My Solution to Not Wanting to Exercise

This morning, my new friend walks me to the gym (it takes us 25 minutes).  Then, she pushes the elliptical machine time so that we exercise for 30 minutes.  Then, she drags me up the stairs to do arm weights (she shows me how).  Then, just when I’m about to suggest that we stop and get very fattening and delicious coffee drinks, she says, “Now we do push-ups.” 

Then we walk home for another 25 minutes.  

It feels like five minutes because I’m with my new friend. We talk about everything. 

She’s getting me out of bed tomorrow. 

Living with flair means if you don’t want to do something, you find an enthusiastic friend to do it with you.  Enthusiastic friends make everything better.  Even exercise.  I’ll report my fitness achievements at the end of the summer!

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Journal:  What enthusiastic contribution can I make to a friend’s life?  What would my friends say I’m enthusiastic about? 

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Even in the Rain: The Best Part of the Week

I didn’t think anybody would show up to Neighborhood Fitness Group.  It was raining and dreary; who wants to exercise in the rain?

But we can’t help ourselves.  We love it. 

By the time I get the double-dutch jump ropes out, a group of children is already rolling down a hillside.  Then I look and see that my daughter has tied a kite to the back of her bike, and she rides as fast as she can to keep that kite flying.

You can’t slow down.  That kite needs speed. 

Then, the best part of all, one of my college students shows up to teach the children how to play 4-Square.

I find myself right in the mix.  I play 4-Square.  I jump double-dutch.  I dance to the music from the car speakers.  It’s raining, and I don’t even notice. 

I realize that I need this.  I need to be part of my neighborhood.  I need to know folks by name, roll down a hill with them, and gather even in the rain.

On the walk to school this morning (in the pouring rain), two children announce how far they got in 4-Square.  “I was almost King!” they shout and pull on my sleeve.

Is this what they’ll remember in 20 years?  Is this what they’ll put into place in their own neighborhoods in another generation?

I’m starting to think that showing up at Monday Night Fitness Group is the best thing I do in a week.  Even in the rain, I’ll be there next Monday. 

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Journal:  What else can we do to build our neighborhood?

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I Have an Announcement!

A Basement for Dancing

Last night, for Monday Night Fitness Group, we have 15 children and their parents gather to dance and jump rope in my basement.  The space isn’t fancy–it’s just big enough to let a group of children dance for one hour.  As we finish up with jumping jacks and a game of “Little Sally Walker,” we pause for “Community Announcements.” 

So many little hands go up in the air.  I have an announcement!  I have an announcement!  We sit in a circle and share our most important news for the neighborhood to know.  I begin with a challenge to walk to school–even in the snow–so we can celebrate our 100th mile with t-shirts and dancing.  I have more weight to lose and more health to gain, and I need this neighborhood to help me. 

Then the children go around the circle with their most important announcements:

One child has her first loose tooth.  We cheer and clap.  She’s growing! 

The next child reports that there’s a new student at school.  She says, “We have to talk to him and make him feel very welcome.”  Another child pipes up that there’s another new student who only speaks Portuguese, so we have to pay attention and help that new person. 

Then one boy announces that he “played outside the whole afternoon, ate dinner quickly, and rushed back outside to play.”  We clap because it’s a fitness achievement for him, and our neighborhood is on a mission towards fitness.   The next child claims she danced for one hour in her basement with her friend.  Another fitness win. 

Then, we hear of new badges earned in scouts.  We cheer more.  

And then, we are alerted to a neighborhood emergency.  Earlier in the afternoon, some of the children discovered a tree that had a rock embedded in the trunk.  They perform surgery and remove it. When they examine this tree, they find that too many acorns are taking root near it and within the hollow between two limbs.  They proceed to clear away the acorns and water the tree.  And then they observe that it’s all solid clay around the trunk; no water seeps in.  So they grab shovels, till the soil, and mix in compost to save the tree.  2 hours they work.  Emergency averted. 

Our announcements show me what our neighborhood values: our growth, our community, our fitness, and our environment.  We celebrate each other and press on toward our goals–together.  We also value announcing our lives, living them out alongside one another.  A loose tooth, a new student, a tree in danger–these things must be noted and marked in our annals.  We chronicle lives lived in this little neighborhood.  We hear you.  We love you. 

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Things That Can Wait

My sister texts me this morning to tell me to go to the gym.  I tell her I have too much to do. Later, I call and she doesn’t say, “Hello.”  Instead, she says, “I hope you’re calling me from the treadmill.”

My sister knows me.  She knows that going to the gym makes me able to manage all the other stress in my life.  For days, things have felt unmanageable for our family.  My husband commented this morning that he’s had a revelation about what causes things to feel so out of control for him.

“It’s my desk,” he says.  “I can’t handle the clutter.  When my desk is clean, I can manage.” 

I understand this.  I can’t go to bed with dishes in the sink.  If I wake up to a messy kitchen, everything feels like a disaster.  Doing the nightly dishes puts everything else in order.  And going to the gym keeps my mood in check.

“It’s your way to breathe,” my sister says.  She explains that for her friend, keeping an organized freezer helps her breathe. Other folks need to make their beds or keep the interior of their cars clean.  I suppose it’s different for everyone

Those minutes I spend on the things I need to do to breathe buy me entire days of order and elevated mood.  Maybe it’s dishes and exercise.  Maybe it’s an organized freezer and a clean desk.   No matter what it is, I let other things wait so I can do the thing that helps me breathe.

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Forgetting the Thing I Need the Most

Today, I attended that Body Combat class that once made me cry. 

I’m front and center with the petite and perky trainer staring right into my eyes.  With every muscle toned and every skin surface glistening, she encourages me to “own the space” around me and to “no longer be a prisoner.”  As I punch and kick the air, I imagine some unnamed demon–depression, failure, regret–and I attack fiercely and swiftly.

I’m working hard.

Then, at the point of my exhaustion, the trainer says, “Don’t forget to breathe.”  It’s silly.  How could I forget?  Why do trainers always command us to do something so simple and intuitive?  Breathe.  

I ask her why we have to be reminded.

She says (in between one-handed push ups and military crawls) that when the body is working hardest, it forgets the thing it needs the most.  The focus on the task (utilizing muscles in difficult configurations) means we forget to breathe.  We hold our breath as we focus. 

“So I have to remind you.  There’s no quicker way to fatigue the body than to forget to breathe.”

Her lesson in breathing at the point of my most focused and hardest work reminds me that what seems automatic and intuitive often freezes up when I’m working.  I fatigue myself because I’m neglecting the thing I need the most. 

When I’m fatigued like this, I need to ask myself what I’m neglecting that I need the most.

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The Secret Community You Might Want to Join

This morning, at 5:30 AM, I discovered the secret community of Those Who Rise Early.

I can’t believe this world exists.  There I am, alarm going off, pulling on work-out clothes and stumbling to the driveway, when all of a sudden, I look around.  At the unnatural hour of 5:30 AM, there are actual people walking about.  Happy people.  People with dogs and friends and strollers and. . . energy.

What coffee do these people drink?

I pass folks out in their yard and folks driving places.  I see three runners, several walkers, and some gardeners. Why in the world are they so happy?  Do they know it’s 5:30 AM?

It’s a secret community.  Those Who Rise Early do things like work out, drink a quiet cup of coffee, stroll in their gardens, take leisurely showers, fix their hair, empty the dishwasher, prepare breakfast, and then, they greet Those Who Rise Late with a smile, ready.   

I’ve been in the later group my whole life.  I’m the one in the bad mood, dragging myself around, begging for coffee, griping at everybody and wanting my soft bed back.  Let me sleep!  I need my sleep!  I’m fighting the DNA of generations upon generations of Those Who Sleep Late.  I need to sleep until that last possible minute.   So stop bothering me and hand me that cup of coffee.  I need to sleep late

Do I?  I decided to interview Those Who Rise Early.  This club chooses to greet the day differently, and it’s supremely amazing to join them.  They usually delight in 2 hours of solitude and productivity before children rise, before traffic surges, before the onslaught of the day.  Of the men and women I’ve talked to, this 5:30 wake up has changed their lives.  They wake that early for a variety of reasons:  personal prayer or meditation times, exercise, solitude, meal preparation and house organization, reading or writing.  Those people seem to live with with flair because their early rising prepares them for the day. 

My early morning wake up is part of living with flair.  I’ve taken a nose-dive off that plateau.  I’m hoping to change this part of my life and join the secret community of 5:30 AM.  Day by day, day by day.

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Some Science Behind Happiness

The more I read about the brain, the more I have to admit I sabotage my own happiness on most days.

If you knew how lazy I really am, if you knew how much I detest exercise, and if you knew how my arms are really flabby noodles pretending to be arms, you’d be amazed right now.  Collective flair bells would ring all over the world.

I’ve never been able to do push-ups.  I’ve tried.  I can maybe do 4 on my absolute best days.

But with Jillian Michaels encouraging (yelling) at me from my basement television screen, I get down (in girl style on my knees), and start to lower myself only to push myself back up with the strength of my little frail arms.

It hurt.  It hurt, hurt, hurt.   But I did it.  And then I did it again and again. 

Here’s the story I told myself as I suffered through it:

“Do this, Heather.  Do this because you are investing in your future happiness.  You are gathering in happiness by changing brain chemistry right this very minute.  You wouldn’t forget to take your thyroid medication, right?  Swallowing that pill makes your body work for the whole day.  This next push up is your medication for mood control.  Do it, Heather.  You are earning 48 hours of elevated mood, scientifically proven, confirmed by neuroscience and brain scans.  There’s no getting out of this.  You have no choice, here.  You know the science.  Exercise trumps nearly everything else when it comes to long-term elevated mood.  You can’t ignore the science, girl.  Do it.”

And so I did it.  It didn’t feel like flair while I was in the thick of it, but the fact that I was investing in a future mood pay-off mattered so much.  We aren’t used to future returns.  We want immediate.  But living with flair means I don’t always have the luxury of automatic happiness.

Maybe it means understanding the science behind happiness.

I have to invest in mood-control activities that, scientifically, will change brain chemistry–maybe not right now, but soon.  The more neuroscience I read, the more I’m amazed with how much I sabotage myself every day.  The brain works best with certain foods and certain activities (keeping a flair journal is one of those things for me).  I don’t have a choice when it comes to this kind of living with flair.

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What I Don’t Want to Share

I’ll be honest.  I don’t want to tell you about this flair moment, but it’s the real one for today.

At the gym, I do the minimum and hide as far back into the machines as I can with my iPod and earphones keeping me in a safe cocoon away from any trainers.  But today I walk in, and two trainers greet me and insist that I try this new Body Combat class. One literally escorts me upstairs as I’m mumbling excuses and pulling away from her.  All of a sudden, I’m in this classroom of incredibly beautiful and muscular people.  She closes the door, and I find a corner, terrified. 

The trainer in front has a headset and looks like a drill sergeant.  He’s ripped and already sweating.  His sidekick is a petite blond woman who is absolutely gorgeous.  Every muscle is sleek and defined, she’s smiling, and she looks like a Cover Girl model.  They adjust their headsets, pump up loud techno music, and start teaching everybody these complicated combinations of squats, kicks, and punches.

I try to work the room and introduce myself to everybody.  My defense mechanism of encouraging all the others kicks in.  Maybe I could set up a table up front and talk to people as they exercise.  Maybe I could write a narrative or lay on the ground and pray for all those people. 

I’m dying.  I can’t even figure out the moves.  The class lasts an hour, and every millisecond is absolute pain and humiliation. I cling to my water bottle like a security blanket.

And then, it’s almost over.  But before we stretch, the instructors come over and give each of us a high-five.

Oh, come on!  A high-five?  A high-five like I’m a child?  And I totally failed in that class.  I couldn’t even do the push up thing where you put one hand in the air.

But when the woman comes over and looks me in the eye and gives me that high-five, I burst into tears.  The drill sergeant gives me not one, but two high-fives.  I cry harder.

What was wrong with me?  I’ve been humiliated before, but something about physical fitness strikes a nerve.  There’s no defense mechanism, no personality gift that aids me in my own body’s response to exercise.  It’s just me, my own muscles, and my own heart and blood out there.

I feel lost at sea every time.  It’s the real me stripped of all the flair.

That’s why I cried.  I was there, with nothing to offer, and those trainers still gave the high-five.  I felt like saying, “Are you kidding?  Do you know what a loser I am?”  But they did know–they saw every uncoordinated move.  And what makes the whole thing even better is that they bowed to us at the end to show how honored they were to have exercised with us.

I learned that living with flair means deliberately embracing situations that strip me of all my coping mechanisms.  It’s good to feel lost at sea so I can receive love and instruction from somebody else.  I don’t have to always be the teacher, the encourager, or the one with the flair. 

I’m a loser at the gym, crying in my minivan afterward because of a silly high-five.  But it felt like the best flair possible for someone like me.

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