How do you balance self-acceptance vs. the drive to grow and improve yourself? On the one hand, it’s a good idea to accept yourself for who you are… faults and all, right? But on the other hand, isn’t it also a good idea to set goals and aim for something even better than what you already experience now? How do you resolve this conflict?My own first gut reaction was that "self-acceptance vs. personal growth" was a nonsensical question or dilemma anyway (kind of like when someone asks you, if we have free will, why can't we fly out of windows?). But I thought about some of the ways people sometimes respond to my blog, and I realized that this is a big concern. There's a question about when do exercise or body goals represent the same lack of self-acceptance that leads to eating disorders, low self-esteem, comparing oneself to others, being overly susceptible to impossible advertising images, and the like? Steve P. isn't talking mainly about body goals, though his ideas apply. Both of us believe there is no true opposition between self-acceptance and self-improvement. To explain, Steve P. invokes Stephen Covey's concept of "true north," which means knowing and applying your core values. Examples he gives include unconditional love, service to humanity, faith in a higher power, compassion, nonviolence, and so on. Which ones drive you? If you derive your sense of who you are, what your value is as a person, from the higher values you hold and serve, then you have self-acceptance. You have it no matter what your current circumstances are, rich, poor, high status, low status, thin, fat. You have value because you know who you are at the core and what you align yourself with in this world. Goals seem to interfere with self-acceptance when people overidentify with their status goals instead of their core values, and meeting those status goals becomes the measure of their self-worth. Money, job title, looks. If I place my self-worth not on the eternal values I commit to, but on whether my weight is up or down or which pants size I fit into, that's the problem, and getting to the lower weight or smaller pants size will not solve that problem. I spent a lot of my life in my thirties on a status goal -- trying to prove to my business superiors that I was a serious contender. My goal was that much more difficult because I had an academic degree, and because I hadn't started in business until my late twenties, but the barriers and doubts people put in front of me only drove me harder. My life, my waking hours, revolved around my job, but even worse, so did my sense of self. I fretted, worried, worked all the time, got an MBA while working all the time, eroded my health and my relationships -- but eventually made a lot of money with some moderately impressive job titles. At some point, I came across Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Lawrence Boldt. It's a great career guide, but the best part is the amazing final chapter, where the author talks about relaxing because the corporate world is not life-or-death, not a measure of your self-worth, but just a game. A game! It all hit me; it made so much sense. You play the game; there are rules; there are rewards, and winning, and losing. All the things I'd put so much stock in were part of a giant game that we'd all agreed to participate in! But -- and this was most impressive -- Boldt didn't say be a dropout, sneer at the game, live in protest, consider yourself above the others while boiling up your ramen noodles in your dank hovel. He said: Play with all your heart!! Play to win, play like you mean it, play just like you played games and sports when you were a kid. And when it's over, you can walk away whether you win or lose, because you know -- it's still just a game. Around the same time, I enrolled in the year-long Basic Improv Course at Second City (the one that doesn't require an audition). My goal was to lose the stage fright that had dogged me for so long, undermining work presentations and preventing me from doing the acting and performance I was interested in. And nothing, but nothing, terrified me more than improv: the idea of standing in front of an audience without a script! I signed up specifically because it so completely terrified and undid me (what I call "walking straight into the eye of the storm" -- a great prescription for personal growth, by the way). My fantasy was that improv would cure my stage fright by giving me the skills to ad lib my way smoothly through any situation. (I had no idea how little experience a year is in the difficult practice of improv!) And improv did cure my stage fright -- but not because it made me a smooth talker. Improv cured my stage fright because I got so used to bombing, to crash-and-burning -- even in front of real live audiences in the Mainstage and ETC theaters -- that I finally lost my fear of doing so! I lost my great fear of looking like a complete idiot in front of other people. Losing that fear has served me well. After improv, I was finally able to attend writing workshops and have my writing critiqued. I'd gotten to a point where I could feel that a piece of my writing was an object separate from me. Is it effective? Is it saying what I want it to say? That's what I want to know. I feel that way about my goals with my body, too. Nothing is ever perfect, not a body, not a piece of writing, but can I make it better? I didn't know if I could get elite running status, but I wanted to give the attempt my all. I don't know if I can get to fitness model shape at my age, but I'm going to give that my all and see. If it doesn't work, well, it was a game and I played it with all my heart. I'll move on and look for the next game to play that makes me feel alive. I've had enough things happen in life by now, including difficult things that are mostly invisible to others, that I know that who I am is a core, good, unchanging soul that has nothing to do with how I rank with the people around me. And so it is with everyone. I think that's what Steve P. is talking about. It has been very freeing. I can experiment in life without feeling like I'm laying my self on the line by taking a risk and failing. I can fall flat on my face on that improv stage. So many people just go in circles over the same issues in their lives. Going back and forth over your health and fitness because you think maybe you're not accepting yourself enough if you try to get in shape is wrongheaded. Being healthy invariably serves your larger purpose, and being more gorgeous or competing in a sports contest are the games. Play the games you want to play, and play them to win! You'll be a fine winner on some days, and a fine, fine loser on others.
I know that running in and of itself isn't a weight loss program but still..... When I started running last February I was 30 lbs overweight and I was looking for a way to get fit, gain energy and not be so frustrated with my appearance anymore (I gained the weight with my two kids and it just stuck. Before that I was always slender.) What I found was that I love running. I just love it. I love the peace it gives me, the stamina, the sense of challenging myself, all of it. I got rid of the scale and just ran. I average between 15-20 miles a week (running five days a week 2m, 3m, 4m, 3m, 7m-ish) and I'm increasing mileage and doing speed work. For a while I was feeling pretty good but the holidays came and the usual food/drinkfest happened. Today in honor of the new year, I stepped on the scale (My Wii fit, the same one I used last year) and over the course of the year I lost....wait for it....two pounds. I actually gained 7 in the past six months (the last time I weighed myself before now.) Seeing a seven pound weight gain from the last time I logged in and hearing my Wii say, "That's overweight" just made me feel so defeated. As it is I always feel like the fat runner people look at and think, "If that fat girl can do it, anyone can." I know I should be proud of my accomplishments but honestly, I just want to cry. The funny part is, more than wanting to lose a size or look better, I keep feeling like if I could drop the 30 lbs I'd be so much faster as a runner. Being heavy makes me feel like a fraud as a runner - I was in a running store and when I told the person what I do for distance and what races I have coming up I could just feel the look of, "Okay, sure you're a runner." I know some of it is my own insecurity, but some of it is real.I've been meaning to answer her: Keep the faith, keep going. The thing is, everyone else is telling her to count calories, eat less. I despise counting calories, and I despise limiting the quantity of my food intake. To me, that's the lowest quality of life! And ramping up exercise while restricting calories is, in my experience, a recipe for physical misery. It's also a good way to get a lot less than you could out of your workouts due to low energy. I'm not saying I haven't done it or would never do it, but I definitely avoid it. I did not lose my weight that way, by restricting calories or food quantities. You often hear about the 80/20 rule from trainers and nutritionists -- that fitness is 80% diet and 20% exercise. I suppose if you're existing on Ho-Ho's and Big Macs, that might be true! But I was already eating a healthy diet of organic, natural foods, with at least the minimal amount of produce, when I weighed thirty pounds more in 2006. It's true I tend to eat too much sugar, especially chocolate. (That's the main vice I'm addressing with going low carb for right now!) But it was exercise that improved my metabolism and built muscle and dropped fat. My food choices improved some, too, because your tastes change when your body demands food for fuel. So for me, it was really 80% exercise and 20% diet. However, my weight loss was incredibly slow at points. But I was convinced that consistent exercise would eventually yield results that looked like consistent exercise! And my body composition did change over time, which is a slow process. My weight finally stabilized itself, and (with exercise) regulates itself. I know from experience, that isn't true when you "go on a diet" to lose thirty pounds in three months. You tank your metabolism; lose as much muscle as fat; and set up a starvation response in which your body tries to regain the weight by increasing your appetite to out-of-control proportions. It's not even a responsible thing to recommend to someone, in my opinion, though it's recommended all the time! It's based on the false idea that humans can voluntarily restrict their food intake indefinitely (because you need to for maintenance, too), which just isn't true. I keep coming back to this example that fascinates me. Hillary Swank ate 4,000 calories of low-carb protein and fat every day for three months to gain muscle for Million Dollar Baby. She drank 1,000 calories of flax seed oil; and she woke up for a protein shake in the middle of the night to get in more calories. I'm not at all interested in going to those extremes! But I find the direction to eat more -- so different from the usual advice to restrict calories while working out -- informative and inspiring. Granted, she started out a waif, not overweight. But it seems to me all conventional wisdom would have predicted her blowing up into a fat little piggy on that diet, workouts or not, instead of gaining nineteen solid pounds of muscle. Of course -- and this is important -- it was her workouts that made the 4,000 calorie plan work. For years now, since I started biking for hours and then running again, I've been eating 3,000 or more calories on workout days, and healthily into the mid-2,000s on off days. (I'm naturally not as hungry on off days; that seems to be self-regulating, too.) That's a lot more than I "should" be able to for my gender, age, and weight (and another reason I can't stick to a 1,400-calorie diet!). Everything I've done has increased my metabolism, by increasing my muscle mass, capillaries, mitochondria (the furnaces inside our cells that "burn" fat and sugar), and metabolic enzymes and hormones. Dieting does the opposite. These adaptations have made me leaner, though they sometimes can cause weight gain (not fat gain). When I trained hard to race for elite status this fall, my weight went up eight pounds! (it's back down now). The Coolrunning woman's seven pound gain may easily be from these factors. Personally, I no longer have a particular weight goal; I go by body composition, and look and feel. My weight is up about two pounds now on my Jillian/low carb combo, but my bodyfat is down for the first time in ages. That means I'm gaining muscle with a slight net loss of fat. I'm definitely not getting skinny quickly, like I would on a "diet," ten pounds of weight loss in a month. Instead, I'm relying on what I'm doing now to slowly alter my body composition some more (at over 20%, it's still not quite athletic). This is the picture I always have in my mind: If you change the ship's course slightly, point the nose to one side by a degree, you won't notice a difference today -- but later on, you'll end up in a completely different part of the world! My own conclusion is that if you want to lose "weight" quickly (with consequences), diet is 80%. If you want to change permanently, exercise is 80%.
Stick with it, and your clothes should be fitting differently by the end of week one; by the end of week two, you should see dramatic changes in your physique; by week three you should be feeling more confident, strong, and fit than you ever have in your entire life; and by the time the program is complete you should be ripped -- as long as you're consistent!It sounds great! My clothes, however, did not feel like they fit differently at the end of week one. In the middle of week two, I lifted my arm to blow dry my hair, and my shoulder looked huge and striated. I guess that counts as "dramatic changes in my physique," just not the ones I was really looking for. Yesterday, at the end of the first two weeks, my abs were showing good signs. I can kinda see tightness in the obliques if I lean a certain way. Then I came out into the living room and looked at my abs in that mirror, and I couldn't see it anymore. It's so hard to tell what's your imagination or wishful thinking. My weight hasn't changed, but my bodyfat might be down. I have one of those bodyfat scales, and the reading fluctuates a lot each day, so I try to discern trends. I'm not counting calories like Jillian's diet plan says to. I'm eating low carb in the hope that I will naturally eat less; but with the amount of peanut butter, cheese, and full-fat plain Greek yogurt I squeeze in, I may be at my usual breakeven. Research shows that there are two types of people: those lucky types who lose weight from the calories they burn in exercise, and those others of us called "compensators," who eat back every last calorie burned in exercise with uncanny accuracy, without even trying. I've been a compensator all my life; I think I'm doing it again, low-carb style. I've begun to piece together the idea behind Jillian's exercise program, and it's really fascinating. At first I couldn't figure out how you could get away with just one set of each move. It turns out, she's really having you do five to seven separate exercises that come at the same muscle group in slightly different ways. She'll have you do one exercise with light weight and high reps, and the next with heavy weight and low reps. Sometimes she "supersets" one after the other. Sometimes she pre-fatigues you on purpose. At the end, you could not be more fatigued. Friday of the first week, I crashed on my bed at 6 PM as if I had just run a race. Mondays and Thurdays are front of the body (chest, quads) and Tuesdays and Fridays are back of the body (back, hamstrings). That way you can do full-body workouts four days a week! On Thursday I'm still sore from Tuesday, but it doesn't matter because I'm using my "Monday" muscles. It's genius. Out of curiosity and this warm, good feeling about the book, I watched some sample video of Jillian DVDs, but I still don't want her screaming at me.