real Reward
And then it dawned on me, while walking the dog one morning. I haven’t been hunched over in a month. My sciatica pain is virtually gone. My foot feels so normal. And that chronic pain in my right hip that I lived with since…forever? Non-existent. My knees even feel fine! And that is impossible! My ability to cope with the work situation improved significantly. I don’t feel overwhelmed every day at the office and I have more energy. I am going to visit my chiropractor soon because I adore and miss her, but not because I am in desperate need of an adjustment.
So, duh…that is the reward! I feel better! Like, a lot better!!! The trick is working. And as we do with the children and their negative behaviors, I found the function of my behavior. Avoidance. I was avoiding the fact that I am getting older and that I need to do more to stay healthy. I was avoiding lifting weights, doing core strengthening, returning to dance class, running, and getting back in the pool. Now, I am avoiding the question, “Can I keep up this routine without earning a sticker every day?”
I will just keep doing what I am doing until I come up with a new mind trick. Until then, I can sip my decaf in a comfortable chair, in a comfortable body, with a comfortable mood, and feeling so very tricky!
For those who are interested, here is how I spiced up my dull routine. I created a combination of stick-with-the-old and add-a-little-bit-of-new. I stayed within my comfort zone by doing more of what I was already doing. I stepped out of my comfort zone by adding what I knew was lacking: sit ups, pushups, and weights.
A friend recommended an online workout that is approximately 15-20 minutes per session. It provides 13 days of circuits that cover all body parts, incorporates weights, core, cardio, and is as challenging as you want to make it. Adding the online system and increasing my usual routine, resulted in an hour or more of exercise every day. Compare this to my previous 30 minute stationary bike a few times per week, with an occasional something else, and you can see, I have really stepped it up!
This is what it looks like. (Some days I split up the routines to do part in the morning and part after work.)
Sunday- run (one mile), Day 1 of the 13 day workout
Monday- stationary bike (30 mins), Day 2 of the workout, run
Tuesday-swim (a mile), Day 3 of the workout
Wednesday- stationary bike, Day 4 of the workout, run
Thursday- swim, Day 5 of the workout
Friday- stationary bike, Day 6 of the workout, run
Saturday – Day 7 of the workout, dance class
Rinse and Repeat, adding the next day of the workout each time. Start over with Day 1 when I finish Day 13. The instructor’s name is Lindsey Mathews and her program is called the “15 Day Fit Body Challenge.” (It is actually 13 workouts over a 15 day stretch, but I don’t take the days off that Lindsey recommends.)
Join me in feeling better and trick yourself into a new comfort zone!