Friday, May 7, 2010

Orkin's Law of Onward & Upward

About eight weeks ago, I joined a gym.

Outside of a brief and ill-fated jaunt with Jack LaLanne about twenty years ago, it's the first time I've ever done it. I had a few motivations in making the decision.  My prime one was that I have to teach my daughter how to ride a two-wheeler this summer, and I simply haven't had the physical stamina to run up and down the block to keep her from killing herself.

Life in the 21st Century tends to... not encourage, exactly, but lend itself to a sedentary lifestyle. I work in an office, spending most of my day in front of a computer. Outside of an occasional 20-30 minute walk on my lunch break or with my daughter in the evening, occasional jaunts on my stationary bike, and minor concessions like taking the stairs and parking at the back of the lot, I've been guilty of this sedentarianism up until now. I do more than some people, I suppose, but it's not enough to make a substantive difference.

Another motivation was the idea that I'd just turned 45, and have been a little preoccupied by the idea that my life is very likely more than half over. Further, the latter half will eventually bring health issues that will ultimately deteriorate my quality of life. (I'm just a glowing ray of sunshine, aren't I?)

Those of you who have visited my Facebook page may have seen a quote I put there which reads as follows:

          "It's never too late to be who you might have been."
          - George Eliot (English novelist 1819-1880) 


I find myself quite taken by this thought, and have endeavored to do what I can to bring it about in whatever time I may have left on this Earth. Gloom and doom aside, I've still got a good chunk of time to use productively, and by taking control of my health, I can further maximize that time.

So, after hunting around for a suitable gym, I decided on a place in Babylon Village called Fitness Incentive. After taking the tour, I found they had a pretty low-key atmosphere, and appeared newbie-friendly. Since I was so ignorant of how to use the equipment, I decided to get a trainer for a few weeks.

I'm all set. Made the commitment. Took the tour. Paid the money. Set up a date with the trainer. Bought my first pair of sneakers in over five years, picked up some stuff I could wear while working out.

And yet...

The volume of anxiety I experienced in the days leading up to actually going was formidable. Anyone who's struggled with their weight knows it goes a hell of a lot deeper than getting a set of sixpack abs. In fact, to a good extent, it strikes to the very heart of your self-esteem and self-worth. It bothers me to say that, but I can't deny it.

Those of you who know me know I'm not a particularly vain person, and in terms of appearance, I'm a pretty far cry from looking like the Blueberry Girl from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (one of my favorite movies, incidentally). This does not preclude me from struggling with the same self-doubts and self-criticism that so many others do in terms of weight and appearance. I mean, I'm not pathological about it; it's not like I shudder in revulsion at the sight of myself. There are times, (admittedly rare) that I can see a photo of myself or take a look in the mirror and acknowledge that I look pretty good in that moment.

Regardless, I felt nearly paralyzed with the self-doubt that often haunts us when we try something new, when we try to take ourselves to the next level, to change the way have been conducting our lives, to in fact, change ourselves:

"Dude, there's no way you're going to be able to do this. You're not the kind of guy who goes to a gym. You probably don't have the strength or flexibility to even use the equipment. It's too late for you. This is going to be a disaster. You've wasted an awful lot of money to do this, and all it's going to amount to is a big, black mark on your credit card bill. You are really pathetic to think you can change yourself this late in the game."

You get the idea. The brutality with which we sometimes (or oftentimes) treat ourselves would probably get us arrested if we channeled it onto someone else.

But I told myself to shut the hell up and went anyway, and as I got out of the car, the tickle of an Orkin's Law (my friend Christiana thinks I should call them Orkinisms, and I haven't taken the idea off the table) began to take shape in my mind. Slogans began swimming around in my head: 'Just do it', 'Live Strong'...

Onward & Upward?

The first session went well. My trainer, Joe is a pretty cool guy with a wry sense of humor, and he really knows his stuff. If you've ever seen him, you know he's not some bulked up muscle-head, but the guy is solid, with a kind of old-school durability that makes you think he could be at ground zero of a nuclear bomb site and pretty much shake it off. He made me feel comfortable with the process and the equipment, and didn't talk down to me or make me feel self-conscious. I walked out of there thinking, 'Y'know what? Maybe I can do this.'  And that was a pretty good feeling.

As the weeks have progressed, going has become more of a routine, and I've managed about three times a week (which means I've probably gotten more exercise in the last eight weeks than in the last two or three years), and two interesting, related things have happened:
  1. I find I enjoy it. It's an hour of me-time, with little thought required. No responsibilities other than treating the equipment (and thereby myself) with respect. It's a good stress release, and seems to help me sleep a little better (more on Night Owl Syndrome in a future post, I suspect).
  2. I miss it when I don't go. To my way of thinking, the goal of any fitness program is to incorporate it into your life in a subtle, but enduring way. Kind of like brushing your teeth. You'll survive if you don't do it on a particular day, but it bugs you. You miss it. You want to go home, grab a brush and polish those beauties.
Keep Going.

I'll never be a gym rat with a Brad Pitt body. I'd love to tell you I've lost fifteen pounds and gained the afore-mentioned six-pack abs, but the truth is, although I feel different (better stamina and strength), outside of perhaps a slight narrowing in my face, I don't look any different yet, despite having lost about five pounds. But I'm good with that. The only person I really want to impress is myself, and I'm not in this for the quick fix. I'm sure I could do a hardcore routine that would melt off the pounds in two or three months, but after I got sick of it, I'd gain it all right back a lot faster than I lost it. To my way of thinking, even if it takes me a year to get rid of those twenty extra pounds, it's that much more likely I won't gain them back, because I will have developed a routine I can live with rather than endure.

That said, I can't say I don't get a little discouraged looking at all those sculpted guys and heavenly gals (though there are a fair number of 'normal' people as well), but every morning, as I'm starting my day, I tell myself that doesn't matter. What matters is that I keep going. Eventually, my efforts will start to add up. It's nothing more than mathematics, when you think about it.

Keep Going.

I had a revelation that this simple, two-word phrase doesn't simply apply to working out. It's really a mantra for Life. No matter how tough things get, no matter what life throws at you: Just. Keep. Going. You may not always make it to your destination, but you'll be a better, stronger person for having made the effort. 

Orkin's Law of Onward & Upward: Success in life pretty much boils down to one simple concept: Keep Going.

Thanks for reading.