Saturday, May 2, 2009

GooooooaaaaaaaaLLLLLL!!!!!

That's supposed to be my interpretation of how to spell "goal" when the commentator yells it out at a soccer game. Why do I have soccer on the brain??? Just got a Twitter update (I'm @phd2011into) from my Uncle Marty in Pennsylvania this morning -- apparently he's up early watching soccer. Or football. Or basketball. What sport does Man United play??? Ladies' Over 60 Bocce Ball??? Yeah, that's it. LOL!

Anyhoo, reading a quick soccer update got me thinking more about goals. This whole journey for me has been characterized by many of them. I started working with Sebastien almost a year ago (it's our manniversary in just a few weeks, May 19, LOL!!!) and had some very unquantifiable things in mind. I remember telling him things like: "I want to feel better about myself. I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath. I want to hop on a bike and go for a ride." I also had many other things running around in my head as goals which would be markers of achievement (see the Egg-zaw-sted entry) I had these behavioural goals in mind which, if I achieved them, would be tremendous markers of my progress and success. Now many people who venture down the path of better health and weight loss set a series of actual numerical goals: the weight, measurements, etc. that will be clear indicators of success. And for the first six months that Seb and I worked together, I wouldn't talk numbers. I wouldn't do measurements. I would barely let him take my weight. I was afraid of the quantifiable.

Allow me to revert into my inner-geek PhD mode for a moment here. When I do research, I don't have much time for quantiative data. I don't like numbers. Numbers, although certain and in some ways undisputable, don't take into account individual experience, context, and circumstance to explain how numbers are derived. For example, if a researcher were to conclude that, in a group of 20 people, that an average of 3 hours per day of exercise over the course of a two-week period will yield an average weight loss of five pounds per week, it is difficult to argue the certainty of that data. The way my brain works is such that I intuitively question the circumstances surrounding the experiences of the 20 people being studied -- what's going on in their lives? what are the barriers that inhibit their ability to exercise for 3 hours a day? what are the ways in which they understand themselves as being 'unhealthy'? -- and how do those questions and factors impact the overall outcome of 5 pounds per week of weight loss. It's the social scientist in me, and has always caused me to question, unequivocally, the absolutist claims of pure and modern science. I digress.

All that said, given how I've been trained academically, and how my mind tends to work, it is completely natural to understand my apprehension towards being measured in any way whatsoever. I am also averse to measurement because I'm not only afraid of what the numbers say, I'm also naturally afraid of what they mean, and the judgement that often accompanies that meaning. So, submitting once a week to my assessment, where Seb measures my weight, body measurements, and strength measurements, is a pretty daunting experience. And even though I continue to make phenomenal progress, once a month, I get extremely anxious about this whole experience

Why?

I have incredibly high expectations of myself. So much so that I project those expectations unto others. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, because I think it challenges those people around me to rise and perform to a standard that they may not have otherwise set for themselves. But, it can also be really problematic. Take this past week's assessment for example.

In the days and nights coming into my training session on Wednesday, I was having difficulty focusing, relaxing, and sleeping. Why? Because this past week was the day when I could have shattered one of my most significant numerical goals thus far. In January, Seb and I sat down to discuss some short- and long-term weight loss goals. As a short-term goal, I wanted to lose 20 pounds before the end of March. Seb thought that this was a lot, given the average of 1-2 pounds per week being reasonable for weight loss. So we compromised, and decided that a range of 15-20 pounds in three months would be good. At the same time, I declared that I wanted to have lost 60 pounds before my 36th birthday (September 18, mark your calendars, please... LOL!). Again, 60 pounds seemed like a lot in 9 months so we agreed to a range of 50-60 pounds. All good. Full steam ahead.

On February 18, I hit my 20-pound goal. Not after 3 months, but after a month and a half. And last Wednesday was the first moment when my 60-pound goal was within reach. I had 5 pounds to lose and I would have hit it. And for the first time since 1993, my weight would have begun with a number that didn't make me sad or sick to my stomach (that number is a '2' by the way). 5 pounds in one week is a lot. But I've done it before.

What's interesting about this is that I didn't necessarily put an extraordinary amount of extra pressure to work extra hard to achieve that 5-pound goal on my shoulders. Instead, I daydreamd, sat awake at night, and otherwised obsessed about finally seeing that '2' on the scale. I even began to envision what that moment would look like. How would it feel? How would I react? Would I really be as happy as I think I would be???

On Tuesday night, I stepped onto my own scales at home and realized that I wouldn't hit the goal the next day. At first I was really bummed out. But then I sat back and realized that although I had set this one-week target for myself, I hadn't necessarily done an extraordinary amount of work to reach this extraordinary goal. So what was I expecting? Magic? Divine intervention? Too much of myself? There you have it. I expect too much of myself sometimes. And again, not always a bad thing, but when those expectations move me into a space of anxiety and self-questioning, the they become less of a goal and grow more counterproductive.

So, in spite of my original apprehension, I've come around to the fact that goals are a good thing. And even though I started off fearing the numbers and focusing more on the qualitative goals, I've now made a bit of a paradigm shift. I now understand how the numbers mean something. I enjoyed noting this past week at my assessment that I've lost over 50-inches of body fat since October 2008 (when I first let Seb come near me with a measuring tape)! And given that we had our first workout in May 2008, I know I've lost so much more. But what is now causing me a bit of fear and apprehension is beginning to address the 'other' goals. I now have to spend some good time (and some with the help of a psychologist), thinking through my goals around understanding what it's like to exist in the world as a 'new me'. Even though I get amazing reactions from people I meet (like the one I got last night from my friend Jennifer who I haven't seen in almost a year), I still can't wrap my head around the fact that the new me is something to fully celebrate and in some ways 'show off'. Don't get me wrong, I love flashing my legs at the gym -- they're fabulous, by the way. But moving from a place where my weight brought negative attention to me, to a place where my weight (even though it's weight loss) is bringing positive attention and energy to me, is still a struggle. I'll get there though. Maybe I'll make that a goal.

All that said, last Wednesday, I didn't hit the 60-pound goal. If I don't hit it this week, I'll hit it the next week for sure. And when I get there, it'll be freakin' fantastic. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. And yes, I'll celebrate. And I think Sebastien will have to take me out to BeerBistro for a celebratory meal (hint! hint!). But I'll also take a moment to remember that this is a process. It's a journey. Each goal is only an end unto itself, and an opportunity to set a new one. Because, as one of my heroes, Bob Harper (of Biggest Loser fame) said in his blog this week in response to Kirstie Alley's appearance on Oprah, where she revealed that she's gained back the 75 pounds she lost on Jenny Craig:
"There is NO FINISH LINE HERE!!!! That is the biggest and toughest pill to swallow when you embark on this new lifestyle of losing weight and getting healthy. I tell people that you are making a lifestyle change not changing things temporarily until you have reached your “goal”. And don't get me started about goals. This guy today on Oprah, Michael said that he wanted to get below 200lbs and when he reached 198lbs, he went out to celebrate by binging on hotdogs and french fries. So many people get so focused on the end result that as soon as they have practically killed themselves to get there, some number in their head, they have nothing else to motivate them and then all of a sudden the weight starts creeping back on.... So many people fall into this same trap so what I'm begging everyone that is reading this to do is look at is differently today.... You are getting healthy. You are getting back on track. You are taking charge of your life. You are making lifestyle changes and divorcing yourself from the bad habits that made you unhealthy and overweight and it is a DAY to DAY thought patternIt is something that we all have to look at forever and learn how to live and cope with it….and guess what??? It can be done. It is up to you to take charge and look at every day like a new day."
So, I leave you with that to consider. Treat every day like a new day. There is no finish line. And most importantly:

Kia Kaha.
Stay Strong.