Three of us are reading Nia Shanks’ The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be.
Read about Day 1 here.
Read about Days 2-10 here. ‘
Read about Days 11-20 here.
Read about Days 21-30 here.
Read about Days 31-40 here.
Read about Days 41-50 here.
Read about Days 51-60 here.
Read about Days 61-70 here.
Read about Days 71-80 here.
As often happens, Nia’s observations and advice are eerily well-timed. Today I’m finishing up a big work committee project, and this week I’m wrapping up my hitch in a leadership role in my church. This means a lot of things that HAVE to be done NOW. It also means some looking back with regret that I didn’t do this or that, or I wish I had done something differently. With respect to the HAVE-TO-NOW items on my to-do list, we have day 83: “feeling like it” isn’t a requirement. With work, with physical activity, with cooking foods that feel healthy-to-me, I’m not always humming with inspiration. No. But that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important to me. They are—they were when I agreed to them or planned them, and they are now. It’s just that life’s many vagaries and ups and downs are happening at the same time. So, am I going to finish that last letter and go to my yoga class today? I hope so (and if I don’t it certainly won’t be Nia’s fault.. )
Hand-in-hand with day 83 is the advice of day 84: be ready for expectation bias. We’ve all been there: we sit at the desk, the yoga mat, the bike saddle, the cockpit of the kayak, and…. Nothing. There’s no juice, no flow, no feeling of gusto. So we (meaning I) conclude that something must be wrong. Here’s the thing: it’s not. It’s that life thing again. This absolutely bears repeating and rephrasing and repeating again.
Day 87—Fast or Slow?—is my favorite of this section. When I’m feeling pressured or tired (or enthusiastic or strong), my default setting is fast—well, as fast as I can. But “as fast as I can” isn’t sustainable. Yes, to meet that looming deadline, we push hard. To get up that last hill, we push hard. But we are not supposed to push hard all the time. Trainers tell us this, our mothers tell us this—it must be true. Thinking about what approach—fast or slow—we want to do today, or this moment, or this set, or this mile, or for this song is what Nia is suggesting. As always, slowing down and taking time to figure out what we want and what we need (which aren’t always the same thing—see day 83) will help make the decision much clearer.
I would like to write more about the other days, but I’ve got loads of work this week and some hard deadlines (including the one for this post). So I’ll close with following day 85—Play with what you have. I have to stop now. But see you next week for the triumphant conclusion of Nia’s book!
Day 82 is about the past. You can’t change the past but you don’t need to let it ruin your future either. Nia writes, “Improving your health and level of fitness, when distilled to its basic elements, is about eating nutritious foods most of the time and moving your body frequently and consistently.” But it’s not that simple and it doesn’t feel that easy. We know what we should do but we aren’t always moved to do it. Why is that? Part of the answer comes from our past experiences. Our past shaped our views of food, body image, weight, and fitness. There’s a lot to unravel there. Nia suggests that the past doesn’t define us and that we can choose differently starting today. She says, in an upbeat tone, you can always construct a new lifestyle. I’m not so sure about that. I think how hard it is to just ‘choose differently’ depends on the kind of childhood you had.
You don’t need to feel like it, says Nia on Day 83. We do lots of stuff we don’t feel like doing. Before I wrote this blog post I cleaned my bike and paid the electricity bill. I can assure that I didn’t feel like doing either of those things. I’d just gotten home from work. It’s been a long day. I’m hungry. But somehow, before I had my broccoli soup and grilled cheese (fancy weekday cooking!) I wiped the mud off my frame (chain cleaning to come later) and logged onto to my banking app and paid bills. I didn’t expect to feel good before doing these tasks. I just did them. Some days fitness is like that.
Fast or slow? On Day 87 Nia discusses the choice between fast and furious, change all your habits at once, fitness efforts versus slow, steady, gradual change. What I like is that Nia doesn’t assume slow and steady is better. Slow and steady, small changes suit a lot of people but I like that she recognizes that some people do better going big. The year I quit smoking, started to commute to work by bike, and learned to lift weights was a very big all-in year. There were some enormous changes in my life. They didn’t all stick but that year did set me up for a confidence about what my body could do. I still think it was a positive thing. I have the same fond feelings for the two year count down to turning 50 that I shared with Tracy and documented in our book Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. Riding, rowing, running, soccer, CrossFit, and Aikido all at once. That was a lot. There was nothing small about that year. But I am happy to think of these things in waves and I loved that very big two year period.
As you can guess from my previous comments, there are many things that I love about this book. However, one of the things I love the most is how Shanks keeps the promises that she makes to her readers.
This promised to be a book about digging into your underlying mental challenges with developing a fitness routine and Shanks has really delivered for me.
She continues to deliver in Days 81-90 with an exploration of ways that our feelings and expectations can get in the way.
In Day 81 ‘Look Then Laugh’ she reminds us that it is okay to acknowledge that things sometimes go awry, despite our best efforts. We might as well be amused when that happens because there is no point in beating ourselves up about it. This kind of reminds me of that FB meme that encourages us to view our lives like a book or movie and to shout ‘Plot Twist!’ When things go wrong.
Day 82 ‘You Can’t Alter The Past’ – I really loved how this section acknowledges how our past affects our current perceptions and how we can become aware of what is happening and seek to change it. When I’m coaching people, I refer to this type of thing as ‘the stories we tell ourselves’ and encourage them to become aware of the stories and see which ones they want to keep. (That makes it sound incredibly simple – it is not- but it is the underlying principle of the practice.)
Day 83 – ‘Feeling Like It Is Not a Requirement’ – The fact that I didn’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it was HUGE revelation for me at one point in my life. I tell my writing coaching clients this all the time and I like the reminder here that we can apply this principle to fitness. Even when you have picked a fitness activity you enjoy, you won’t always feel like getting started but if you do it anyway, in whatever capacity you can at the moment, you will be happy you did. I like how she compares fitness activities to brushing your teeth – that’s always my go to comparison, too. We rarely skip brushing our teeth, no matter how little we feel like doing it, so it makes a good base-level example for this type of approach.
Day 84 – ‘Expectation Bias’ – I appreciated that this section reminded us that our expectations of a fitness session can affect the results (and our enjoyment.) I think we can all use the reminder that expectations colour what we experience. For me, personally, this gets tricky because of my oft-mentioned challenges with self-perception. I have to remind myself to balance that ‘try it anyway’ with the yoga advice ‘meet yourself where you are’ so I don’t judge myself too harshly for what I can or can’t do on a given day. This isn’t a problem with Shanks’ advice, just a moment of self-reflection!
Day 85 – ‘Play With What You Have’ – This section was a solid way to keep ourselves from falling into the ‘if only’ trap and, instead, to focus on what we have available to us in the moment and make the most of it. I like the playing cards metaphor she uses here and I will probably adapt it for my coaching practice. I often have to coax people to match their expectations to their reality (i.e. if you only have 5 minutes a week to write, don’t be hard on yourself when you can’t produce a novel in a month!) so the more ways I can explain that, the better.
Day 86 – ‘Change The Rhetoric’ – I really liked how she advises us to remember that getting to exercise/focus on fitness is a privilege and a luxury and that workouts do not make us warriors or heroes. Those ‘epic person’ ideas can be useful to a point but they can also get in our way and give us a harsh view of those who do not (or cannot) do what we can.
Day 87 – ‘Fast or Slow’ – This was a good reminder that there are different approaches to fitness goals and that we all need to pick the kind that serves us best. In Day 87, she focuses on the difference between going ‘all in’ with fitness and eating changes all at once versus taking an incremental approach. Of course, there are many combinations of those practices that will work differently for different people.
Day 88 – ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’ – For me, this section works very neatly with Day 84’s ‘Expectation Bias,’ Shanks is basically saying that by declaring what we can or cannot do before we even try it, we limit what might be possible.
I have seen this happen when I help students in Taekwondo (and I sometimes fall victim to it myself but I try to catch myself quickly.) Sometimes, people decide in advance that they will never be able to do a push-up/land a punch/ break a board and then they psych themselves out of being able to do it. As a step toward change, I try to encourage people to put the word ‘yet’ at the end of their pronouncements ‘I can’t break a board…yet.’ – it opens the possibility of being able to do it in the future.
When students say ‘I just can’t do…’ and there is no physical limitation on why they cannot, they end up grunting and groaning through any attempt and then they give up. That really doesn’t serve them well and it keeps them from learning how to improve.
Day 89 – ‘Friendly Reminders’ – Days 81-90 have been full of friendly reminders for me but this section really summed up a lot of especially good content from earlier in the book and this seemed like a good time to circle back to it. Reminders that you don’t have to ‘earn’ your food by exercising, that fitness practices should make you feel good about yourself, and that you can focus on mastering the basics first, were all very welcome.
Day 90 – ‘Own Your Personal Records’ – Ah, this is another time when my perception of my own efforts gets in my way! Shanks is advising us to celebrate our milestones (including milestones related to consistency) without putting any conditions on them.
So, she wants us to stop saying “I know it’s only a light weight but…’ or ‘I know it’s just 10 days but…’ and, instead, celebrate that we have had a victory of any sort.
I know that I do this with my own fitness victories and, for me, it ties into that whole ADHD thing of not being able to judge how hard I am working. So, I don’t want to make a big deal of something that is actually less that what I could do. Even though I might be proud of a victory, when I tell others about it, I might undersell it a little in case my perception of my effort is off.
I have to give this a bit more thought and see how I can take a more self-supportive approach.
Once again, I got a lot out of this section of the book and it has given me a lot to consider putting into practice. Even though I use a lot of this same advice in my coaching sessions, it is interesting and useful to see it applied in a fitness context and I look forward to seeing how I can make it work for me.