A letter to myself about Fibromyalgia

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A couple of days ago I answered a twitter #journoenquiry regarding ‘invisible disabilities’.  I’m a long term sufferer of fibromyalgia which since it has reared its head again in a quite spectacular fashion has also reminded me how bloody painful and debilitating it can be.  Although I don’t regard my fibromyalgia as a ‘disability’ I contacted the lady in question to see if my story may be of interest to her.  As I answered her questions, I was astounded to recall the memories.  Just how much pain I live with on a daily basis (not normal) and that yes – it does affect how I live my life.  But the memories also a reminder that it does not have to be a disability if you do not want it to be.  Anyway, I thought I would share the Q&As here, not least as a reminder to me that as I have over come it before, I can do again…

1. How does fibromyalgia affect your daily life – and a bit of background on how long you’ve suffered from it?

I suffered my first episode of fibromyalgia in October 2005.  I was training for the New York City Marathon at the time (after completing London in April 2005 in just over five hours).  I scored a personal best in a hilly half marathon of one hour and fifty eight minutes in September 2005 and was in the condition of my life.

In Oct 2005 I attended a three week training course via my work at the time.  It was a course to teach me how to teach self defence.  I was already employed as a trainer in my workplace and taught first aid as well as classroom based stuff.  On the first day, I was told (because I was overweight) that I did not ‘look the part’ and I should not be on the course.  I was ‘too fat’ to be a self defence instructor and it showed a ‘lack of discipline’.  Then they started failing me.  In each of my assessments whether classroom, practical or lesson planning.  After two weeks of being failed at every lesson, my confidence was in tatters.  I had no idea how I was going to go back and do my day job.  A job that I was good at (I’d just passed my PGCE prior to the training course and so had been assessed yielding positive results there).

The tutors of the self defence course destroyed me and I started to develop symptoms including muscle pain, depression and joint stiffness from then on.

The effect on daily life varies depending on how I’m feeling on the day.  I can’t maintain one position for too long.  I have to vary my movement which means being desk bound can have consequences.  I struggle to concentrate for long periods of time and have a very poor short term memory which means I have to write everything down.  I make constant notes on paper and iphone.  I’m constantly in pain which is incredibly tiring and also means sleep can be very poor.  I also suffer from depression at times, although I have resisted taking medication preferring to use exercise as therapy.  But if manage it properly (ie healthy eating, regular exercise and plenty of sleep) I can manage most of the symptoms.

2. How does the fact that you are not registered as disabled affect your life?  I’m not sure it does actually.  I hide most of my symptoms in an attempt to have a ‘normal life’.  My control measures tend to work reasonably well.

3. Could you tell me a little more on why you decided to start sport – especially what it was like in the beginning? and did it get easier?

I’ve been a runner all of my life.  I started running with my Dad when I was young and played a small amount of county hockey for Durham and netball for Hartlepool town in my college years.  I was a promising shotputter with Gateshead Harriers as an intermediate (age 15 to 17) and attended three English Schools champs as well as English and Scottish Nationals.  I also studied sports science as part of my degree.  Sport has been part of me forever.

When the episode that I describe at the training course above happened I really struggled to go back and do my job properly.  Physically it was excrutiating to move.  I could barely walk at times and was in constant pain through my shoulders, back and into my legs.  It signifiantly restricted what courses I could teach.  Even my first aid (which I loved) I struggled with because I couldn’t get down to the floor (or back up again)!  I had the support of a wonderful colleage who helped me out a lot!

But when it came to the self defence classes I should have been teaching, my employers could not understand why I couldn’t teach it.  They sent me to occupational health for tests, many times, all which came back negative.  They accused me of lying about the pain and blamed my running (I wasn’t running then anyway because I couldn’t).  They issued me an ultimatum.  Either I give up sport or face disciplinary action.

I stopped exercising altogether and the symptoms got worse.  Then, I went for tests at St Georges hospital.  The muscle response test and bone density tests came back normal but the consultant called me in to see him.  He listened to my story and said that although I had fibromyalgia my muscles were working fine and were desperate to be used.  Because I was young – early 30’s – he told me to treat my symptoms holistically – massage therapy, counselling, music therapy and most importantly exercise.  He said giving up my sport was the worst thing I could do and to go back to running (and not be ashamed to walk – lots to start with – and start slowly – literally five minutes at a time).  It’s not an exaggeration to say that he saved me life.

I did what he said – five minutes running in between lots of walking.  Stopping to stretch helps lots so I did that too and signed up for lots of massage – I found a wonderful massage therapist who I sometimes saw twice a week – she almost always worked much later than the hour I paid her for – but she believed I could start running properly again and never gave up on me – even when just touching my skin was almost unbearable.

Soon, I could cover one mile and then two and then in November 2006 I completed the New York City Marathon.  The training was sub optimal for the marathon.   I shortened my ‘longest run’ to only 14 miles and often had to walk all of that to complete it and did lots of cross training (turning my legs on a bike) but it did get easier.  With confidence in myself growing and in my job receding, I resigned and opened a specialist running shop in Surrey.

I then signed up for Ironman Switzerland in 2009 and following a training programme heavily based on cycling, I completed that with 20 minutes to spare before cut off.  I’ve since finished several marathons, some thirty mile runs and three Ironmans.  Sometimes with a sprained back or shoulder if I’ve pushed myself too far in training or it’s just ‘gone’ beforehand.

A true testiment to what the body can do if the mind is willing.

4. How does fibromyalgia affect your sport? And do you feel like it’s benefitted you mentally?

I’ve had to adapt my training significantly from that seen as ‘traditional’.  I don’t follow a ‘training plan’ as such.  I haven’t done a long run over 14 miles for marathon since the first one.  But have found that if I substitute some runs for high intensity cycling (spin classes) I get a good training effect from less time which reduces my symptoms.

Consistency is king though and little and often definitely yields the best results.  I’ve never got any where near the fitness I was before I developed the fibromyalgia symptoms – a sub 2 half is long gone and I’ve never broken five hours for marathon – I think that is a symptom of a lack of time on feet.   I also find after a bout of more severe fibromyalgia symptoms, I often have to go back to basics: beginners running group with 1 minute runs followed by 1 minute walks; gentle 15 minute spins with no resistence just to get moving again.

I can’t hold onto my fitness like I used to… (that could be age too though ;o)

It has definitely benefitted me mentally though.  It helps me lift mood when I can feel the depression cloud coming in.  It helps me think – especially when I’m planning or trying to recall short term memory.  It helps me plant memories in my head – I can attach them to locations (a fence post or a tree on a cycle path), or songs or smells etc which makes them easier to recall in the future.  It also helps me to live in the moment.  Reminds me how lucky I am and how much I have to live for.

5. What advice would you give any other sufferers of fibromyalgia?

I would reiterate what that consultant told me… holistic pain management is the key and don’t ignore you treating your head as well as your body.  Look at stress relief.  Keep moving, even if it hurts.  Little and often is great.  Address your diet; a paleo outlook with high fat low carbs, no grains, no nightshade plants, little dairy and alcohol and definitely no sugar works best for me.  Look at Vitamin D suppliments and lift heavy weights (under supervision – taking up Olympic weightlifting almostt four years ago with my PT has helped enormously)

Most importantly, never give up!

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Labels

who-am-i

The other day I was sat in our local coffee shop watching the world go by.  I had taken my crochet, as I often do, and settled down to a pleasant half an hour immersed in the hubbub of the conversation around me.

I like the feeling of companionship in these situations.  I used to like it in races too;  listening to other people chit chat, relishing in the brief snap snots into others lives.  The trials and tribulations, excitement and heartbreak.  The café is a fabulous source of all.

This day I found a seat directly in the middle.  The café was full and conversation surrounded me.  It was the usual mix of clientele.  Primarily female, mums relieved temporarily of the care of their children, business meetings and older women meeting friends for coffee and chat.

The coffee is normally incredibly prompt, but this day, I had waited a few minutes longer than normal.  Unusually long actually.  So, I found myself tuning into the conversation behind the counter.  “Have you done this Americano yet?”, “Ah, no… not yet, it’s for…”, “Don’t worry, I know who it’s for…crochet lady right?”

I glanced down at the crochet in my hands and then around searching for anyone else, who may be a drink absent.  All of the other tables were occupied and charged with drinks.  It could only be mine.

I thought about the label ‘crochet lady’.  That was how they saw me – a reasonable label too since I often took my crochet to the coffee shop – much more than any other distractions such as a book or newspaper, the common decorations for lone visitors.

But crochet was not a way I would describe myself at all if asked.  It’s just that I happen to be in the middle of a blankie project and crochet is an easy way to keep the hands occupied and the mind empty.  It leaves me free to ear wag on others unnoticed, the real reason for my visit.  (I have a coffee machine at home – so I don’t need to go to the shop at all really).

I then thought about my recent visits to the post office in my endeavours to get rid of the last of the shop stock.  There, I am asked to declare the content of the packages.  “Shoes” I reply.  A couple of weeks ago, the counter assistant had misplaced one of my packages, which then went unprocessed.  She had not noticed her mistake until I had left and then processed in my absence thinking since I was a regular I could pay for it next time I was in.

An incredibly kind gesture actually.

When I returned to the post office a couple of days later, a receipt was waiting for me.  The label at the top said “shoe lady”.

So there you have it.  So far, my assault on the community in Southwater is ‘crochet and shoe lady’.  Not very auspicious but I guess its better than some other labels thrown my way over the last two years.

How we and others identify ourselves is always an interesting question.  My first wedding to Chrissy, was scheduled to co-incide with my graduation from university.  When we went to see the vicar for the ‘interview’ he asked for my occupation to eventually end up written on the marriage certificate.  I couldn’t bring myself to live with ‘unemployed’ on their forever so after some discussion we agreed on ‘Geographer’.  ‘Human’ I said clarifying the specification of the course’.  ‘I would hope so’ he quipped back. 

It raised its head again recently when I was asked what I do for a living.  This time I opted for ‘resting’.  Apparently, I really want to avoid ‘jobless’ as I moniker.

Labelling is a natural process I think.  But we do need to be conscious of the consequences of such behaviour.

At Run to Live, the fact we labelled ourselves as a ‘specialist running shop’ had a huge implication on what people expected when they walked through the door.  Often, that label would prevent them from coming in at all.  Particularly if it did not match their own label.  ‘Runner’ carried a certain expectation.  Around pace and ability and aesthetic for that matter. 

‘How can I be a runner if I don’t look like a runner’?  (A rhetorical question!)

Once a customer came into Run to Live and asked to speak to the manager.  I was the only person in the shop at the time.  I explained that I was the owner and offered my assistance. 

Oh no, I couldn’t possibly be the manager, I didn’t LOOK like a runner she exclaimed.  She neglected to tell me why she needed the assistance of the manage but instead made her way to the magazines on the coffee table in the corner.  After some perusing she folded a page down and then came back over to me.  “I’ve left it open at relevant page dear”, she explained, “you might find it useful”.  When I went to look, I found the article in question was ‘Five ways to run yourself slim” or some other trite crap that running magazines seem to publish these days. 

I understood her label loud and clear.  Actually I had a couple of my own to put back to her.

How I define myself at the moment is causing me problems.  It shouldn’t but having come from very deliberate classifications; Business owner, triathlete, runner, cyclist, paleo advocate, I find that unemployed shoe and crochet lady don’t really cut it.

I have tried to implement a non goal oriented lifestyle over the last few weeks.  And whilst I has helped to build a routine.  I’m struggling to prioritise myself, without a label, I’m not really anything at all.

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But then…think!  I have 336 days left of this self imposed year to save my life.  And although it is not a goal lead lifestyle at present, my goals in some respects are clear cut.

Diabetic, bulimic, clinically obese are labels I’m avoiding.  And when compared with these maybe crochet lady isn’t too bad.

 

 

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Cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces

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Earlier this week I was reading a book about journeys on foot around the British Isles.  The author, Robert Macfarlane, pulls together commentary from other travel writers and one in particular struck a chord.

At the time, Macfarlane was embarking on a walk across the mudflats of Maplin Sands in Essex.  He was describing the dangers of navigating his way across a habitat of great danger.  Now you wouldn’t think walking across a patch of sand would pose too much of a problem, especially one that contains a ‘designated footpath’ (albeit the footpath is not always visible).  The problem in essence is that because there are no identifying features across the flats, if you get disoriented, you cannot tell between the way to shore and the way out to sea.

I had a similar experience myself in a very different situation.  One night I got very drunk, almost as drunk as I have ever been in my life (in my defence it was accidental, maybe I’ll share the story another time).  Now while drunk we went to an Indian Restaurant for a birthday dinner and while there I needed to go to the loo.  Unfortunately for me, the toilet walls and ceiling were all tiled white and as you would expect the ceiling was also painted white.  This wasn’t really relevant at all until I fell off the loo.  And because I was drunk, and everything was white I couldn’t get off the floor because I did not know which way was up!

Macfarlane quotes the American artist, William Fox, who described his experience as ‘cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces; or ‘how we easily get lost in spaces that appear the same in all directions’.

And it struck me this morning when thinking about this blog post that there are a plethora of comparisons between this and embarking on a journey to lose weight or follow a life plan when there is so much information out there.  It is easy to get lost when looking for the right path, especially when many of those paths look essentially the same and so as a result we become inert and make no progress at all or get lost looking for identifying features that we’re not sure we can identify if we did see them.

It’s telling that when Macfarlane walks the flats he takes a friend with him and leaves a trail of shells as he traverses the sand.  In the same way, when at Lanzarote, the lovely ladies and gent and I set up what is for all intents and purposes a support group where we share our thoughts and experiences (and new to me… my actual weight to be plotted in a chart).  It feels like we are laying shells in the sand so if we do get lost there are people to bring us back on track.  The support group is not just about accountability but because some of us have got to the same place in a similar way – its also about shared experiences and reminders.  And an investigation of the habits that we all have.  It’s fabulous.

In a similar vein, G and I have been establishing our process of routine discussed in depth in the two or three blog posts prior to this one.

The conclusion I have come to there is to not think about it too much.  To be neither too positive (I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m knackered from being so excited) or too negative (I really can’t be arsed!) and rather view it as a done deal without emotion, or to paraphrase a company we all know… Just do it!

I really believe ambivalence is a strength in these circumstances, it neither develops into inertia not disappointment.  Just a routine appointment scheduled in the diary to be done.  That’s not to say I do not love exercise.  I do, it’s a passion.  And it’s also not to say that I don’t get an emotional benefit afterwards, I really do.  But, the amount of times I have convinced myself in my head that I could run 7 minute mile pace if I just trained enough and then felt disappointment when I’m still running 12’s.  I figured that since I spent so much time dreaming of running faster that it should just…well…happen!  And then I find I go out less to avoid the disappointment when I should just stop bloody thinking about it and more time running in the moment and enjoying it running it at whatever pace I wish.  After all, consistency is king and fantasy is the jester that mocks the establishment.

In some respects, the same could be said of food too and one of the great benefits of settling back to a paleo lifestyle is that much of the thinking and many of the decisions have already been made.  We have moved on from the junction where all of the paths looked the same and indecision became inertia and we’re starting to make progress.  The cognitive dissonance is dissipating.

 

 

 

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The Girls Guide to Laughter (as Therapy)

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At the beginning of this week I was faced with the prospect of getting on a plane on my own and I was not sure I was going to get on.

We’d successfully put Bookham to bed after a very long week.  I was gently settling into holiday mood when I allowed something to upset me.  It really shouldn’t have but I allowed it to, forgetting the adage that other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. 

Anyway, by Monday morning I’d put my chances of getting on the plane at 50/50 but rationalised that if I did go, I could just as soon come back again.

At Gatwick, once through passport control I started to relax.  For the first time in a very long time I was alone and embarking on an adventure.  I had to rely on myself to make decisions but after what seems like an eternity of making decisions with others in mind, on Monday the outcome of those decisions affected only me.   It was empowering.  And empowerment was something I desired and needed.

The flight took off on time and was uneventful.  I went to sleep just minutes after take off and then on waking, took the coffee offered me and read my book until we landed.  I disembarked at Arrecife airport four hours later into bright sunshine and glorious warmth and immediately, I knew getting on the bloody plane had been worth it.  

The first night we went out for dinner and then to our local bolt hole, Ruta66.  In the past, I’ve drank excessively in a bid to drown out the noises I’d carried in my head from home.  But that night, I found that I had no need.  Something had changed, has changed and the voices were quiet.  

Life is mostly governed by mindset.  I feel I have so much joy and positivity to give.  But it was now evident that the systems I had created to deliver such emotions no longer worked. 

And even worse, they we’re draining rather than invigorating.  In a turn of twisted logic, I thought it was me that was the problem. 

The solution to this thought process was even more bizarre.  I thought that by doing Ironman and marathons would to prove to the world I was a certain type of person.  But actually, I have nothing to prove to the world or anyone in it and it did not provide the one I was looking for, or any solution at all in fact. 

Because my thought processed were nonsensical (and therefore didn’t work), the support mechanisms I needed for my crumbling self esteem (crutches) were also nonsensical.  Food, drink and other distractions became more important to just get me though the day.  In fact, all of the crutches I had used in times previous were easy to resuscitate.  And this was not a good thing.

 As soon as I got off the plane in Lanzarote, I felt a metaphorical weight fall away from my shoulders, a result of decisions made and the heat of the sun relaxing my muscles and warming me to the core.  It became apparent immediately that those control measures listed above were no longer necessary and therefore easier to shun. 

I got into a taxi and made my way to the apartment my companions were occupying.  The greeted me with happiness and I relaxed even more.  After the initial settling in, we fell into a simple way of life for a few days.  Sleep, healthy food, time to sit and reflect, being outdoors and most importantly, spending time with people who were positive and a joy to be with.  We talked way into the night, we cried at the sadness that life had brought to us and more than anything we laughed until we could barely breathe.

It occurred to me during that time that life really is that simple.  The pursuit of happiness is simple.  As long as we have enough food, shelter, sleep, exercise and positivity we are content.  That should be the real focus of our work.  And yes, even simplicity needs work.  Repetition, focus, positivity and the desire to DO.  It struck me that all too often in the last few months I had experienced people with an irrational sense of entitlement but no willingness to work for it.  Discipline is the key to happiness. Because through discipline you commit to your hearts desires rather than just telling people about them.

We talked about the above a lot on the holiday and so now I’ve returned back home, all of the thoughts that have been pondering over the last few months are coming together and starting to make sense.  Now I just need to work on the practicalities of what it looks like in the everyday.

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Death to ‘Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’

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Scratch weight.  End target is 31st Jan 2018.

Every day we are reminded how wonderful this world is.  And it may be cognitive but when I revealed the changes in thinking and focus last week, the universe has been sending me messages ever since that I may be on the right lines.

Consistently,  tweets, e-mails and Facebook messages have popped up to suggest that to achieve ‘success’ (synonymous with happiness, contentment, motivation, resolution, change or whatever you’re after), then a change of focus is required.  Focus is on process rather than goal orientation is the key.

I remember my first introduction to SMART goals years ago by my training manager at St Thomas’s Hospital Training Unit.  She came from the world of PriceWaterhouseCooper and seemed so shiny and corporate and professional.  (She also introduced me to ‘Never ASSUME, it makes an ASS out of U and ME’ – I was young, naïve and easily impressed apparently).  Alison was not destined to stay in the public sector for long.  The red tape drove her crazy and she buggered off back to PWC a couple of months later.  But, I’ve preached SMART and ASSUME ever since and pretty much applied them to everything I’ve done.

Now however, according to my various social media outlets, the current thinking is that there are better ways to achieve success.  The days of SMART are limited and focus on the actually process rather than the outcome is more de rigueur.  You can read more here (Do Lectures article) and here (James Clear article).

I accidentally stumbled across this a few weeks ago actually, and this mornings session with PT Peter provided a very neat example of how it applies…

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on the process of weight lifting.  I know that a significant limiting factor is the flexibility in my ankles.  I need flexible ankles to be able to complete the squat in both my clean and snatch.  So, rather than focusing on increasing the amount of weight on the bar, for the last four weeks I’ve been scheduling in a minute or so of calf stretching and squatting three or four times a day.  I’ve been diligent in executing it, deliberately picking times that I knew would happen regularly (eg when brushing my teeth).

I was successful in implementing the process.  I did it every day until I didn’t need to think about doing it to actually do it.    It had become habit.

Today I managed quite a few snatches which were technically much better than a few weeks ago. (What the hell is a snatch).  It was improved sufficiently enough that once or twice Pete nodded his head and did not offer technical suggestions.  As a measure of success that is a BIG one!

It also felt natural, easier somehow.   A side effect of creating the habit meant I didn’t have to think about the squat so could focus on just throwing the bar up.  I registered a huge improvement in four weeks (when concentrating on trying to increase weight to a specific goal, I made little progress in three years).

Although the above is an example of how it works.  My priority is now working on the process to effect weight loss.  As Pete explained this morning.  If  you are clinically obese and focus on eating clean, lifting weight and moving more, the inevitable consequence is weight loss.  When you say it like that, it sounds easy.  And as we learned last week, easy is the key to increased motivation.

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A Year to Save My Life

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Three and a half years ago I made a commitment to my personal trainer, Pete and to myself to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle designed around improving and maintaining health.  Call it Paleo or LCHF or clean eating or whatever you will.

The central theme evolved around losing weight ( I was morbidly obese), reducing fibromyalgia symptoms, managing my eating disorder and improving mental health.  After a few months of great success I fell off the wagon and although I held onto it, I never really managed to climb back up.

Then, two years ago, the world exploded and I went into crisis management and have been there ever since.

And now?  Well in terms of physical and mental wellbeing I’m back to where I started all that time ago BUT with one vital difference.   The building blocks of life I smashed through have now been processed and tidied into piles.  Toxic environments have been disinfected and dealt with.  Debris has been swept up.  The initial trigger that led me to Pete in the first place has gone.  Clean lines have been drawn and I’m ready to start building something really positive.

But this time I’m going to approach it differently.  And this is where the post from last week regarding motivation comes in.  In the past, the motivation for health improvement, weight loss and fitness has been goal oriented.  In my case, having a major event to compete in.  Which in itself is fine.  But it really depends on WHY you are doing the event.  I picked marathon and Ironman for a reason.  But on reflection,  the reason for selecting those types of events were flawed.

It goes back to a time when I was a child.  I was always big, especially for my age and gender.  And strong with a natural aptitude for sport.  I played hockey for the under 16 team when I was 13, I competed in athletics at a national level in my teens, I played hockey for Durham County on occasion and netball for Hartlepool Town for a while in their second team.  I studied Sports Physiology at Uni and taught self defence for police officers when in the job.  But in each activity listed there, I didn’t aesthetically fit in.

Because I didn’t look the way people wanted me to look I was subjected to comment, ridicule, bullying and humiliation.

The last straw was when I applied to be an officer safety trainer in the met police.  By that time I was a teacher as well as a police officer and had just secured my post grad teaching certificate.  I knew I was good at my job.  But the trainers at the officer safety training centre didn’t like the way I looked.  I was too fat and did not represent the aesthetic of what an OST trainer should be.

They told me as such.

And then they started to fail me.  They failed every class I taught whether it be classroom or gym based.  They failed me on the slightest thing.  I allegedly delivered legislation incorrectly, or I didn’t stand correctly or I was too formal or too informal.  Whatever I did, they ripped me apart and that three weeks destroyed me.  It was at this time that I started to get my first fibromyalgia symptom.  I can pinpoint it to the final week of that course.

In the end they had to pass me because other students started to comment on the unfairness.  But it was a bitter sweet victory.  It left me with no self esteem, confidence issues and of course the fibromyalgia symptoms.  Ultimately it led to me leaving the job after they threatened disciplinary action as I dealt with the aftermath of that course.

As I result I started to do marathons and then ultimately Ironman.  It was a way to prove to myself and other people that I may be fat but I could still achieve.  But that mind set was not healthy.  I didn’t achieve any end goal other than finish each one more tired and defeated than ever.  It certainly didn’t move me forward to my end goal of physical and mental well being.  I just kept setting myself up for defeat.  A self fulfilling prophesy if you will.  And yes, I crossed the finish line at Austria the second time.  But I’d achieved so many DNSs and DNFs to get there, it was ultimately a bittersweet victory.

Last week I had another mental health relapse.  It was a bad one and took me out for a about four days.  At first I couldn’t even get out of bed, and then when I did, only made it onto the couch and into a bottle of wine.  I switched the television on in the hope of finding a distraction and while doing so, caught the second half of an episode of ‘One year to save your life’.

It was a formulaic programme, the ‘star’ achieving incredible feats.  I googled the protagonist to get her after story and the post programme edict is very different.  But the point that struck me more than anything was that for the whole year she donated all of her time and waking thoughts to the cause… in this case herself.  It was a revelation.

I reflected in my approach to my own story when I had actually acted in a way of benefit to me.  Solely without prejudice.  And I couldn’t find it.  I had acted in search of a goal or event or to keep a business going or protect a former partner.  But although to outsiders my acts may have appeared to be selfish, at no time had I acted in a way without thinking how they would affect other people.  And to prioritise those people above myself.

It was clear these thought processes would have to change.  I’m not talking about railroading over everyone I meet.  But, in order to improve my health and wellbeing I must focus on myself as a priority and do everything I can in order to achieve my goal.  And I will give myself a year starting from today to do it.

The article last year reflected on goals and measurement of those goals as a measure of progress an important part of motivation.  So I will set goals along the way.  The first is to move away from the ‘morbidly obese’ category into ‘overweight’, a weight loss of around 4.5 stone.  This will be achievable in a year.  Other measureable goals will pop along in the future I’m sure but at the moment this is the one that will occupy my focus.  More subjective goals include, reducing the pains in my feet, improving breathing and reducing fibromyalgia symptoms.

G is joining me in the challenge and we are going to achieve this by the simple adage of living clean (more sleep, more play, less stress), eating clean (for me it’s Paleo, for you it can be whatever works for you) and moving more (do something every day).  I’ll obviously share thoughts, successes and failures with you and would love to hear your own stories too.

 

 

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More thoughts on Motivation

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You can achieve anything you want, as long as you want it ENOUGH

I’ve been quoted as saying (more than once) that you can achieve anything you want as long as you want it enough.  It’s a sentiment I still abide by.  But of course, when we turn to motivation, there needs to be a practical application to take you towards your desired goal.  And that can often be the difficult part.

For example, I would tell you over the years that I would give anything to be able to lose weight.  I believed that statement intrinsically.  I would defend it to the max if challenged.  But actually, if you analyse that statement, it’s not true.  If it was, I wouldn’t currently be morbidly obese.  Losing weight in itself is not difficult.  Irrespective of which school of science you approach it with.  I know essentially what it required.  So, it could be argued that I didn’t want it enough.

I’ve been pondering these thoughts (and many others) over the last few months.  I’ve questioned every aspect of my life and tried to gather thoughts and goals into some semblance of order.  I’ve been significantly conflicted and unsure of the road ahead at times.  Unable to prioritise or make sense of options.  And while going through this process have analysed, written goals (and rewritten) and discussed and read anything I could in order to help.

In the last few weeks, I’ve sat down several times in front of this blog to write up these thoughts and conclusions but to no avail.  The words have just not come.  But rather than force them, I’ve accepted it, gone away to do more soul searching and had faith than when I was ready it would come.

And then yesterday, in an e-mail from the Do Lectures ‘Chicken Shed Chronicles’ I clicked through to an article on motivation by a chap called James Clear.  It was the last piece of the jigsaw, the light bulb moment, but before I move on in other blog posts about what it means to me personally.  I wanted to share the synopsis of what I saw in the article and how it fits into my values.  (You can read the whole article and more here).

What is motivation?

The first light bulb was the definition of what motivation actually is.  Clear cites ‘a general willingness to do something’ as the recognised definition.  But then he goes on to add ‘At some point, the pain of NOT doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it’.  I recognised that sentiment immediately.  When I worked for St Thomas’s Hospital there were certain jobs I hated doing.  Mostly admin related.  I used to save them all up until the worry of not doing the jobs (some of them were time oriented – like booking training rooms – that had consequences if I did not do them in a timely manner) was so much, I would schedule in a ‘shit day’.  ie a day to sort out all the shit I’d been putting off.  Once that was completed, it felt fabulous and I would wonder why I couldn’t have done it sooner.  But then would repeat the pattern again and again.

He describes this point as a ‘mental threshold’, ie it’s easier to change than to stay the same.  Often relevant to weight loss.  The impetus (normally health related) is triggered if the option of not doing something may result in premature death or prolonged symptoms (for example being diagnosed with diabetes).

He puts this another way.  Every choice has a price and the price of achieving the goal has to be cheaper than the price of not taking action.

Here it’s worth noting that having a deadline helps.

The hardest part is getting out the door

Another light bulb moment was his comment that often, motivation comes once a behaviour has already started.  Success breeds success.  Or, according to the laws of Newton, a moving body is more likely to keep moving.  So, just reading about stuff is not enough to motivate, even if the subject is rousing.

It needs action.

It sounds obvious but think about how many times you have entered an event hoping it would stir you off the couch only to fail to even get to the start line.

The hardest part of motivation is that bit at the start of the journey (I used the J word – shoot me now) .  Friction is the most difficult bit to overcome.  Once the shoes are on and you’re out the door the whole thing gets a darned sight easier.

Consistency is King

The trick of course is to be able to get the shoes on and out the door consistently.  And here, Clear states that automation is the key.  If you remove the decision process, you remove the option to say No.

Schedule tasks until they become automatic.  Reduce the amount of decisions you have to make around the action.  Provide a mindless way to initiate a behaviour.
So, every morning you get up 20 minutes earlier than you need to, put your running kit on and go out of the door until it becomes automatic.  Before long, you’ll achieve your training goals and won’t even think about doing them.

It’s worth stating here that Clear focuses only on positive reinforcement.  But I think there is scope to recognise negative behaviours here that already have an automatic trigger.  Eating toast does it for me.  The more toast I eat, the more I crave.  I’ve spent many times standing by the toaster eating one batch while the next one ‘cooks’.  (I KNOW I’m not the only one who’s ever done that!)  Solution?  Don’t eat toast so you don’t trigger the reaction.

Make it easy

The key to starting a behaviour is to make it easy.  Putting on a pair of shoes is easy.  Opening and closing a door is easy.  But if you set your goal too high it becomes too hard.  My favourite trick is to say ‘I’m training for an Ironman so I SHOULD be doing 10 miles in the morning’ knowing full well that at the moment 10 miles is beyond me.  The result is that I talk myself out of it because it is too hard.  The solution, I’m going to put my shoes on and go out for five minutes.  I will stay out longer (because that’s what you do) but, just that one simple thought makes the whole task appear so much easier.

Movement is Key

Irrespective of whether your goal is mental or physical, movement is key.  Poor mental health is linked to a lack of movement.  But make sure your movement is linked to your goal.  Walk to clear the mind and solve a problem.  Start your writing by getting up and getting a glass of water before sitting down.  Feeling unmotivated, put on your favourite tune and dance around the living room to refresh your thoughts.

Repeat the Pattern

Whatever you do, you must repeat the patterns above for it to become learned behaviour.  We are creatures of habit after all.  A few years ago I went on a week long training course to learn about teaching tools.  We were encouraged to walk rather than sit when in ‘discussion groups’ but the trainer emphasised that time management was key in the classroom and we were to end our discussion and return to the classroom when a specific song was played.  Like Pavlov’s dog, we learned the behaviour very quickly – music is a very powerful learning and motivation tool – and even now when I hear the song over 15 years later – I still remember the need to get back to the classroom in a timely fashion.

How to keep the motivation going

So, in essence, the above details how to get motivation started, but how then do we keep it going?  Clear presents the ‘Goldilocks Rule’.  The goal needs to be not too easy nor too hard.  So, challenging but achievable with the possibility you may fail but the likelihood you will not.  In here, progress needs to be measureable and needs to be measured consistently.

The mind is a very clever thing and when things start to get challenging will offer suggested alternatives.  ‘This is too hard, I’m tired and want to stop now’.  It’s worth remembering that these are just suggestions and you are not obliged to accept them as commands.  Pause for a moment and wait for more positive suggestions. ‘How will I feel if I accomplish the task?’

YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE.

We face these decisions on a daily basis and it’s not an exaggeration to say that how we deal with them formulates who we are.  There are many, many times over the last couple of years when I picked a path that appeared to be much more difficult but ultimately more rewarding.  It lead to me being temporarily homeless, I had to deal with mental illness and physical ill health.  But now that I’m almost through it, I can reflect on the lessons learned and the person I have become.  It was worth the struggle.

Our favourite pirate quote, HTFU (Harden the F up)
And finally in this part, I quote Clear directly… “This moment when you don’t feel like doing the work?  This is not a moment to be thrown away.  This is not a dress rehearsal.  This moment is your life as much as any other moment.  Spend it in a way that will make you proud.”

Quite!

 

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