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Today is the day. After months of hibernation, like Punxatawney Phil I poke my head out and announce summer is on its way. With Valentine’s Day gone and all the legitimate excuses to eat candy, cookies, and cupcakes behind me (at least until Easter), it’s time to shed my winter fat stores and get back into training. That MS 150 ride I mentioned? It’s four months away and, while summer may feel like a lifetime from today, swimsuit season will be here before I know it. I need to kick it into gear both figuratively and literally and place my couch-softened tush back onto my rock-hard bike seat.

After months of sitting on our couch or huddling under covers in bed trying to escape the cold, I have to admit I have let myself go. (I hate to be cold. Have I mentioned that yet?) I escape the cold of winter by hunkering down, sitting on my butt, and enjoying glasses of wine and ridiculous amounts of sugar. This behavior creates an inevitable weight gain that then fosters a total antipathy toward exercise because, well, why bother? I am comfy, cozy, and warm, and that is all that matters. I reason that the extra fat is insulation keeping me warm like whale blubber.

Then, one day it hits me…usually on a warm February day when I’m not disguised by seventeen layers of clothing. While preparing to shower, I catch a glimpse of myself au naturel in the mirror and officially freak out. I take a good, long look at what I have been hiding under the sweatpants and baggy sweaters. When I think I can’t stand it a minute more, I make myself look for one minute more. Later, just to be sure I have the message, I photograph my muffin top so I can refer to it the next time I think I want some ice cream. Then, I vow to stop being a sloth and get back to the gym or ride my bike.

Once dressed for the day, like a woman possessed, I earnestly tear apart the kitchen. I throw out chips, cookies, leftover restaurant take out, cans of frosting, and yes…even candy. Anything that might become a temptation must go. With a quick and decisive vengeance, I purge the cupboards, fridge, and pantry. I save a few things (for my kids’ sake), but I make a promise to myself not to ingest anything with sugar and to reduce greatly my white flour intake. And, true to my word, I don’t put so much as one lone goldfish cracker or one seemingly innocuous M&M into my mouth. The damage has been done and now it’s time to recover. Then, I go exercise. No excuses.

I don’t think it would be so easy for me to do this if years ago I hadn’t discovered Power Jus mode. I was in my mid 20’s and depressed. I was a college graduate living in a garden level apartment, working two jobs to pay my bills and still barely making ends meet. I had a pet hamster to keep me company. That should tell you how bad things had gotten in my life. Pa-the-tic. Then, one day I hit rock bottom; I decided I couldn’t stand myself anymore. Who WAS this woman? Whoever she was, she wasn’t me. At least she wasn’t the me I had dreamed I would become. It was time to change. From that point on, I would run my life rather than letting life run over me. With an invisible but indelible manifesto etched into my brain, within four month’s time I had secured a higher paying, more fulfilling job, moved away from the guy who was holding me back, and started exercising again. Power Jus mode whipped my life back into shape.

Ever since then, I’ve had Power Jus on reserve. Each time I activate her, it becomes easier to get back to my old self more quickly. Of course, none of this is to say that I am giving up wine completely or that I’ll not be sitting in bed with my laptop even once more through the rest of wretched winter. I’m just not going to do either of those things until after I’ve clipped into my bike pedals and done my time on the trainer. Like my own personal Jillian Michaels, Power Jus doesn’t tolerate excuses; and, trust me, she will kick my ass. After all, that bike ride gets closer each day, and it brings with it swimsuit season. It’s time to hit the road.

**Postscript: My very sweet friend informed me that my muffin top is actually more of a mini-muffin, so upon her request I hereby acknowledge that “muffin top” is a subjective term. I know others feel their muffin tops are more substantial than mine, but I can only speak to my own experience and this is muffin top to me.**

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Sometimes it’s difficult to begin something new, but what’s difficult for me is sticking with something once I start it. Because I am a bit distractible (like a highly caffeinated squirrel), once the novelty of the new wears off I lose my desire to continue. I’m not unlike the stubborn mule that either needs a dangling carrot or the threat of a stick to motivate me. So, years ago I decided to set short and mid-term goals with the promise of a payout if I adhere to my plan. Delayed gratification is quite difficult for me. When I want something, I want it yesterday. But, I found that I am usually willing to work for something if there is a juicy carrot dangling just in front of me.

I hate that I have to use these mental games to keep up my motivation but, sadly, it seems to be the only method that works for me. I know you are familiar with it. We use it on our kids all the time. It’s basically bribery (or a carrot). If I do a good job, follow my training, and achieve my goal, I get something. This is vastly preferable to the other parental tactic which, of course, is blackmail (aka, the stick). And, blackmail is a game that generally requires two players.

My juicy carrot of choice is usually athletic gear because, quite honestly, I am vain and I like to have new toys. I figure that even if I am a sweaty mess maybe others will look past that disgusting fact because they are mesmerized by my super cute top. And snowshoeing is fun, but snowshoeing in a photo-op worthy outfit is better. Aside from that, there have been all these performance advances in exercise gear. When Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first men to summit Mt. Everest, they had to wear layers of itchy wool and probably smelled like wet sheep. Now we are fortunate enough to have all these incredible, performance-enhanced fabrics. For the longest time I wore cotton t-shirts to the gym, but cotton gets soaked and stays that way. And, while this is advantageous in a wet t-shirt contest, it’s reasonably foul at the gym.

When I am having a hard time getting motivated to work out, I check out some web sites that sell women-focused athletic clothing and gear. Then, I buy myself a small trinket that will make going to the gym, getting on my bike, or stepping on a yoga mat more attractive. I also look for one “eye-on-the-prize” item, something that I covet that is out of my price range, and set a bigger goal for myself to earn that item. One of my favorite sites for mental shopping is Athleta (www.athleta.com). I am also partial to Title Nine (www.titlenine.com) and a local Denver/Boulder store called Outdoor Divas, which also has an online store (www.outdoordivas.com). And, if you’re looking to save money, there are great deals to be had at Steep and Cheap (www.steepandcheap.com), although you have to buy quickly with this site because they sell one deeply discounted item at a time and then list another in its place. I got awesome Zeal Optics ski goggles a couple years ago from them for 60% off. Best. Goggles. Ever.

I know that the carrot method works for others too. Last week I was at Bunco and one of the gals had lost a noticeable amount of weight despite the holidays. She was wearing a darling, fitted, athletic jacket. She told me that she loves that jacket so much she feels compelled to put it on, get out, and hike. She also mentioned that it’s been great to notice that jacket getting looser the more she wears it on her winter hikes. That jacket was her carrot. How can you pass up that kind of success?

Maybe clothing isn’t your carrot of choice? I have a friend who entered into a diet contest with mutual friends. Her husband told her that if she won that Biggest Loser contest, he would take her on a cruise. Guess what? She won. She lost a bunch of weight and she got her vacation. Figure out what your carrot is and use it to your advantage. There’s a reason we use bribery with our kids. It works on stubborn children as well as stubborn mule adults.