From Near-Disaster to Thriving: A Deeply-Vulnerable Account of How Spirituality and Grit Prepared Me
My fitness journey has prepared me to help YOU in ways that I never dreamed possible.
About 7 years ago, I weighed about 65 more pounds than I do right now. That was about 30 years, two children, a wonderful (and still ongoing!) marriage, and a successful, yet sedentary, consulting career removed from being an accomplished HS athlete – able to use my athletic ability, agility (and to some degree, mental focus), at any given moment, to be AT LEAST above average at anything I took on, particularly individual and team sports.
For the most part, I was not, in 2012, much different than you and millions of Americans, today, in terms of my physical attributes. On top of that, I was stressed, inactive, eating badly, always tired, unmotivated; taking over a ½ dozen prescriptions, and sadly – I had stopped practicing Reiki and other energy and spiritual modalities – the one aspect of my life that was healthy for me. As a Level III Certified Reiki Practitioner, I had enjoyed helping others, which helped ground me and balance the demands of my everyday personal and professional life with the ability to get to a peaceful, spiritual, and calming “place”.
Bottom line: I had become emotionally, spiritually, physically and medically at TREMENDOUS RISK. My wife and I continuously discussed my bad health, my poor habits, my physical inactivity, and that I wasn’t my usual self – I was NOT taking any action. Make no mistake, however: I had failed at this fitness “thing” numerous times – including leading up to 2012 – losing weight, mostly. What you are about to read is not about me “preaching” anything – this is about me conveying that, first and foremost, whatever the current state of your fitness and health is, you have all the “tools” available to you to make a positive difference in your life; you just have to be open to that precept, be willing to seek these out these “tools”, and take positive steps forward.
Allow me to be abundantly clear: I am 1000% uncomfortable drawing ANY attention to myself, particularly “en masse”. I truly need a 1-on-1 conversation to do that – whether you are someone I’ve known for a long time, a family member or friend, or someone I just met (and have developed some degree of mutual rapport). Getting to this point has taken some time, a lot of mental energy and, most recently, a relinquishment of control, by me, to the always-generous Universe that I trust to deliver the message of “it’s time, Joe”.
My answer came during a recent weekend, in the form of this Instagram post from a former co-worker, The Coach Sal. Short story: over the last year or two it turns out that he and I shared the angst of acknowledging our physical limitations (and pain!) and decisions to undergo corrective medical procedures that, frankly, are scary. Over 10 years ago, I eventually made the decision that would change my life (bilateral hip replacement, if you must know!) for the better. And as “Coach Sal” was navigating similar situations, I – somewhat uninvited – offered my perspectives with the intent of lifting his spirits as well as letting him know that his life would change for the better, as mine did. As you can see from the above post, not only is “Coach Sal” going to share (somewhat begrudgingly?) his journey, but we agreed to BOTH share our journeys (in other words, follow “Coach Sal” since he is sharing his story a little bit differently…).
So – here I am – sharing some of the key moments, retrospective thoughts, and shards of advice from my journey that started in early 2012 and continues today.
A. Be “fixin’ to get healthy”. “Fixin’ to…” - It’s mostly a southern US term, meaning: I haven’t started yet however I’m preparing to start. The single-most important and distinctive thing I did in preparation to start on my fitness journey (after all the previous failures) and with the intent of sustaining me for 7 years, was to become mentally ready – and it was a SIMPLE choice. Here’s how I mentally committed – with specific, positive and sustainable “self-talk” – at the start of my journey and how I am able to “stay with it” over time.
Commit daily and go easy on yourself. Rehashing the past (failures for me), or projecting the future, in anything other than a positive light, is, not only unproductive, it’s not even a VALID perspective. As a Reiki practitioner, I’d learned – and I share REGULARLY with clients, friends, and random people I meet – the Reiki Principles. You cannot change your past failures OR successes, nor is the future guaranteed – you only have this moment. On my specific fitness journey, I simply needed to JUST START!! Regardless of where I am now, when I started, I could barely walk on the treadmill, SLOWLY, or even pedal on a stationary bike – WITH NO RESISTANCE – at 45 rpm. At any moment of discouragement, I simply told myself – YOU GOT THIS – keep at it, you are worthy, and your family and friends are VERY worthy of a better version of ME!!
If you get off track, just get back on track – ASAP. Don’t dwell on the fact that you got off track or off schedule (see also: go easy on yourself). Remember: LIFE HAPPENS! While I had the deaths of two family members to deal with (and may you and yours continue in long life and prosperity…) along with numerous other small and large logistical setbacks, my operating principle that I can always get back on track has truly sustained me. This often comes up with my Reiki, energy, and spiritual consulting clients, especially when it comes to things like meditating and quieting the mind. In mid-meditation, they ask “Am I doing this right?”, “What if…?” etc. I simply tell them to acknowledge that their mind wandered, and to get back to “self” and counting their breaths. As well, for my specific journey (and see also: boil the ocean), when I got off track, especially after I’d make incredible and sustained progress, I’d simply say to myself “Just do something - even if it’s a small version of what you WERE going, and pick up where you left off. You’ll be back where you were in no time.” Before I knew it, I WAS back on track.
Don’t try and “boil the ocean”. If I used or heard this term in daily life once, it’s actually been at least a THOUSAND times. We sometimes see where we want to be, relative to where we are starting, as a LONG journey – yet, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you are a planner – then plan. If you are a “let’s see what the day brings” – then do that, if that works for you. Regardless of your M.O., break the bigger goal into actionable chunks. For me, on several occasions, after attempting spin class (ALL credit to my wife for getting me started!!), I simply could not complete the class. “Completion” literally felt like the ocean that I was trying to boil. There were times that my self-talk was all about my PERCEIVED limitations – “I’m too old for this”, “I can’t…”. As I reminded myself and my mind what I am sharing here – AND WHAT I COMMITTED TO DO WHEN I STARTED – I found a plan by, first, and repeatedly, going easy on myself. The plan I came up with was to slowwwwwwly get in better shape by improving what I was doing on the treadmill and the stationary bike. Simple and incremental improvements on that equipment, eating more intelligently, hydrating appropriately - AND accepting that I was going to need to iterate through this process MULTIPLE TIMES - was key for me. In other words, I was patient with myself as I made small, incremental progress, that eventually turned in to EXPONENTIAL SUCCESS.
Be prepared to “go it alone” … at times. While having and/or developing a support system will be very beneficial, there will be times where your own mindset, circumstances or preferences dictate that you have to go through this journey – or parts of it – on your own. This may be week-long business trip in an unfamiliar city, a doctor visit, a spin or yoga class, a consult with a nutritionist, or a chance encounter with a box of doughnuts in the break room (once in a while is fine!!). In the end, this is YOUR lesson from the Universe and no one else’s. Do not take these “alone times” personally – the Universe is always working FOR YOU and not against you…there’s a reason. As if others’ perspectives are more important than your own, most people only see the results of success, not what it took to get there. The only thing you can count on during your journey is that YOU will be a part of it!! I have spent countless hours alone in the last 7 years – riding a spin bike, planning a meal, deciding to see a medical specialist, developing courage to go back to the gym after 3 weeks away – you name it. Embrace these situations – these are as important as any other during your journey.
B. Be vulnerable in order to activate your (or, A) support system. I am fortunate to have had (and continue to have) supportive family and friends on my journey, and due to circumstances, I realize that you may not. What IS likely, however, is that you have co-workers, friends of acquaintances, or members of your social or recreational circle that are kind humans – just like you (“birds of a feather”). EVERYONE has insecurities about being “less than perfect” or “not what they seem” (see also: go easy on yourself) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how receptive others will be in providing you encouragement on your journey if you simply admit your shortcomings AND illustrate that you have the intention of creating a better version of yourself. As well, simply “putting out to the Universe” that same intention, will, over a short time, deliver people, situations and information for you to build your support system, in ways that you cannot, otherwise, proactively create. Admitting that I wanted to make a difference in my health had immediate positive benefits coming from my family, friends and co-workers, especially when they saw that my commitment was authentic, and the results noticeable. After 5 years of being a regular at my gym, talking with others there, and simultaneously encouraging them to “attract” what they need, I found myself learning more and more about health and fitness via Instagram, getting “free advice” from paid fitness professionals, seeing health and fitness articles online, and having a better relationship with my doctor. Most importantly, I have a much bigger support system than I can ever have imagined, “gym friends” delivered by the Universe, and a new and wonderful friend in my spin instructor who (although denying it) has single-handedly contributed to my most recent health and fitness progress.
C. Be of service to, and compassionate with, others on THEIR journey. As my previous point intimated, being a positive resource for others, on an individual basis, underscores the “what goes around comes around” philosophy in a way that is the antithesis of how that philosophy is typically articulated. Unfortunately, as flawed and insecure humans, we tend to “knock each other down a peg” based on our own interpretation of our own value and the need for the ego to be “superior”. If you have ever been to or been (or are) a member of a gym during the New Year, many people resolve to become healthier and more fit, and the contingent of people at the gym rises significantly – sometimes limiting ready-access to classes, equipment and other resources. The jokes and social media “memes” begin to talk about this “phenomena” – again, for what benefit, other than “knocking others down a peg” – “en masse”. The reality is that none of us know each other’s personal challenges or circumstances, and frankly, if you have embarked on a journey of better health and fitness, you most likely assembled a support system that helps you sustain progress. But maybe – just maybe – someone HAS TO “go it alone” – a displaced worker in a foreign country, a widow or widower, or someone with a mental illness that isolates them from society or even their own family and friends. Everyone has every right to be on this journey and to be at the gym or seeking a healthy lifestyle. Be supportive, be encouraging, be helpful…be human. As I always say, “Not every conversation can make a difference in someone’s life, but ANY one conversation can”.
I certainly trust that, in reading about my journey, and my detailed experiences, thoughts, insights and suggestions, you are motivated to start, keep going, or get back on track, with regards to YOUR fitness journey.
May you experience joy and success in doing so.