Monday, December 13, 2010

Much Overdue About Nothing

A belated and overly long wrap up.

There’s a certain irony, given the overwhelming themes in this blog, that I had enough motivation to finish the 12 week gym program but not enough to finish writing the blog.

But finish the gym I did. And so finish the blog I shall.

When I posted last , I had four weeks of gym to go, and had just had something of an epiphany which came in the form of a phone call from Andrea. I think there may have been more to that conversation, that day and that blog post than I first suspected. It became clear to me that I just wasn’t on the same level as Andrea. We weren’t talking the same language. I pondered this for a bit.

Also, at some point during this whole process I had discussed the blog with my wife. She told me that she didn’t read it, because it was too negative. She felt that I wasn’t trying to find any positivity from my experience, and that the blog was only helping me to wallow in the negativity. This is not something I could deny. I began to wonder about whether I could somehow twist things around and think more positively about the whole thing. At around this time I cleaned my car out and found the booklet we had been given on the first day (which had, as I predicted, stayed in the car the whole time). I idly flicked through it and found it had a section on positive thinking. “This is surely a sign” I thought. So I started reading. It was full of the usual bollocks about the power of positive thinking. Nothing new, but nothing terrible. And then I came to the recommended reading section. This booklet, written (or at least studiously copied from various bits of the internet) by the person responsible for my health at this time, recommended that I read “The Secret”.

Something inside me broke. “The Secret” is, to me, akin to the power balance bracelet. (I would go so far as to suggest it is that way for everyone. There will be those who believe in both and those who believe in neither, but you’re unlikely to come across someone who would say “Oh The Secret is clearly a load of pseudo-mystical/psychological hogwash, but I haven’t fallen over anywhere near as much as I used to since I got this bracelet!”.) Between reading this (the booklet, not “The Secret”) and the phone call I knew that not only were we not speaking the same language, but that Andrea and I would never be able to speak the same language. And more importantly, I knew that I didn’t care anymore. No longer was I unsure if I was looking at this the wrong way. No longer was I concerned that I was somehow “wrong” in the way that I thought. I understood that I am me, and they are them, and it’s perfectly OK for me to think differently to them. And no longer was I going to over analyse things.

Hence the death of the blog. Basically, I had decided I would turn up, do my thing, and go home. It didn’t feel wrong, and it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel “a bit prostitutey” (as one of my commenters suggested) nor did it feel like it was doing me any good (lets face it, it never felt like it was doing me good). It simply was.

Which is not to say there weren’t some highlights worth a quick mention.

  • Phil came back with his resistance bands, and was as paradoxical as ever. We did pretty much the same thing we had done the first time, and to be honest I noticed some improvement in my performance with him second time round.
  • Breakfasts remained excellent. One week, somewhere towards the end, we were given pancakes, with golden syrup and bananas. Andrea came down and was visibly unimpressed. I thought it was quite funny (and excellently yummy) but when she sincerely apologised to us, and ensured us it wouldn’t happen again, I almost laughed out loud.
  • I also missed one week, thanks to a doctor’s appointment. I say this because it meant that I had to attend the very last session. I kept saying at the time that, even if I hadn’t used up all my “free passes” then I would still have attended the last session. I’m not sure I really believe that, but we’ll never know if it’s true now.
  • We had the follow up to the bullshit science test. This showed that, over the 12 weeks, I had gained a small amount of weight, not changed my body/fat ratio at all, had not altered my physical age at all and had not hydrated my cells in the least. Or it showed that attaching electrodes to ones hands and feet does not in any way tell you anything in the least about your physical age, body.fat ratio or cell hydration. Who knows?

So, what DID I learn out of all of this?

Sadly, not much that I didn’t already know. But having said that, I have now proven things I only previously suspected.

The biggest (and most obvious) one is: The gym is not for me. “But” I hear you cry “you didn’t give it a chance! You didn’t even try to enjoy it!” This is, I admit, true. Well, 10 out of 12 weeks is giving it more of a chance than I think it deserved, but it’s true that I did not even try to enjoy it or make the most out of it. But the point is that I never would. I dislike it, its atmosphere and its people. I dislike the way I feel when doing it, and I dislike the way I feel after having done it. I think most importantly, I dislike the way I felt about myself while I was doing it. These are all things that I now know, that I only previously suspected. Even if it was a self fulfilling prophesy, that prophesy has been fulfilled, and I am comfortable and confident in my aversion to the gym. I should add, though, that I don’t think the gym, or the program we were on, is entirely bullshit. One guy I work with not only went to the gym almost every day, but he followed the eating plan (lifestyle change) as laid out in the book, and he lost, I believe, around 30kg. He is still going, and is still eating well, and looks absolutely great (it’s OK, in this context, to say another guy looks great, isn’t it? I swear the only other time I would say that about another guy is if it was Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr. Or maybe if I was drunk. Or if the guy in question was wearing some particularly fetching trousers).

Not even  slightly gay

Anyways, the beginning was every bit as difficult for him as it was for me. In fact, because he was genuinely trying, and starting a diet at the same time, it was no doubt 12 million times harder for him. But he stuck with it, put me to shame, and is in every way better for it.

Another thing I have learnt is that the more I think about something, the more complex it becomes. Again this is nothing new to me, and in my very first post I said “I thought and thought about it a lot, and then one day cleared my mind and just signed up.” I have always over-thought things. So while I hated the exercise from the get go, it wasn’t until I started analysing, and then blogging, that I really started to try and work out what was wrong with me, or what was going on. I think this came to a head in the last post. My over thinking sent me into a spiral of second-guessing absolutely every decision I made, and that made this so much more of an effort than it should have been.

One more thing is how important music is. I love music. All my life I have sung songs to myself, played an instrument, and generally filled my world with music. So there is no surprise that the music in this program played such an important part. I expect you could go back and read every post with the label “Music” and see that how much I enjoyed the session had a direct correlation with how much I enjoyed the music.

Something that did come as a surprise is how much I have enjoyed blogging. This is my first ever personal blog. I enjoy writing, but have never until now written about myself. I have dabbled here and here with comedic articles, and have received fairly warm feedback from them. But the value I have gained out of doing this (despite the over-analysis) and the feedback I have received from the blog has been a source of great joy for me. Having said that, I don’t think it’s something I could do regularly. The gym adventure gave me a focus. It was something to write about, and something that was continually happening to me, that was a source of new material. I think without that focus I would not be able to maintain a diary of any kind, and in fact even with that focus the blog still withered. But I may well be on the lookout for other short-term projects that will allow me to blog again.

One thing I have not worked out, though, is what actually does motivate me. I have thought about this a lot. (Too much, perhaps.)

Being motivated to change something about yourself means crossing the line between feeling good about who you are and feeling a compulsion to improve yourself. To want to change, you need to either have some level of dissatisfaction with the current, or a fear of the future. If you don’t, then you won’t feel the need to change. But if you are too dissatisfied with who you are now, you run the risk of creating a low self esteem that can mean you have even less motivation to do anything. So the line between feeling good and wanting to improve is not a thin one. It is wide enough that you can stay on the line and neither feel good about yourself, or do anything about it. I think I’m currently living on that line. For a bit, perhaps, I need to stop thinking, and stop feeling shitty about who I am, and start to be at the very least happy with myself.

Regardless, though, of the mental space that I inhabit, I will still be faced with what I am now certain is an absolute truth. To lose weight I am faced with the prospect of exercising and eating well every single day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Call me – call me now.

Friday 4th September – a phone call

So I was at home on Friday afternoon and I get a call on the mobile from Andrea. She told me that she had noticed that I hadn’t been spending a great deal of time at the gym, and wanted to know if there is anything she could do to get me in there.

Before I go over what I said, I think it’s important to know what kind of a week, and in particular what kind of day, I was having.

Earlier in the week I got an anonymous comment on the blog (here) which started something of a comments discussion, which continued “offline” with some co-workers, about motivation in general, but specifically my motivations. It also put my mind, which is quite introspective about this whole gym thing anyway, into full-on introspection mode. I started second, third and fourth guessing myself and my motivations.

When I say I am motivated by “x” am I really motivated by that, or is that something I just tell myself? Or do I just want to think that it’s just  something I tell myself? When I put on the blog that I think “x” do I really think that, or am I just saying it for entertainment value? What do I really think? When I said I was considering doing a non-mandatory gym activity just because I was curious about it, was that really the reason? Is curiosity enough of a reason? Didn’t that go against everything I had said in the blog? Or did it go along with everything this blog was about? Most importantly, who am I to judge?

That kind of thing. I think I need Leonardo DiCaprio to go in there and sort some shit out for me. If you've seen Inception you should click on the pic. It's funny.

So by the end of the week I had no idea what I was doing, or why. But I knew that I felt tired. Then on Friday my son had to go under anaesthetic for a tooth extraction. I watched him go under, and it was a very very odd experience. On reflection, I think it put me in a strange mood for the rest of the day, even after he came out fine.

It was the afternoon of that operation, while I was home with him, that Andrea rang. It was quite an uncomfortable conversation on both sides up until she asked that question:

“I’m just wondering if there’s anything I can do to get you down there?” Then it suddenly became clear to me what I needed to say.

“Not really,” I said. “Because I hate it.”

As you might expect, this threw her a bit. She told me that it can be difficult, and that she understood (although I seriously doubt that she truly understands what I mean when I say I hate exercise) but wanted to make sure I am getting my money’s worth, and didn’t want to see my efforts wasted. “There’s still three weeks to go” (there are four) “and there’s a lot we can accomplish in that time” but basically she wanted to end the call quickly, and she did.

I wasn’t trying to be difficult as such. I knew that it was a “being difficult”, and somewhat smartarsey, thing to say, but it is the truth. When it all comes down to it, I really don’t like exercising. And I know, pretty much for certain now, that doing stuff at the gym is not for me. So I don’t mind telling her that.

Having said that, this week has given me is pause to think about some of the positives that have come out of this experience. I was planning to go over this at the end of the 12 weeks, in a kind of wrapup, but it might be an idea to do this sooner. Not now, but soon.

A few days after the phone call Andrea sent an email to my work group all about motivation. The advice in the email is quite sensible, and obviously applies to anyone, but I don’t think it’s too conceited to think that the catalyst for her sending it out was our phone conversation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heart’s on fire

Monday 30th August – Monday Session Week 8 – Kettlebells and Sandbags

“There are about 60,000 thoughts that go through your head every single day.”

As soon as this guy opened his mouth I thought ‘this session is getting the "Bullshit" tag on my blog’.

“And 40,000 of those thoughts are about the past. Now, who here can control the past?” There were the usual non-commital mumbles of agreement. “Crazy isn’t it?”

This week’s session was advertised to us to be about kettlebells and sandbags. But our instructor, an ex-army Lieutenant Colonel whom I shall call LT, informed us that what he does with his sessions is actually train the mind. Because, after all, we’re the only ones who can control what happens to ourselves, and the way we do that is through the mind. And we have so many negative thoughts (40,000 is a lot!) that the we need to keep the mind in tip-top condition to fight these thoughts.

And apparently the way to do that is to move shit around.

This was weight training with a slight difference. I think the basic idea of this training, army instructor and all, was to make us feel like Rocky in Rocky IV. If you remember Rocky IV, Rocky was sent off to Soviet Russia to fight Ivan Drago. Drago, played by Dolph Lungdren, was training in a high tech facility, getting all the best science, equipment, training and performance enhancing Brigitte Nielsens that the commies had to offer. In the meantime Rocky was outside in the snow dragging around trees:

I've got to admit, that thing he does at 3:00 is pretty impressive

I think hauling sandbags and converted cannonballs around was supposed to put us in mind of a simpler time: a time before spandex, dance remixes of AC/DC and spin classes. A time when people would bake their own bread, tell each other stories and haul sandbags and converted cannonballs around.

LT told us that we should picture our mind like a news ticker which displays all our thoughts, and when a positive one comes along we should pause the ticker, grab onto it, and keep it for as long as we can before the next negative thought came along. “And they will come,” he said. I reckon he must have been on to something cos I was certainly noticing a lot of negative thoughts coming along.

The exercises themselves were arranged in various stations. We lifted things, swung things, and moved shit around. We also did pushups and step ups. Like I say, real old school stuff. He told us to start at the station we would hate the most, so that we could get it out of the way. That was a simple choice for me, and I headed straight to the pushups station. I was quite surprised there wasn’t a queue. We went around to all 8 stations with a few minutes at each (I’m honestly not sure how many, maybe two minutes, maybe three). Then we had a break where he gave us a pep talk, and we did some “fun” activity which involved dragging someone, as if they were a wounded soldier, up and down the square. Then we went back for a second, but very abbreviated cycle of the stations again (40 seconds per cycle). During the actual workout he was saying things like “push out those negative thoughts” but he also said “get angry, if that’s what helps you get the job done!” I wanted to ask him if he thought anger was negative, but decided that that in itself might be considered negative, and besides, it involved talking, which I find hard when I’m hauling shit around.

In the pep talk, LT told us that the Buddhists call the mind the “mad monkey”. (I was happy to see him pull out some pseudo eastern crap. I am surprised it’s taken this long into the 12 week program, to be honest.) In the middle of the workout he asked us who here had thought about a past event, replayed it in our minds, but played it out with a different ending. People put up their hand. He then asked, presumably rhetorically, “how crazy is that? We can’t change the past, and yet we always think about the past, and try to make it different.”

Now maybe it’s just my fancy university edumacation, but I happen to think that the past has a lot of valuable information in it. We call it learning. When we replay a past event, and fiddle with the particulars of it, we are playing a big game of “what if”. And games of “what if” feed directly into games of “next time I will”. But no, it’s the Mad Monkey in us, trying to mess with our heads, or at least fling poo at us.


Needless to say I’ve created a second bullshit tag just for LT.

Catch up

It’s only been a week since my last post, but it feels like it’s been quite a while (I was already behind on my last post, so I do have some catching up to do).

So I have a couple of posts on the go. I will stick them up over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shooting myself in the foot to spite my face

Sunday 29th August - Reflections before week 8 begins

Well we’re almost there. After tomorrow’s session there’s only be four more to go. I haven’t been re-weighed, but I suspect I haven’t changed (dodgy calibration aside). This is no surprise, as, let’s face it, I haven’t really tried.

As I said right at the start of this thing, losing weight takes two things: diet and exercise. I haven’t been dieting at all, and you can’t really call what I do exercise. It’s a weekly torture session, but it’s not exercise.

The reason for this is simply that I haven’t been able to drag myself back up there during the week. Here’s how my week works:

  • Monday: I do one horrible horrible “mandatory” class. What this does is make me tired and resentful all day. I can’t concentrate on my work, and it often hurts to move.
  • Tuesday: The stuff that I really worked the day before hurts even more.
  • Wednesday: The hurty bits have subsided to a dull, but quite noticeable ache.
  • Thursday and Friday: I’m generally OK, but have no enthusiasm for it, because of how I feel on Mondays and Tuesdays.

So after after the weekend, I’m back to where I was the previous week, and the cycle starts all over again. If I maintained a regular, but low impact, schedule of movement during the week, then it might actually have some benefit. But I don’t because I hate it so much. And I hate it so much because I don’t.

I still remember how I felt on the Sunday night after the first week. In that week I had been three times including the Monday session. All doing rather intense, trainer-led sessions. It was an all in approach that left me knackered and disenchanted with the whole thing. It also made me wary about going back. I think the next week I went once, on my own, and have hardly been up since other than the Monday sessions.

If I want this to make a difference I know I need to work harder at it. But I honestly don’t know if I want it to make a difference. I never went into this with any kind of solid goal. The challenge for me isn’t to lose weight, or even to “be healthier”. The challenge for me right now is just to finish it, and to make sure I don’t have to pay the money. It seemed like such a simple idea at the start of it all: if I did 12 weeks of gym, then I wouldn’t have to pay anything. And that’s got to be good for you right?

Turns out that no, it doesn’t. It just makes you inordinately grumpy for 12 weeks. (Well, seven so far).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When you don’t really need it

Monday 27th August – Monday Session Week 7 – Pump/Bar class

This is the start of the second half of this hellish program. Apparently we are going to be measured again. I have no feelings about this at all, as I believe that the measuring is at best slapdash and at worst rigged.

Let me explain. When bullshit science woman stuck electrodes on us, she also weighed us. The next day, when we went up to the gym, Andrea also weighed us. The difference? 4kg. I had apparently gained 4kg in those 24 hours. She also measured us with a tape measure. The tape measure was, I must say, extremely loose.

The cynic in me explains this by saying that at the end of the program she can re-weigh us, with correctly calibrated scales, and remeasure us, with a stricter measuring regime, and lo and behold look at the difference these 12 weeks has made and did you know we have a discount on a full year membership? I’m not sure this is actually the case, but nonetheless, any measuring done holds little meaning for me. Oh and also, I know that I’ve lost absolutely no weight, and don’t need, and certainly don’t want, to be told that.

Today we did Pump class. This is where you do things while holding a barbell with a few kilos on each end. Squats, lunges, bicep curls. All manner of things, hitting all manner of muscles. Following that was some ab stuff.

The whole idea of pump is interesting. It’s taking an “old school” exercise – lifting weights – and jazzing it up to make it “fun” and new. It’s neither, of course. It’s lifting weights. While moving around. It’s actually quite dangerous in its own way. At one stage we did one where we lay on our back on a Reebok® step thingummy (see the pic here) while curling the bar towards our face. She laughingly called it the “skull crusher” but given this was somewhat towards the end, and given I have no strength or stamina, my arms were shaking uncontrollably, and I was worried I was going to drop it on my face. So I didn’t do too many of them.

Highlight of the day was, as usual for me, the music. It was your usual selection of shitty dance music. Then she said “how about some rock? Who wants to hear AC/DC?” Now, I hate AC/DC. It’s a Long Way To The Top is a fun song, and I think Bon Scott was every bit as camp and fun as Shirley Strauchan, but musically they are kinda shit. Nonetheless the idea of Highway to Hell in the middle of all this dancey crap was refreshing. Then she put on this. I assumed she couldn’t find the accadacca track, and so just skipped to the next one. But no.

(Actually I suspect this wasn't the exact one. There seems to be lots of shitty dance remixes of shitty AC/DC songs on the web. Who knew?)

It made me laugh. Out loud.

So anyway, after that she said “let’s keep up with the rock theme” and then she put on Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” which made me laugh all the more.

It meant that when my boss asked me again if I enjoyed, after I said “no of course not” (and again she was surprised, cos she finds pump fun) I had to follow it up with “but it did make me laugh”.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

…and don’t call me Shirley

Sunday 22nd August – Reflections before Week 7 begins

I am now, officially, halfway through this thing, whatever it is. What started as a reasonably well intentioned but poorly thought out “I should do something” whim, has turned into some bizarre self-testing blogging experiment. Kind of like “Supersize Me”, only where.

Nonetheless it is twelve weeks long, and we’ve done six. I entirely skipped the fifth week, and in doing so my hatred for the whole thing came back with a vengeance on week six. During my one week off I contemplated going to the gym and was moaning to someone at work (the very person whose idea his blog was, in fact) that I really didn’t want to and wasn’t even trying very hard to find excuses not to. He asked me “what about the treadmill? Why don’t you just go up and go on the treadmill, that’s not so bad is it?” I looked at him incredulously and asked “don’t you read my blog?” Likewise my brother, with whom I shared a bedroom for many years, in the comments of my previous post suggested that doing an ab workout while bound to a piece of metal was not only fun, but the best fun I could have had so far.

This blog is many things, but I wouldn’t have thought “too subtle” is one of them.

Let me be clear. The TV remote control was invented for me. For the kind of person who, when walking the two meters across the room to change channels whined “there’s got to be a better way”. If I have a choice between moving and not moving, I will take the stationary option every time. Now I’ll quite happily walk across town to go to lunch, or to go computer part shopping. I live a very pleasant 15 minute walk to my local supermarket, and I know this, because I have done it on a number of occasions. But I will usually drive to the supermarket, because it’s quicker, simpler and (have I mentioned already?) I really really hate exercise.

In the 19 posts I have made for this blog I have used the word hate or hating 23 times. I’m serious about this. I really don’t like it. And the thing about the gym is, it takes all the unpleasantness of moving about, and combines it with absolutely no immediate benefit whatsoever. There is no burger, no new video card, and no bag of groceries at the end of it. There is just sweatiness, tiredness, distractedness and irritability.

But having done five sessions I am now financially committed. As much as I hate it, I’ve done enough sessions for it to cost me significantly if I don’t go “all the way”. So here I am, going all the way.

Tomorrow we are doing a 15-20 minute ab workout followed by “bar class”. I assume the more common term “lifting weights” is a registered trademark, which is why they can’t use it. And based on advice received during the week I have already packed my bag. I am sure I will still forget something, but it should save me at least some time tomorrow morning.

Bet I still turn up late, though.


Cos I really hate it..