Monthly Archives: August 2014

Bad workout? Failure? No! It’s a laboratory!

When you’re first starting, it’s easy to get discouraged. You’re self-conscious. All these guys are throwing weights around. All these women doing effortless yoga. All of these…freaking gods and goddesses who know what they’re doing.

And then there’s you. Screwing up push-ups. Struggling with a simple sit-up while your mammoth belly seems to swell to sixty times its normal size (not really, but it sure seems that way).

A bad workout isn’t a bad workout. It’s an opportunity to gather information. It informs you where you can get better.

Dude, I can get better everywhere. I’m the biggest spaz in the whole place. I’d feel awkward working out in a room with Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap.

When I first started, I refused to work out with people because of how awful I’d look. I only worked out in a room with the door closed. I was doing knee pushups, for heaven’s sake.

Truth is, when you start, you have an endless supply of places to get better. No matter what you do, it’ll help.

Those knee push-ups are setting the stage for the awesome regular push-ups you’ll do later. That sit-up, where your stomach seems so enormous? Keep up the fitness and nutrition and your clothes will fit different before you know it. And that stomach will shrink.

Easy for you. You’re relatively fit.

I fail sometimes.

There’s an obstacle in Tough Mudder called the Funky Monkey that kicks my butt every year. This year, I have the upper body strength to do pull-ups. I got this, right?

This morning at Al Lopez, I tried it on a set of straight monkey bars and reaching forward the first time, boom, down on my butt. In front of people. I failed.

No problem. I know my arms and back are okay for this, so the next step is my hands.

The truth is, I want to fail. If I never fail, I’m not pushing myself. In my best workouts, my ego takes the biggest beating.

If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t know I need to work on hand strength. Failure isn’t failure, it’s a classroom. It’s the seed-planting for future success. And that’s all it is.

Don’t let it be more.


You’re doing it wrong. (An awesome thing to hear)

I was recently schooled about running. Because of the way I run, my calves and butt very little workout goodness. As a result, I’ve compared my butt to a large western state. Personally, I’m looking for a small northeastern state.

So I went out and started running–in summer–in Florida–with my new information. And proceeded to make my calves hurt (in a good way).

After I started, I went back to the guy and told him I exaggerated what I was doing but only went a couple miles.

“Good,” he said, “but don’t do too much too fast or you’ll hurt yourself.”

We’re in this to get better, not get hurt. So I backed off a little, alternated between my old way and my shiny new way. And then started to let the blend take over as I ran.

Today I ran. I’m thrilled to say my calves and butt hurt and I’m on my away from Montana (in terms of butt size) to maybe one of the Dakotas.

But…

Number 15 is just begging for a back injury.

There are some things where your form is so bad you’ll hurt yourself if you don’t seek guidance. There’s a difference between good pain and bad pain.

Good pain is muscle achiness. Good pain typically isn’t sharp, like you’re being stabbed. And absent something like a stitch in your side, it doesn’t typically happen during a workout.

As you do things, you start to figure out what’s good pain and what’s an injury or an injury waiting to happen. Listen to your body. If you have questions about what you’re doing (1) back off and (2) find someone who knows what they’re talking about. Get guidance.

I started with pushups because my back didn’t like how I sagged when I tried regular. My form was more important than my ego. I value my body too much to do something I know will result in injury.

Remember (at the risk of being horribly redundant), it’s about getting better, not getting hurt.


I do not wish

A Facebook friend made an off-handed remark that started with I wish I could…

Starting today, I’m striking the words I wish from my vocabulary. There are two categories of things people wish for:

  • Things that are outside their control. I wish Mets ownership cared about winning.
  • Things they can control. I wish I fit in that pair of pants in the closet.

With the first set, if you have no control over the situation, you have to go along with things. Let them go. Focus your energy elsewhere.

The second set’s most important.

I used to wish I could go up the stairs without my knees hurting. Or that I could do a push up. Or maybe someday a pull-up. Other things seemed too crazy to wish for, like doing a one-armed push up.

That’s a horrible way to live.

I’ve never once gotten anything except a few cents poorer by throwing money in a fountain.

So from this day, the words I wish don’t exist for me. I’m replacing them with I can’t change it so I’ll just deal with it or Here are the steps I’ll take to change that.

Keep your wishing well. Keep your ads that say I can attain what I wish if only I spend money on the right product. Keep your constructs that people learn helplessness.

Wish not.

Do or do not.

There is no wish.


Cynicism sucks and what I’m doing about it

A year ago, if you’d have said I was cynical, I’d have said I’ve spent most of my life as a Mets and Jets fan–I’ve come by it rightly. But let’s be honest. Cynicism sucks.

Cynicism is when someone says you should look at the world and see possibilities, rather than limits and you say, “Nah, that’ll never work. Ha ha!”

Except, to quote the great Al Capone from The Untouchables, we laugh because it’s funny and we laugh because it’s true. I only make the “It’ll never work” joke because on same level, I believe it. And that’s a bad thing.

In response to that bad thing, I’m working on a good thing. Every day, I post on Facebook at least one thing I have gratitude for. Unfortunately, that’s a hard thing for me. Some of the difficulties are legitimate. I don’t want to paste the same thing every day. For instance, I typically feel gratitude after I work out. Posting that every day is a cop out.

Also, I don’t want to post the stuff that normally goes without saying every day, either. But some days, it’s good to recognize that you have a house and clean water and relatively decent health and an abundance of food. A lot of people don’t.

What I don’t like about the whole gratitude thing is when you’re all annoyed about something and someone says “Yes, but there’s someone who has it worse than you, so you should be grateful.” (Yes, and there’s someone more annoyed than you, so you should be quiet.)

Gratitude only works when recognized freely. For instance, I realize I am very lucky to have a good house and central air. But when it’s 96 degrees out and the AC isn’t working right isn’t the best time to remind me.

Gratitude doesn’t stem from guilt.

It stems from a free recognition of the bounty you have. And taking the time to thing of places where your life is great, that can only lead in a good direction.


Five rules to remember when you change your life

I’m not exaggerating when I say Tony Horton helped me change my life.

He’s the guy behind P90X, the most visible trainer in all the Beachbody programs. Though he’s built like freakin’ Adonis, he’s not a fitness jerk. He doesn’t make you feel like the last guy picked in gym class.

Tony was the one picked last at gym class. He didn’t work very hard, was never the student he could have been, never made full use of his talents and abilities. He was afraid of everything. Ev-ery-thing.

Obviously, that’s different now. But it was a gradual change. He got into fitness because he was trying to be an actor and was told, “Dude, no one hires fat actors.” While he was learning, he showed people what worked for him. The next thing you know, Tom Petty’s asking for him for help. (And, yeah, that’s pretty much how it happened.)

So Tony figured, if I screw this up, Tom Petty’s gonna say…(the joke almost writes itself)…

It was a journey. In other words, you didn’t dig the hole your in, in a day. Don’t expect to get out in day, either. You’ll have to work and be patient to get out, but that’s okay, because you’re worth it.

Getting out is easier when you apply some rules:

  1. Stop being shamed by the hole. You aren’t just standing there any more, you’re working your way out. That’s something that takes courage and commitment. You’re changing your life. Keep hold of that one basic fact, even when things seem dark.
  2. Stop defining yourself by the hole. You got fat, divorced, went broke broke, fot fired, whatever. Done is done. Concentrate on what you can do, not what you did. You’re not the sum of your worst mistakes.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Tony Horton uses a phrase that’s filled with amazing wisdom. Do your best and forget the rest. “That guy/woman has a million dollars/a great marriage/can run ten miles.” So what? That’s life. Do your best today and tomorrow and the next day and pretty soon you aren’t in the hole, or the hole’s a lot shallower.
  4. Stop expecting perfection. I used to be an angry guy. I’d go to work with good intentions, and then boom, I’d go off on someone. That would make me sure I was stupid and worthless and change was impossible. But over time, I was doing that less and less and then eventually not at all.
  5. Understand perception lags reality. You got in your hole because of your actions. Now you’re changing. People won’t notice until after you change. They’ll still treat you as that angry/untrustworthy/cheating/whatever guy, even after you change. That’s when you double down on your changes, not walk away from them. While you’ve been changing, they’ve been living their lives and haven’t noticed. But most of them will, if you keep at it.

I’m not better than you because I’m fit; I’m better than I was because I’m fit

In a recent post, I said that I bought into the lie that I was fat because of things beyond my control. I want to go back to that for a minute because I want to be crystal clear on one thing–I don’t people based on their size. Fit people aren’t better than fat people. I’m not fat-shaming.

I’ve known plenty of in-shape sphincters (if you catch my drift).

For me though, fit is better. I’m happier, more productive, and more at peace when I’m fit. I wasn’t eating crap because I was happy. I was eating it because I was desperately unhappy and stressed. And I gave up my personal power over food and drink.

That’s my experience.

Getting fit changed my view of the world. I have a lot of personal power. A lot. Of. Personal. Power. (So do you, by the way.)

When I hauled my ass out of bed at four-thirty to do P90X, it built a sense of self-worth. After all, you don’t haul your ass out of bed that early for someone you don’t care about. As I did that, it built a sense of self-worth.

You never accomplished anything worthwhile in your life!!!

Wrong! I completed P90X. And then I completed Insanity! Then Body Combat! Then T25! And now P90X3! And I completed a Warrior Dash and a Spartan Sprint and three Tough Mudders! In fact, if you click the link, you’ll see me proving my self-worth at Tough Mudder in 2012. I got my money’s worth.

For me, that built serious credibility. And that credibility is transferable. When things go bad at work and I start to fall back into the habits of saying I’m stupid and never accomplished anything–that’s simply not true. I have the proof. I am the proof.

I work out because I’m worth the effort. I’m starting to eat a lot better. Same reason. I’m seeking out like-minded friends–to re-enforce what’s important to me right now.

I’m not a better person than you because I’m fit. I’m a better person–a far better person–than I was because of what I learned getting fit.


You can’t do it in a day

Today (as I write this), I did the ALS ice-bucket challenge. It was fun and considering it was August in Florida, it was perfect outdoor activity.

The problem with the ice-bucket challenge wasn’t the water temperature. It was this…

That’s not the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Or the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. That’s me. I look a lot better than I used to. But I’m still puffy around the middle.

I can do a few pull-ups and a lot of push-ups. I can throw weight around. And I’ve recently made a huge step forward in choosing food.

But I’m still not Adonis-like in the middle area.

And that’s okay. You can only start where you start. Though I’ve zig-zagged, my eating habits have gotten progressively better over time. The truth is, it took a long time to build my imperfect body. It’ll take a long time to rebuild it, too.

For me, working out is automatic. The food, not so much.

Food shouldn’t be that hard. You just put good things in your mouth and avoid bad things. Easy, right?

Sure.

Until you have a day from hell to end a week from hell and you crave sugar and alcohol the way the coyote craves the roadrunner. Except the coyote has to catch the roadrunner. Sugar and alcohol are there for the taking at Publix, Chili’s, Dunkin Donuts, and <insert almost anyplace else with a lighted sign>.

Wherever you are, it’s because of your choices over time. It didn’t take 15 minutes to get there and it won’t take 15 minutes to get back, either.

Be patient. Work the plan. Understand you’ll stumble.  But over the weeks and months and even years, as you learn more and surround yourself with like-minded people, progress will come.

Do your best today. And if that doesn’t work out, do your best tomorrow.

The proof? There’s cake in the kitchen with a bunch of frosting. Nearby, there’s a bag of yellow corn tortilla chips. And two boxes of Trader Joe’s Jo-Jos (like Oreos, but better). I haven’t eaten a single one of them. I won’t, either.

It took me forever to get to this point. I still have a lot of not-great days to make up for. But it’s where I am today. If I string a mess of today’s together, that’s progress.

You, too.


A hell of a week

I never met Robin Williams, but I did meet mystery author Jeremiah Healy. It was at Sleuthfest–a mystery writers conference–a few years ago. He was one of the headliners and for an accomplished author, he was helpful and approachable and encouraging and funny. He was engaged to another mystery author, Sandra Balzo, and in on session, he demonstrated attacks on her. I have a picture of him holding a knife to his fiance’s neck during the demonstration, and remember thinking that could be some real interesting foreplay.

 According to the Mystery Fanfare blog, Jeremiah Healy committed suicide this week. According to the post, he struggled with depression and alcohol–a common combination.

Robin Williams was shocking, but this hurt a little because I met this guy. I liked this guy.

Depression is no stranger to so many people. Imagine living a life in which every bit of mental energy is sucked away. Imagine running in two feet of mud while everyone else runs on a paved path. Imagine walking across the parking lot to the supermarket and feeling like you have to stop and sit down because you don’t have the energy to walk the 50 0r so steps to the front door.

Now multiply that.

I’m not going to eulogize either of these man. I really didn’t know them.

But I will say this–I am better when I do things for myself. I don’t mean when I get myself a twelve of Stella instead of Bud Light, or get a second bag of gum drops. I mean things like working out, eating better, doing things that show I’ve improved, doing things that re-enforce my value.

I still struggle. Some days it’s a huge effort just to do the normal stuff. But I’ve worked too hard to make myself better and I’ll never, ever throw that away. I get too much satisfaction out of accomplishing things I didn’t think I could.

Exercise and diet don’t fix depression. But they help mitigate it. They loosen its grip. They help you see that more is possible.

This isn’t a clinical judgement. I don’t have the tools for that. But if you’re focused on a goal, something to push toward, you can’t be as focused on the black hole of depression.

Get the treatment you need. Find someone you can work with, who’ll help you–more than just throwing pills at you or saying you need to grow a pair and fix yourself. But also do some things to build your worth.

You are worth it.


Don’t believe the lie

A friend of mine has said that I should write about my experiences because it would motivate people.

For the record, in the spring of 2010, I couldn’t walk up stairs without bracing myself on the railing because my weight hurt my knees. Now I can do a one-armed push-up (have I mentioned I can do a one-armed push-up recently?).

But I can’t motivate you. No one could motivate me, either. If they could, I’d be hopping up stairs three at a time my entire life.

Back then, I bought into the lie. I’m getting older–that’s just how it goes. I can’t get down on the floor any more. I was never very athletic anyway so it’s no great loss. Fat pants are a fact of life. I’ll just look the other way when I pass the mirror with no clothes on. I’m gonna need a bigger mirror to ignore myself in.

It angers me that I settled for that. Not to get all religious on you, but if Satan exists, that’s the kind of crap he would tell you. One of the meanings of Satan is the accuser and I was my own Satan. How screwed up is it that I would actually look the other way when passing the mirror?

Get behind me, Satan! (Actually, that NHLer Miroslav Satan, whose last name is pronounced shi-TAN, but it’s a cool joke.)

I bought the lie. It’s a lie that I told myself and it was, honestly, bolstered by what I see around me. After all, it wasn’t me; it was the stress. It was the hurry-up lifestyle. It was the high-fructose corn syrup–that’s stuff’s addicting, you know! It was big food making me big!

Except it wasn’t.

I was fat (that’s the exact right word for it) because of me. When I went to pick up my daughter after school I’d stop at Walgreen’s on Hillsborough and get a candy bar and a Coke. When I was stressed, I’d get a bag of spiced gum drops. I would never consider eating something better because I wanted what I wanted.

Again, I was fat because of me. I needed to own it because that was the truth.

Oh, Chris. I wish you wouldn’t say that, even about yourself. It’s fat-shaming!

Sorry, but no. If I was fat because of ME–if I was ashamed to look in the mirror because of me–it meant something wonderful. That’s right, wonderful!

The reason I was fat.

It meant that I could be not-fat because of me. It meant that I could work to a point where I could flex my arm and be amazed it was mine. It meant I could get on the ground if I wanted to and get up. It meant my knees didn’t have to hurt.

I have the power over how I turn out. Not Coca-Cola or Kraft Foods or the Cheesecake Factory. I’m the one who chose all that. If I simply choose different, I’m golden.

You don’t have time, you say. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make quick oats and put some honey in them. It takes seven minutes to microwave brown rice and a couple more to add some beans and salsa.

Don’t believe the lie. You are in control. Not some faceless CEO making processed food addictive. Not your job. Not your family history. Not your stress.

You are in control. Take the control back.

You are worth it.


About food

So let me tell you this: I love me a Chicago pizza with a big bunch of cheese and mushrooms and onions and, as they say it up there sassidge. If you go to Gino’s East, you don’t just get some crumbled sassidge here and there, you get a sassidge blanket at the bottom of your deep dish. It makes me hungry just thinking about it!

My friend Katie’s in Chicago this weekend and she’ll be partaking of some authentic Chicago pizza (sassidge optional). I am eating vicariously through her.

I like a nice cheesecake, too. Not a piece of cheesecake, mind you, but a cheesecake. I made an awesome cheesecake at Christmas. It was yumfreakintastic.

Except, I’m doing all this exercise stuff and starting to get really, really serious about fitness and my stomach is–though flatter–still Jabbalike.

That’s me in an acting job I had in 1983. Carrie Fisher was hot and I got to sit next to her.

It’s been a while since I’ve eaten like a sixteen-year-old. I know what to do. I know what tempeh is and quinoa. I even know how to pronounce quinoa (keen-wa). (So now you know.) But I haven’t been doing it.

But in fairness, it’s been a journey for me. Five years ago, I ate a lot of processed foods and sugars. Over time, I’ve substituted out and changed things. Now, instead of regular pasta, for instance, I eat brown-rice pasta. It’s basically the same as regular and it’s available for two bucks a bag a Trader Joe’s. I drink Shakeology for a meal once a day.

It’s a gradual journey. I’m no food Nazi. But over time I’m learning better habits. I snack on nuts and frozen grapes and Larabars rather than a bag of spiced gum drops. I’ve cut back on meat a fair amount. If I go to Moe’s I get the whole wheat tortilla and brown rice and get pretty much all the veggies on my burrito. Stuff like that.

I’m moving into taller grass, too. Last week I made a cauliflower pizza crust. It wasn’t awesome…in fact, it was mush. So I learned how not to make it and I’ll try again.

The fact is, I work too hard on other things to sabotage my workouts by eating stuff that comes out of a box. So I’ll learn and make better choices over time and it will be awesome.

I’ve found some good recipes from allrecipes–I just pay attention to the ingredients and try stuff that will be exciting if it works and fun even if it doesn’t.