Lessons I’ve Learned Pumping Iron

Over the last month I’ve been exploring a new world – the gym world, and more specifically, the weight training world. Before this, I had never set foot into a gym and I was dead set on the fact that I wouldn’t enjoy it and I’d never do it. Well, I broke that weird promise/old story I had taken as truth for years, and started my most recent ‘outside of my comfort zone’ journey.

Weight training involves exercises such as dead lifts, bench press, bicep curls, and skull crushers using dumbbells and barbells. You do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. When you’re lifting these weights your muscle fibers break down a bit, and then they build back up (even stronger) while you are at rest (i.e. after your workout). 

As someone who is usually involved in more mindfulness – based spiritual forms of activity, like yoga and dancing, pumping iron seemed like it was going to be a very mindless, physically focused venture. Being a deep-meaning seeker and metaphor junkie, I’ve actually found quite a few lessons in the process of heavy lifting.

The first lesson that weight training made excruciatingly clear to me was that I need to REST. Resting, as mentioned above, is actually when and how the muscles get stronger. You need to rest the muscles you’ve worked; something I learned the hard way after my first day of weight training when I tried to justify an intense yoga class as a “rest day” activity. I got what I deserved in not respecting the need for rest; as I ended up having to spend half of yoga in child’s pose so I wouldn’t faint, and most of the rest of the day in bed feeling like shit. Resting includes getting enough SLEEP. Listening to your body and respecting the fact that sleep may be better for you than making another yoga class.

EATING is also a priority in my life now because of weight training. Not only is eating enough a daily goal I meet, but I’ve been paying much more attention to what I’m eating – making sure I’m actually giving my body what it needs (yay protein). Of course, I still have my moments of eating cereal for supper, but overall I’m much better at the quality and quantity of food I consume. It has been the most effective way I have been able to meet my nutritional goals, which I find funny as it is really only a byproduct of this new physical workout routine.

If you really want to do weight training, if you really want to grow and get stronger, you must acknowledge and embrace this need for SELF-CARE. I’ve always known the importance of resting, sleeping, and eating – but by pushing my body with weight training it has now become a non-negotiable. If I don’t take care of myself, the results are now immediate and I simply cannot function how I need to (and I’m not even talking about in the gym). I find it very interesting how much my self-care regime follow-through has improved since I picked up the dumbbells.

I was drawn to weight training because it is one of the best ways known to prevent and slow dementia, and as someone with a much higher-than-norm risk, my motivation is clear and consistent. From the research I have found on the topic of dementia prevention with exercise, it explains that strength training is helping our brains directly (improving blood flow to the brain, increasing nerve-protecting compounds, improving development and survival of neurons, etc). What I also noticed in the research, in addition to exercise, sleep and diet are noted as important factors for prevention. Looking at this now, I suspect that weight training may also be such a single significant player due to the effects it has on these other areas; as I have found the weight training itself is concurrently improving my diet and sleep in remarkable ways – ways I’ve never been able to achieve without the push of my body absolutely demanding it.

My favourite meta insight from learning the world of weight training is that you NEED to FAIL. In fact, you are STRIVING for FAILURE! You’re supposed to lift enough weight that you actually cannot finish your set of reps. FAILING is part of GROWTH. If you don’t fail, you aren’t doing it right. You aren’t growing. You can’t grow without failing. How perfect is that!?

How amazing would it be if that is the approach we take to all growing? It certainly is true; you must be willing to fail, and you will fail, on your way to making progress in all areas of your life. Learning new things, taking chances, starting businesses or new jobs, going after your passions, relationships – failing is part of the process. As much as failure is a part of all progress and living, most of us don’t like to acknowledge or accept it – and some of us do so begrudgingly at best. We are quick to think failing marks a personal deficiency, an indication that we aren’t good enough, and perhaps even that we should give up.

What if we took the weight training approach? That we are striving to fail, to push ourselves to use our best efforts, even though that means we will ultimately fail. If we adopted the idea that in order to grow the most, we should be seeing just how much we can do – how far we can go. And when we do reach our edge, when we fail, we can see it as proof that we were trying our best and that was exactly what we expected of ourselves – that it is the mark of success. When we fail, we won’t just put the weights down and never pick them back up. We will see it simply as a step, a part of the process. Next time we will continue to give it our all, and in time we will fail again – and we will fail better.

When I apply this new outlook to my life, I see things shift. I see myself uninhibitedly going after my dreams with a strength and fierceness that comes from not only losing the fear of failure, but striving to see where my edge is. To meet it so I can push it even further. The knowing that the only way to truly see what I’m capable of is to go to the point where I’m incapable of going further. It makes me curious and excited to see how having that target in mind changes my momentum, and intrigued to discover what happens to that edge when I find it. Would it be like weight training – where the more I fail the stronger I get, and the more weight I can take before failing again? If I don’t fail, does it mean I’m not giving it my all? If I’m not finding that edge, I wonder how much growing I’m really doing.

I love the idea of embracing failure as part of the process, to replace the judgment of failure with celebration, and perhaps even shifting my mindset to be seeking it.

I’m going to continue lifting weights and getting all meta on the weight bench (no wonder I always get distracted while counting). I’ve already made progress and can see results. I wonder how strong and powerful I can become. Not only do I do hard things, I now do heavy things. And I fail every time 🙂

The WHY Trap

Understanding why. Seems innocent enough really, just wanting to understand why things are the way they are, why I feel how I feel, what is making something so. Just like any good toddler, it’s my first reaction to anything that comes up – BUT WHY?!? 

There are times when understanding the reasons/ the drive/ the why/ the intention really comes in handy. It’s actually something I focus on and get my clients to focus on when developing goals. WHY is that important to you? WHY does it matter? WHY?!?! And in those cases, it’s not just helpful it’s truly what makes it valuable at all. You want to lose ten pounds? OK fair enough, but if you don’t know WHY and the bigger picture behind those little goals, if you can’t see what’s so important and meaningful about the destination, if you don’t connect with that, you’re bound to get lost on the way.

However, the dark side of WHY (The WHY trap, as I’m calling it) is a whole other story. It’s not useful, in fact it’s extremely counter productive.

For example, say as a hypothetical, you are sitting there on your couch and you randomly touch the side of your head and notice it hurts. Instead of carrying on with normal life, you may just end up sitting there (semi watching shows) while continuing to press on that spot and questioning “WHY does that hurt? That shouldn’t hurt! Does that have something to do with my sinuses? I don’t know why that part of my head would hurt though? Maybe I’m worse off than I thought with that health issue that has barely even been bugging me today.. How does this pain fit into that? What does it mean?… “

And on and on you might go for a whole fucking hour of pressing this spot that hurts, because you think “This shouldn’t hurt” “This doesn’t make sense to me”, so instead of just letting it be, you continue to press on it. And then after that hour, now with a throbbing head, you realize “Oh right, I smashed it with my car door the other night. Maybe it’s a bruise from that”. And then you laugh your ass off at yourself from now having an aching head because you’ve been pressing on a bruise for a fucking hour. Hypothetically, of course.

When I’m stressed my WHY defense is super high with physical sensations and symptoms and health worries. The one who, just tonight, spent half an hour googling “how long does it take to get symptoms of salmonella” at the off chance the chicken I ate for supper was under-cooked. The one who feels hunger as sickness, fullness as sickness, and can even make tiredness into a chronic disease (this one being one of my family’s favourite jokes). I hate this part of myself. I hate it. It really does feel like torture. Like I’m a prisoner of my mind. 

The WHY defense spreads deeper than the physical, that part just seems to be a symptom or distraction tool from the deeper issues. The WHY defense that probably gets me into all the trouble mentioned above is how I use it on my emotions. If I don’t get WHY I feel the way I do, if I can’t rationalize it, if it doesn’t make sense to me – then I just don’t let myself feel it. And not only do I not let myself just sit with the emotion or feeling that comes up, I dig my heels deep into the distraction of figuring it out – and abort the feeling part altogether.

Getting stuck in the WHY is even more fruitless and frustrating than getting caught in the relentless WHY battle with a 3 year old.

I am better off than I used to be with this stuff, because clearly I can have moments of observing what I’m doing and not doing. It might seem ridiculous, but the fact that I ONLY spent 30 minutes googling tonight before I snapped myself out of it, is a big improvement over what I used to do. And even being able to identify how the WHY is avoidance, and being able to see when I’m trapped in my mind, is progress. Very uncomfortable and frustrating progress, but progress nevertheless.

I have reflected on what I’ve been lacking lately with how I’m spending my time. I see I need to work on getting back on track on some self-care things that are probably contributing to my un-wellness – compounding the effects of avoiding mixed emotions. Things like sleep.

I drank two coffees at 9pm tonight. Hence the middle of the night blog post. This is how amazing I am at life right now.

It’s really hard to keep doing healthy things when you aren’t giving yourself permission to do what you need to be healthy (like sit with emotions). So, might as well just stop going to yoga and meditating and sleeping too, right?

At least I know I’m caught in the WHY trap. Clearly there are feelings I’m not letting myself feel. But knowing what I know, and having the intention of being connected to my feelings, the only thing I can think to say about this right now is.. WHY?!?!?! 😉