This is going to sound initially like it’s about working out. It’s really not.
However, I have talked to quite a few people lately who are just now getting back into the health/workout mode. I love to see a new/return runner or person at the gym getting their sweat back on. Maybe that’s why I walk up to them and welcome them, find out their story, basically just be friendly. And being just another member, not a coach or a trainer I can be the voice of a comrade and they don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing to that might result in a lecture or demo in technique. It seems lately that most of these folks have the same concerns. Once you get past the I want to feel/look better rationale you get to the thing that has been holding them back. “What if I make a fool of myself.” Granted, many of them don’t outright say this, but this is the bottom line. They are worried they won’t know the drills, the equipment, you know…the process. No one wants to look foolish, and everyone is affected.
Me for example. I’ve been working out, or competing in some level of physical challenges since I was a young boy. While I don’t play the same sports today that I did then, I am no less active. When you’ve been playing sports and working out for coming up the better part of 4 decades, you can begin to get the nervous butterflies to subside a bit. You don’t get as jumpy for the flag football game when you’ve played in front of Alabama’s home crowd. You don’t sweat the lunges at the local Y when you’ve done it for so many years.
But, everyone can fall off a little. I admit that for a few years I just tried to make a career. Work, travel, family – I often stood back from the day and thought that I couldn’t jam one more thing in. So when I got back into a regular workout I was afraid I didn’t have what it took anymore. Imagine not being able to do a couple of pull ups and showing up to a box (what we people call a gym) and hearing that the workout was 1/3 pull ups? Or sprinting, or 1,000 burpees (never had to actually do 1,000 – I think 999)? You get the point. I was worried for a long time about showing up and not being able to do the WOD (workout of the day). Now, disclaimer here…there are a LOT of people who show up and can’t do even the most minimal of exercises. And I have NEVER been at a box and not seen some level of effort from everyone that looks strained. No matter the level! Truth be told, I struggle every time I step in for a WOD and that’s what finally got me over the edge.
See, I did a workout called “Nichole” twice in one week. Nichole is 20 minutes AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of pull ups to fatigue, which means you do pull ups until you can’t do another, then you run 400 meters for 20 minutes. Now I can run 400 meters all day long, it’s the pullups that sucketh. The first time I strategized and made a plan and worked the numbers in my head to figure out what I would get – it worked. The second time I took another route, work smarter not harder and my numbers improved but guess what – it sill sucked! I might have done better but I got little joy out of the effort. All I could think about was what I would do different and then it dawned on me… I was improving, I am getting better physically, but my mental state is static. Even though I was competent, and no longer concerned about making a fool of myself for not being able to complete the work, I was now concerned I wouldn’t improve and once again – look foolish if even to myself. My “reputation” was to be protected and I had taken the joy out of the struggle.
Here’s the secret then, whether it’s your first time or you’ve been at it for awhile – it’s foolish! A grown man doing pull ups till some of the skin was coming off my hands and running around a city block – on repeat? Definition of foolish. Trying to protect some stupid reputation that exists in my head – foolish. Concerned that people will laugh at me if I step into a new situation and don’t know the right routine – foolish. Not trying the new thing or being held back because of what others might think – tragic.
We are fools. All of us. The faster we embrace our fallible nature the quicker the perception that we have something to lose will loosen it’s grip on our lives. This isn’t about working out, it’s about silencing the voices in your head that say you can’t make. That people will laugh at you. That you actually have something to lose. If I can impart any knowledge to my children it will be embrace the foolish – attempt the pull ups, or public speaking, or dance classes, or whatever because the fool is the only one light enough to laugh at himself.