brene-quoteIf you spend any amount of time around these parts, you know that Brene Brown is one of my personal heroes. She was my gateway drug into the world of whole-hearted living and made me realize how much of my life can be influenced simply by how I treat myself.

One of the concepts that she often preaches about is the idea of “the story we tell ourselves” — it’s the story that our mind makes up to explain outside circumstances and situations, and these stories may or may not reflect reality. One of the examples that she uses is when a work colleague seems to be short with me, maybe the story that I automatically believe is that I did something wrong and so he blew me off or that he thinks I’m a jerk because I disagreed with his idea. I then go to his desk and say, “This is the story I’m telling myself … ” and explain what I’m thinking, and he replies, “Oh no, I had just gotten a phone call from my wife that distracted me” and all of a sudden, my story falls apart. My story may have explained what happened, but failed to actually sync up with the rest of the world.

These stories, they happen automatically. They’re just our way of making sense of the world around us, but honestly, we aren’t always very good at making them real. And believing these stories can really become an obstacle to doing something you want to do or moving forward in a different way. Because, see, we don’t just have stories to explain the behavior of other people, we also make up stories to explain why we act the way we do.

So, like I mentioned last week, I hurt my back last Friday — badly enough that I was pretty well relegated to sitting around for the rest of that weekend and very slowly working my way back this week. And it’s been difficult, because I had made such a good start on my rest-of-the-year goals and I was motivated to keep pressing on and then, in the span of one deadlift, I went from totally pumped to feeling like a deflated balloon. A deflated balloon that whimpered every time it had to get up after sitting down.

See, the story I tell myself is this: whenever things are going well, something will always happen that will keep me from moving forward and reaching my goals. Whatever this “something” is, it will derail me, I’ll lose ground and lose track of what was so important to me just a moment ago. That “something” will stop me from doing what I need to do and I won’t see any other way around it. I’ll be a failure. I’ll quit. I’ll lose all progress previously made and be back at square one where, at some point in the far future, I’ll have to start over yet again, after whining and complaining and generally bemoaning how unlucky I am.

This is an easy story for me to believe; it’s not like it hasn’t already happened many times. And I always start again, feeling like THIS is the time that everything will go smoothly. Of course, that’s just another story I’m telling myself. Do you know anyone who has completely smooth sailing on any sort of project or goal? Yea. Me either.

I need to change my story.

My new story is one of fake it ’til you make it. My new story is that I’m a person who perseveres in the face of challenges. That I don’t give up. My new story is that I might have to tack this way and that against the wind, but it’s always with the goal in sight. My new story is that even if I have to just tread water, not making progress, I’m at least holding my ground. My story is that even though the journey might not be smooth, I understand that this journey is important and just staying with it and not abandoning is a win.

Adopting my new story won’t necessarily be easy, but my new story tells me that I’ll be able to do it (how’s that for a little circular logic?). The goals that I had set out — move every day, eat mindfully, strength train — will have another overriding goal: don’t quit. Do the minimum, acknowledge and forgive any missteps, just don’t give up. Do what I can with what I have. I don’t have to be perfect — hell, if perfection were the only thing allowed, I would have been out a long time ago — I just have to keep trying.

So far I’ve managed to do my minimum — walking a mile — every day. It’s a sixteen day streak and I’ve got two months more to go to hit my goal. Just a mile a day might not seem like much, but that’s what I’m talking about — it keeps me feeling like I’m on-task and doing something even when most everything else is out of my reach at the moment.

Changing our story is something anyone can do. What stories do you tell yourself that limit you? What do you think about yourself that’s “just the way I am” rather than looking at it with a little curiosity and wondering, “how could I change that story?” There’s a lot of power in recognizing our stories, and also recognizing that we are the creators of these stories; being the author means being able to go back in and edit the heck out of them, rewrite the ending or even re-jigger the whole damn thing.

 

On and off. Black and white. Ying and yang.

Success and shadow.

What?

It was something I hadn’t considered — that every success has its shadowy side, the underbelly that you don’t always talk about. We all know that success takes hard work and commitment, but that’s usually where the story ends, right? But every success contains sacrifice in some other area and there’s always a push and pull that forces us to choose between what we want, what we have and what we could be.

This concept didn’t just appear, wholly formed, in my brain; I read an excellent essay by James Clear who used Picasso as his main example, and then said the following:

Do you want the shadow that comes with the success? Do you want the baggage that comes with the bounty? What kind of pain are you willing to bear in the name of achieving what you want to achieve? Answering this question honestly often leads to more insight about what you really care about than thinking of your dreams and aspirations.

It is easy to want financial independence or the approval of your boss or to look good in front of the mirror. Everybody wants those things. But do you want the shadow side that goes with it? Do you want to spend two extra hours at work each day rather than with your kids? Do you want to put your career ahead of your marriage? Do you want to wake up early and go to the gym when you feel like sleeping in? Different people have different answers and you’ll have to decide what is best for you, but pretending that the shadow isn’t there is not a good strategy.

It’s all a matter of choices. Sometimes it’s a relatively easy decision (at least in theory, if not in execution), like, “Can I give up 1.5 hours of TV a day to work out and take care of my body?” But other times, doing one thing can negatively impact something else you care about: “Can I give up 1.5 hours of time I could be spending writing to instead be lifting weights or running?” Sometimes the choice involves a little heartbreak.

It’s life’s biggest joke — so many things to want to do and never enough time to do them all in. Instead you have to prioritize and decide what’s really the most important. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a life where you can simultaneously juggle two or three important endeavors, but even still, life will never gift unlimited amounts of time and energy to anyone. It will always come down to figuring out what you can accomplish in your allotted time.success

And so this is what I’ve been thinking about this week: I have my goals that I set out for myself — are they really my top priority? Is getting physically fit and strong the thing that deserves my undivided attention ahead of all other goals? And more importantly, am I prepared to accept the pain that this involves, including taking time away from writing, not eating whatever I want (in quantities that I might want) and doing battle with the habits that cause me to want to snack incessantly?

Right now, my answer isn’t too difficult — my “yes” comes knowing that being single with no kids allows me more time and energy than the average person. And more importantly, being fit will allow me to fully enjoy the activities I really care about — hiking, exploring, photography, going on adventures. My sacrifices and pain are mostly caught up in the challenge of changing my habits and beliefs, which are comfortable, ingrained and not going anywhere unless I force them out.

In the end, I think that recognizing and accepting the sacrifices you need to make to reach your goals is just as, if not more, important than deciding what kind of success you want to achieve. Because if you can’t deal with the shadow side of success, you’ll never end up succeeding anyway.

On a vaguely related tangent: week one of my new plan is complete and so far, so good. Well, kind of. I checked all the boxes (moved at least a mile every day, strength trained 3 times, really focused on mindful eating), but on Friday I jacked up my back doing deadlifts. It’s not of the “lay on the floor and don’t move” variety, but careful and cautious movement is in order. I can still walk slowly — and so I have been — but nothing too much more for the time being. Any strength training is on hold for at least a week, but I’m hoping to ease back into cardio that actually causes me to sweat (which, I’ll have you know, is an incredibly low bar) in a day or so.

To sum it up, I was doing great — I got out on my tri bike, had a kick ass run on the treadmill, and then my back decided to put the brakes on the entire enterprise. Needless to say, I’m pretty pissed off at my back right now (the expletives that erupted from me the moment I knew I had done it, well … they would make me ineligible for a PG-13 rating). But, I need to look at this as an opportunity and certainly not an excuse to throw everything away. A twitchy back won’t keep me from my mindful eating habits. It also won’t keep me from my mile a day (though it’s really slow at the moment). Success is never easy. Here’s my first real obstacle. Let’s see how I handle it.

 

I’ve been home from Utah for over a week now, I’ve posted my vacation porn, emptied out the suitcase (though, admittedly haven’t quite put everything away yet) and spent a week slipping back into my normal routine. Or, at least, attempting to get back at it, though (again, admittedly) I haven’t been entirely successful.

The Utah trip was fantastic — one of the best vacations I’ve had in awhile. Beautiful country shared with a group of awesome people — it doesn’t really get much better than that — but the vacation hangover was in proportion to the absolute fabulousness of the trip. We got home Friday night, and that weekend was such a letdown — real life thrown back in my face. Nothing exceptional occurred, but doing laundry, grocery shopping, food prepping for the work week ahead — it sucked all the good feelings from the vacation right out of me.

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Storm moving in over the mountains at sunset

But seeing as how the escape of retirement is still just a little outside my reach, I need a plan to combat these post-vacation blues. Something to focus on, some way to get from here to the end of the year, intact and forward-looking. Which is how my self-designated, but awkwardly-named weekend of Creating Goals For The Rest Of The Year came into fruition. Because I’m desperate for something to take my mind off of the fact that I’m not longer in gorgeous southern Utah, enjoying nature, friendship and life.

One of the big takeaways from the trip was utterly unsurprising to me: I desperately want and need to be in better shape. Now, before you get any ideas, the only one commenting or caring about my slowness while hiking was me. Ever been in one of those situations where your brain keeps telling you that you’re over-talking and not letting something go and to just SHUT UP and then stares in horror as your mouth just keeps running on and on about the topic? It was sort of like that. I logically knew that no one cared, that everyone understood that I was doing my best, but my own shame and anger at myself for it kept me apologizing. It was as if I needed to (continually) let everyone know that I knew I was out of shape, lest someone think I was oblivious to my obvious weakness. Weird, convoluted, and patently unnecessary, I know. Welcome to my how my mind works.

Coming home from the trip reignited my vast desire to do more hiking, see more places, take more pictures. Traveling and seeing nature up close is where I find my peace, my wholeness. It also reminded me that while I can do these things right now, in my current state of fitness, those activities are far more enjoyable when I’m not spending most of my time wondering whether or not my heart is going to cede from the Laura Nation due to a massive overwork situation.

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Desert flowers

By the end of the vacation week, I could feel my body starting to acclimate to the tough hiking. My heart was still pounding, but it got easier to regulate, easier to find my pace, my happy place. And looking back, I know that if I can just keep doing more of the same, it’ll keep getting easier. Of course, “more of the same” is quite the challenge here in flatland Illinois. Illinois might have its own sort of beauty, but the West is where my soul is called to and out that way, highway overpasses are just overpasses, rather than “mountains” as we could call them here in the Chicago area.

All this to say, I’m in this odd place where I have nothing specific to work on, but feel like I need some goals to keep me moving. So, here’s my working list of things geared towards moving me closer to my fitness goals. I’ll commit to these until the beginning of 2017, when I’ll review what I’ve achieved and decide on my direction for the new year.

  • From today through December 31st, I will be active every day. My minimum will be one intentional mile a day, walking or running or any other self-propelled way. Walking around the office doesn’t count and even a mile of walking between the couch and the refrigerator won’t check the box. Weight training, biking, stair climbing, hiking — these all give me a gold star for the day. Starting today, that’s 78 days of activity, and I’m already good for today. 1 down, 77 to go.
  • I ran a mile this weekend — my baseline for my fitness. Surprisingly, I actually ran the entire thing, which I didn’t think I had in me, figuring that I’d have to stop and walk at some point. I didn’t. Go, me! This will be my main way of measuring my progress.
  • No calorie counting, no eliminating foods, no diets. Instead I’m going to really work on mindfulness about hunger and satiety. I’ve talked about this before, I’ve done this before — it’s hard and I find it easy to ignore when I’m anxious or depressed — but I’ll restart again because I (still) firmly believe that only by developing this skill will I be able to create a healthy relationship with food. Eat when hungry, stop when full, whether it’s vegetables and chicken or pizza and ice cream. Remembering that hunger is not an emergency will also be key.
  • I need to restart weight training. Can I be honest here? I’m not a fan. It’s boring and hard and I don’t really enjoy it. And because I’m adult who’s definitely not being paid to weight train, I try to use the argument that I shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything I don’t like to do (well, anything that’s optional… unfortunately, things like showing up at work and paying the mortgage aren’t currently optional…). But I know better — good health, especially now that I’m getting up there in years, can be exponentially aided with weight training. It’s such a healthy thing for a body to do. If only science would somehow prove me wrong… but until it does, weight training, here I come. I’ll restart my Stronglifts 5×5 program (again).

Pretty straightforward, right? Not only that, but quantifiable (which is yuuuuuge for a numbers-gal like myself) and pretty black and white (I either do it or I don’t). And the extra bit of motivation resulting from the vacation? I want to be able to keep up with my friends. They do cool things, cool things that I want to do to without me feeling the need to apologize for myself. I know that this isn’t the best reason for doing something, but I’m only being honest here. I have amazingly cool friends, they do amazingly cool things and I want to be amazingly cool while doing amazingly cool things, too, all while not feeling like I’m going to die in the process.

So, it’s again with the starting again. But that’s life, isn’t it? Fall down 7 times, get up 8. Success and satisfaction do not come from taking an arrow-straight path and rather rely on resilience and the ability to pick up where I left off. Each time I start again, I go into it with lessons having been learned and progress made. Sometime it feels like square one, but it never truly is.

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So, my brief flirtation with Utah and Zion National Park in February has blossomed into a full blown love affair. After almost a week of hiking and exploring, I’m just about ready to up and move to Southern Utah without even a glance backward.

We stayed at a Subway sandwich shop — well, the apartments above the Subway — and our location couldn’t have been more perfect. Not only were we less than 5 minute walk to the park entrance, but we could navigate back home simply by sniffing the air and moving towards the smell of bread and cookies baking. Pretty awesome, eh?

But instead of me just yapping at you, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

(sorry about the formatting, HTML and WordPress weren’t cooperating with me today and I ran out of patience)

Watchman Trail

This was a great introduction to Zion — a moderate hike that didn’t kill me with elevation gains but still provided some awesome views of the park and the valley below.

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Tired? Have a seat.

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Virgin River with some fall foliage

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I think the guy looks like he’s having fun

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Not a bad view, eh?

Emerald Pools

Even though the pictures don’t look like it, a lot of this hike felt like a half dozen tour buses had just released tourists into the wild.

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A view of the valley

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Lower Emerald Pool

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Middle Emerald Pool

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Heads we go left, tails we go right…

The Narrows

One of the most unique hikes I’ve ever done, this took place in the Virgin River, headed upstream — the “bottoms-up” hike of the Narrows. We were outfitted with neoprene socks, river shoes and walking sticks and waded our way up the river.

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As you can see, some spots were fairly deep

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The current could get quite strong

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Wall Street, where the canyon was only 25-30 feet wide

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Sun just starting to peek into the canyon

Hidden Canyon/Observation Point

Hidden Canyon was probably my favorite part of Zion (once you hiked up the switchbacks to get there). We ran into our first bit of exposed trails and then ended up in the canyon where we climbed and scrambled our way over rocks. So much fun! After that, the trudge up to Observation Point. Essentially, an unrelenting 2100 feet uphill. I came close to quitting this hike — it was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done — but the effort and sweat and swearing were all well worth it in the end (isn’t that the way things always go?).

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The mouth of Hidden Canyon

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Not as bad as it looks, honest!

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A hint at the scrambling we did

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Weirdly, the hike to Observation Point included what felt like beach.

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See? Worth it. That’s Angel’s Landing there, looking rather small.

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Totally worth the pain

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On the way back down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bryce Canyon

A day trip from Zion, we were told that we shouldn’t miss it. I’d say those opinions were correct — totally different than Zion and still gorgeous in its own way. Zion is mountains while Bryce is kind of a mini Grand Canyon, so completely different terrain. Had a great day hiking the Navajo Trail and the Peekaboo trail.

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Hoodoos galore! View from the rim.

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Hoodoos and spires

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Windows in the canyon walls

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Natural doorways in the stone

 

Angel’s Landing

The one hike that I had my eye on since this trip was booked. I had hiked up to Scout’s Landing in February and was too tired and out of sorts to do anything more than look at the climb up to Angel’s Landing. This time, I was ready to go for it. Whether the Observation Point set a new standard for toughs hikes or if I was simply in better shape, the ascent this time went much faster than last. We got up to Scout’s Landing, met up with the rest of the group and went to take on Angel’s Landing. I won’t bury the lead — I did not make it to the top. There were so many people going up and down, using the same path and chain, and it got to be a little much for me. After a short bit, I reversed course and headed back down. I’m not done with Angel’s Landing, though — I’ll be back to try again.

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View from the valley floor

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I loved all the flowers!

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View from Scout’s Landing

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The first part of the climb up to Scout’s Landing