Spring comes as such a tease to western Montana. We revel in the occasional mini-miracle when our normal ceiling of clouds, having moved at sloth speed all season, break away to reveal azure blue skies and a sun almost too bright for our wintered-over eyes. For a moment, time stops. Everyone outside pauses on queue and lifts their face. We absorb the warmth like a starving satellite dish hungry for more Food Network channels. To echo our revelry, green nubs poke out of the wet earth, daring to become flowers (despite frosty temps which still cloak the night). All of nature’s surprises bring a breath of fresh optimism to our days. All, except one: gumbo.
Gumbo is not a dish, unless you consider nature dishing out her revenge for all the deep freezes we dodged over the winter. Montana gumbo is the bane of eastern ranchers and western loggers alike. It’s a dirt road mix of slimy silt, mud, and clay which can trap any 4 x 4 up to its axels. Gumbo is slippery. Gumbo is sticky. Gumbo is Rocky Mountain quicksand.
Ironically, gumbo appears on the same dirt roads meant to help us travel our vast state. If it weren’t for our network of single-lane, rough-cut byways edged with rogue wheat and Napweed, we wouldn’t be able to live here. Montana has the unique problem of being a large state with a relatively low population. Our challenge is always how to build and maintain enough roads to get us where we need to go. Come spring, nature wins. We often have to shrug our shoulders, wait ‘til the gumbo dries up, and take the long way ’round.
When you find yourself on gumbo roads, there’s only one rule: don’t try to force your way through. When I sense my truck’s sluggish slump to one side, it’s time to get the heck outta there. If my tires start to sink, then I’m doomed. The more I press the gas to power out, the deeper I dig them in.
This is a lot like my 100 pounds journey. I’ve gotten stuck in sink holes of frustration. Ironically, those holes exist smack dab in the middle of the very hopes I built to get me down my path. Whenever I’ve experienced some level of success, then seem to lose it, I become stuck. If this was working before, why not now? I grumble. What did I do? What didn’t I do? My questions trap me in mental gumbo.
It’s not always simple to discern why I’ve powered out. Sometimes I don’t even want to figure it out. I just want to stay stuck and wait until my mental bog dries out. I can never seem to wait that long, though. I get bored and try to kick my own butt again. I can toggle like this for days, alternating between surrender and stubborn pushiness. I’ll try to hit the gas by scolding myself for not feeling motivated. You just need to show up. When I’m too tired to show, I sink deeper into self-loathing. Now I truly don’t have the energy to show up. The next day, I realize I haven’t exercised for three days and tell myself, You just need to getter’ done. If you miss this one, it’s a slippery slope to the couch. I can bicker with myself for weeks before realizing, Wait a minute here…might there be something else at work here; something other than the idea that I’m lazy or undisciplined? I would love to get to the place where my first response is, What is it that I’m missing? Is there something else I need?
In my last post, I described such a stuck state, after discovering that I really didn’t want to bleed with the best of the Hellgate Rollergirls. After framing four months of workouts around this goal, then settling for something else, I felt lost for a good month. To get unstuck, I had to take the long way around my heart and soul.
This detour had three check points:
While most weight-loss programs focus on food and exercise, I’ve learned that 80% of the work comes from my mind and heart. I knew I had to start there to regain my momentum. I asked myself some key questions, with no “right” or “wrong” answers.
- What are my worries?
- Could I actually be satisfied with where I’m at today?
- What is my “gut” telling me is next?
Then, I wrote down all my random worries and thoughts about the situation. I filled two pages with bird scratch (The point being more to get it out of my head than to record it legibly.) With each sentence, I drilled down through layers until — when I flipped to a fresh page three — something else flipped inside. I started to write, but this time, with energy and excitement. My pen drew across the paper harder, as if telling the page, “Yes, this is what I really want!” Now I knew. I had sifted through all that fretting. Now I could concentrate on my next best step.
Once I’ve salvaged some sanity by exorcising my worries onto paper, it’s a lot easier to see the wide gaps and extra fat in my exercise routine. First, I took inventory of what I actually had been doing (vs. what I thought I should be doing). I backed off the energy-sucking expectations. I recommitted to my simple axiom: movement matters. For the first time in weeks, I enjoyed moving for the sake of moving. This calmed me down enough to see a critical realization. I had been sabotaging my efforts by not including enough recovery time between my harder workouts. I added more rest days to my routine. Energy returned. Within two weeks, I was back to pre-stuck workout levels.
Taking stock of my plate took a little more time. I completed the Calorie Math spreadsheet (see below). The numbers revealed, with my revised workout routine, I would see results faster if I made a slight calorie trade. I had already done my mental/emotional work, so I was ready to make the trade without resentment.
Through this process, I learned to accept the fact that, during my life-long fitness journey, I’m going to get stuck. I can expect the occasional roadblock just as surely as I can predict spring by the road gumbo. It’s not the stuckness that’s my enemy but my reaction to it. Sometimes, the best action is to stop, shrug my shoulders, and take the long way around.
It’s not the stuckness that’s my enemy but my reaction to it. Sometimes, the best action is to stop, shrug my shoulders, and take the long way around.
Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet: to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year. She began on Thanksgiving 2011. Will she make it? Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind. Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center. She also writes a blog about what it means to be true to ourselves at RadicallyAuthentic.wordpress.com.