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Are we capable of change?

We’ve all heard the story about the friend who received some bad medical news.  He’s got (heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, joint pain, back pain, gall bladder problems) and knows, cognitively, that changing his behavior may be the only way to live a full life.  He wants to see his grandchildren grow old, or meet the love of his life, or go on that vacation he’s always dreamed of.  But he can’t, because he’s seriously overweight and he can’t even envision getting started on a new program, let alone what he might look like if he were to become that guy.

That guy is, fundamentally, where we all have to start as we picture who we want to be when we lace up our shoes each day.  That guy is us – minus 20, 50, 100, or 200 pounds.  So how do we start to see ourselves as that guy?

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, thanks to my job.  Interestingly enough, there’s a whole field of study out there about what it takes to change behavior for good.  Not surprisingly, it’s called “change management”.  If you work for a large company, chances are you’ve been through a process that uses the principles of change management at one time or another.   At its core, there are a few lessons about making change stick – personally, they’re slightly different, but this is what’s been hitting home for me lately.  To get someone to change their behavior, you have to do a couple of key things.  First, that person  has to:

1) Believe that the benefits of changing far outweigh the current situation; and

2) Be able to envision themselves living out that change when it’s complete.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a really high bar.  Most of us, even if we’re overweight, probably think that our life is okay.  But if I were to inventory what’s good – and what I think needs to be better in my life – I have to be DAMN honest about it to admit that the benefits of changing outweigh the current situation.   Curious about what it might look like for you?  Well, here’s my take on it (it being a combination of weight AND fitness, which for me, are intertwined. I don’t talk exclusively about weight, and I don’t talk exclusively about fitness.)

What are the current disadvantages of living in this body?

1) I’m active, but the impact of being overweight is starting to wear on me.  After years of running, I have an injury which is certainly related to my weight, and which isn’t going away.  It’s keeping me from doing what I love.

2) I’d love to date more! I know, I’m fabulous and all, but the fact remains, ours is a superficial society, and men generally have a probem dating overweight women.  There’s a blanket assessment that if you’re overweight, you’re inactive. I’m not finding the kind of guy who I want to, and part of it is related to this.

3) I’m a shopaholic, and until I start designing clothes, I have a hate/hate relationship with plus-sized fashion.  It’s fine -but I’d like to look better in my clothes.

4) Assorted disadvantages (none of which are nearly as important to me as the first three: increased risk for various things (cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure); feeling judged or uncomfortable in front of others (trains and planes); and the inability to wear not-even-killer 2″ high heels due to this running injury.) Ahem.

What are the advantages of changing?

1) Confidence and comfort in myself and my appearance, wherever I may go.

2) Ability to take on any physical challenge, with just the “regular” things holding me back!

3) Ability to walk into a store and buy anything. That looks good.  This too becomes more important as work may have me relocating soon to London, where there are fewer clothes and lines for people my size.

4) Better Hanger Appeal.  This is what Nina Garcia of Project Runway calls a look that knocks you out on the hanger – not just when on your body.  For me, this is the dating issue – I’m great once you’re sitting next to me, but improving my Hanger Appeal would surely help (for example, in that picture up above, I’d like to be slightly less chesty, and be baring some Michelle Obama arms!)

5)Decreased risk of injury.  I have no numbers to support this, but physics tells me that the bigger I am, the harder I fall.  It also means I land harder, and I believe that my increase in weight is partly to blame for my 2-year bout with Plantar Fasciitis.  I’d like that to go away. 

6)  Decreased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, blah blah blah. These are longer-term variables, and I’ll admit, they don’t make me swoon.  But they should be considered as positives.

So that’s my list.  Now, I’m going to ask you: what’s on yours?  What do you find is keeping you on the couch, and off the path?  What do you think motivates you to get moving, and start to change?

Once you’ve thought about that, I’d encourage you to think about the next big question (part 2 in our analysis above): can you actually see yourself getting to a point in your life where you moved more, weighed less, and felt better about yourself?  Can you picture yourself doing it, and what you might look like if you did it all the time?  Can you see yourself in a different, stronger body?

Personally, I think this is the hardest part.  I don’t care how long you’ve been battling your demons, the mental act of envisioning yourself as something different takes more than imagination- it takes a leap of faith.

Maybe the last picture you have of yourself at a reasonable weight was when you were a teenager. Maybe you’ve never had that photo.  If that’s the case, here’s what I want you to do:  find a 5k in your town.  Go to the local gym.  Stop in at the YMCA.  And look around.  Really, really, look.   There will be people there of every size.  Picture yourself standing between them.  Right now.   Watch them run, or walk, or lift weights, or swim.  Picture yourself joining them.  If you can picture that – just joining them for one day – you’ll have already done something you didn’t think possible – you will have started seeing yourself as an active person. 

It’s not easy to do if you’ve been hurt, or sedentary, or just plain broken.  It’s not easy when you have a history of failed attempts.  If you do, don’t ignore them – use them.  I like to think of starting a new fitness or exercise program as the best things that baking has taught me.  If I burn the cookies on a certain pan, next time up I either turn down the temperature or shorten the baking time.  It’s the same thing with working out.  I know without a doubt that I will never – ever – successfully maintain an early morning swim routine.  I hate getting up early, and I might make it one day, but I’ll never make it more than two weeks.  So if I’m going to swim, I have to join a gym that has hours after work, and I have to plan accordingly.  I know that works for me, so you won’t find me committing to pre-work swims any time soon.

I also know that when I make moving more easy and accessible, I’m likely to do it more often.  That’s why there’s a balance ball, weights, and a bike trainer in my house for the winter.  Also, because I’m likely to work late, eat dinner, and veg instead of pedaling in front of the TV for 30 minutes a day, I know that I have to plan each week what I’m going to try to do.  Even if I don’t get the exact schedule done as listed, I’ll be more likely to stick with it if it’s written down.

But those are my lessons, and those are my adjustments.  Think about what your lessons are as you embark on your new programs this year.  Think about what will help you be most successful at whatever you choose to focus on.  Think about long term change.  And then see yourself completing it. 

Do me a favor, too.  If you happen to go to that gym, or that YMCA, or that class, have someone take a picture of yourself.  Then print it out, and put it on your fridge. You can be sweaty, and you can be awkward, and it won’t matter a bit.  Just get that picture up there, so you can see yourself – every day – as that more active person. 

And when you’re done thinking about all that, consider joining me for John Bingham’s 100 Days Challenge.  You can find the event page on Facebook here.  Simply put, John’s goal is to get people to commit to moving – just moving – for 30 minutes a day – for the next 100 days. Well, technically, the next 98 days.  If you missed the first two, that’s okay.  Just jump in when you’re ready – all you have to do is commit to some intentional movement for 30 minutes each day.  Doesn’t matter how, or where.  For more info, check out John’s video here, and if you want to track your workout, check in here.  

Not sure if you can do it?  Well, start small. Think about doing an easy yoga class at your park district.  Or just swimming slowly in your local pool.  Consider trying out FitTV’s great list of everyday at home workouts – or just commit to parking your car at the mall and walking for 30 minutes a day. 

Today, I parked as far as possible from my destination at the mall, and walked 3X10s as I broke up my day.  It was easy, it was effective, and it’s done.  It’s just one step to seeing that person I know I can be.

Please consider joining me.  Here’s to a great 2011! I look forward to seeing you all here!!

Sallie

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