“Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you? Smelly cat, smelly cat, it’s not your fault!” Phoebe’s second best song, right after the hair one. You know you laughed.
Motivational speakers are famous for saying things about leaning ladders against the right building or shooting arrows at the right target or marrying the right Kardashian when it comes to the importance of setting goals. (Some day you too could break your own sex swing! Whee!) I’d have the exact quote for you except that I’m too busy running around climbing ladders in shooting ranges and shooting arrows at reality stars. My point: I don’t have one. That’s kind of the problem. I’m known for getting lost in the details and losing the big picture. Plus I find goal-making boring. (My other point: And I wonder why people don’t ask me to be a motivational speaker.)
But goal setting is important and fitness is a perfect example of why. Everyone knows somebody who’s been running the same 5-mile loop or doing the same weight routine for 10 years with little to show for it but shin splints or a bad back. Exercise can be one of those things that by its very nature is easy to do by rote to the point where you literally end up running in place. (Treadmill, anyone?) Reader Sam hit on this in her comment on my post “Run, Eat, Don’t Repeat“:
I love your blog and lurk often, though I personally don’t like eclectic/unspecific training and prefer to stick to my sport. I feel that’s my personal way to sanity: focus on performance (in my case, speed–I’m working on a sub-19:00 5k at the moment) instead of appearance. Focusing on how I feel is too nebulous for me, and I don’t love working out enough to do it purely for fun; I like competing. I guess you just enjoy the smorgasboard, eh? That is something I am curious about from time to time: your exercise goals. It seems hard to achieve anything big without focusing for more than a year on ONE thing.
First, huge kudos to Sam for her (I am assuming she is a girl but now that I type this I realize could be a boy?) goal. 5K in 19 minutes is a 6 minute/mile pace! I can’t even run one mile in six minutes much less 3.2 of them. (Once, before this latest round of Gym Babies was born*, Gym Buddy Allison and I ran a mile in 5:52 but since Jelly Bean was born my fastest time has been a 6:30. And it killed me. ) But as I admired her goal I realized that was her point: she can run that fast because she trains for it. I can’t run that fast because I don’t.
Here was my reply to her:
What are my exercise goals? My main one is to live a happy, healthy life. (Isn’t everyone’s?) But I do have smaller goals. They used to be more achievement oriented (like run a mile under 6 minutes, which would be cake for you!) but now they are more experience oriented (like I want to try aerial yoga, krav maga and durian fruit before I die). It’s true that my ADD approach to fitness rules out being really good at any one thing but for me personally I’ve decided that I’d rather be kind of good at many different things than great at one thing.
It’s a very real trade off and one that took me some time to figure out. Me being me, when I first started my fitness journey, I wanted to be the best! at! everything!! (Particularly ironic considering I have never in my life been the best at any sort of physical endeavor ever.) But over the years I’ve realized that the social and entertainment aspects of exercise are as important to me as the health benefits and to maintain a good balance of those, I had to give up the idea of ever accomplishing Something Big. Admittedly this wasn’t as hard for me to give up as it is for some people. I think those who have been close to Big or perhaps even were Big – which I never have nor was – have more of a need to keep striving for it. And the world needs people like that – the big dreamers, the ones who do the big things and inspire the rest of us. But that wasn’t me.
Still, letting go of the numbers felt a little bit like losing control. And I am, let’s be honest, a control freak. So while achieving Something Big is an important motivator for some people, learning to let it go was what was important for me. It was about recognizing that what I want and what I need are not always the same thing. It was about realizing that my kids’ dreams have to come first now. It was about swallowing my pride and recognizing that I’ll never be the fastest, strongest, thinnest or (cue frowny face) even the funniest.
Those of you who have read this blog for the past 5 years have seen that evolution in action and know all the growing pains involved. But sometimes I think I don’t say enough about all that I’ve gained from that small sacrifice. I’m so much happier – to infinity, and beyond! – than I was before. And I’m healthier too, both physically and mentally, which is what I was aiming for in the the first place. I’m not as skinny as I set out to be but instead of being sad about that I’ve learned that skinny is not a great goal. None of which is to say that it’s bad to be goal-oriented or to have big goals or to devote your life to a particular achievement. I’m only trying to say that it wasn’t right for me at this time.
But Sam’s question is still a great one. What are my fitness goals? As I was writing my post I realized that I can no longer separate my fitness goals from my life goals, both short term and long term. I want to be happy. I want my children to be happy. I want us to be good decent people that serve God and make a positive impact in our community. I also still want to try aerial yoga, krav maga and yeah, durian fruit is still on my list. So is a sub-6 mile. But just one. And I do want to improve my fitness. I want to be stronger and faster.
Sam also asked how I measure my progress in fitness. And I particularly like this part of the question because it reminds me to check which building my ladder is leaning up against while I’m still climbing it. There is a fitness test that the Gym Buddies and I do every 6 months or so to reevaluate and see if our workouts are doing good things for us. And tomorrow’s post is going to be all about what we test, how we test it and how ridiculous we can make ourselves look while we’re doing it!
In the meantime, what kind of fitness goals do you have? Do you prefer to work towards one big thing or do you take a more scattered approach? Anyone else hope that Kris Jenner doesn’t allow the two youngest Kardashians to watch their own reality show?
*Since she announced it on Facebook, I think it’s all right to share the good news: Gym Buddy Allison is preggo! She’s just finishing up her first tri and makes pregnancy look amazing!