This time last year I took part in a sort of ritual that changed my life.
Don’t worry, it didn’t involve any pictures of Keanu Reeves and chanting, hanging goat entrails around my neck, or anything like that–I save those fun times for Friday nights.
On January 2015, I became one of a dozen or so Bodybuilding.com employees who would publicly share their 12-week “transformation” journey to–as per the company’s motto–“become my best self.” In less vague terms, that meant I’d commit to a personal fitness goal and put the highs and lows of my 12-week journey on blast via YouTube and social media, reality TV-style (minus the drama and gym, tan, laundry).
You can read a recap of my experiences by clicking here and another take on my friend JC’s site here.
Now a year later, a couple of people have asked whether I would enter this year’s contest. If so, I’d actually be eligible for a cut of the prize money this time–a whopping $250K!–which I wasn’t before because I was an employee or whatever. Truth be told: the fantasy of throwing fistfuls of cash into the air like they do in rap music videos is appealing.
But my answer is no. I didn’t sign up. Not even “for hell of it.”
U Mad, Bro?
It’s not a gesture of defiance or stubbornness. It’s a matter of having different priorities and perspective. This year, I’m in a different place, both literally and figuratively. Let’s be clear: this is not me saying that I think I’m too good for the contest or I don’t need a fitness goal ever. Obviously not the case!
At this juncture in my life, while I float from one place to another with little stability and structure, I figured the crazy amount of energy that would pour into “transforming” my body is better spent on adjusting to my environment changes, making new experiences around the world, and doing the things that I want to do, rather than what I feel I have to do (which would be the case if I’d joined the contest, even if it’s just “for fun”).
To that end, I refused to explicitly set any goals that involve changing my body this year. Like I said, I don’t want to waste the energy on it, but most of all, I don’t feel like I need to.
For one thing, a specific fitness goal with a specific timeline in mind–such as losing 10 pounds in 12 weeks (which is at least reasonable, by the way)–demands a butt ton of energy in the stealthiest ways, because it’s not simply a matter of eating less and moving more (though sometimes it can be made more manageable with the right environment, support, and resources).
In reality, “eat less, move more” is one hell of a useless, overused, and insensitive aphorism. (My Lifehacker colleague wrote a great article on it.) It is an oversimplification of weight loss. It’s almost criminal how it overlooks individual ability and all the “in-between” little things someone has to do on a consistent basis to get into shape. I’ve observed hundreds of transformations and know that, based also on my own experiences, there’s more to it than that.
Think about all things you have to spend your time and energy on:
- Track your food to make sure you are eating enough but ideally still making progress.
- Plan your daily and weekly meals, but if you didn’t know how to do this step before, that’s a whole other process to learn.
- Shop for groceries and wrestle with what to buy and what to leave on the shelf when impulse strikes.
- Cook these healthy meals, which is another process in itself. (Those groceries ain’t gonna cook themselves.)
- Make many, many decisions with your limited supply of willpower and energyaround food and lifestyle.
Not to mention the other stuff like going to the gym, working out, making sure you sleep, and so on. Every. single. week.
These still don’t touch all the head games like: Why is the scale not moving? Why isn’t anything working? Are my jeans not fitting because I am gaining too much booty muscle or…? What’s the point of continuing if I already had that piece of chocolate cake–I’m already a failure? When is the next season of Game of Thrones?
And it goes on.
Neurotic? It is, without a doubt. Neurosis and mood swings are more common than you think when you’re (intentionally) eating fewer calories to sustain a calorie deficit–which is the super sexy secret to slowly losing weight over time–and when you have expectations to meet (my downfall).
During the contest last year, dropping my body fat to get leaner became my all-consuming, singular focus in that moment. Every ounce of energy–from my eating behaviors right down to sleeping–revolved around forcing that change. I was like a robot with only one feature, except a lot bitchier and sometimes wittier…
As you can hopefully now understand, I don’t want to use my energy for that. I now believe there’s a time in a person’s life and place when having these goals is good (last year was that time and place for me), and when it can be a detriment to life.
Content But Not Complacent
This doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken all of my fitness goals, don’t do any of those things anymore, or that I’m training without purpose. I still do all of the things I listed, but without the unhealthy rigidity and unbending focus a physique-related goal would impose. I know many people thrive on that energy, and that’s fine. That was me, too! Nowadays I try to think of what I do in the following way:
- I stick with my current 5-day-a-week lifting program to try to get stronger than I was the previous weeks every week.
- I eat what I think are good dietary choices to power my training and give me the energy and health I need for other things.
- I indulge just enough to feed my soul (and donut cravings).
- I strive to live as healthfully as I can without being obsessed, and to be content but not complacent.
I believe there’s a difference in being content and being complacent. Complacency is a state of “Yeah, I guess…” and inaction, whereas I’m content that I can strive to work on the things I can control and accept the things I cannot.
I’m content with the fact that lifting weights and eating well allow me to use the squatty potty in Asia like a boss, haul my giant 50 pound+ luggage through crowded streets, subways, and trains of Tokyo, and be physically and mentally strong enough to serve the needs in my current life.
To be a little existential…I’m already there—specifically, the place where I thought I needed to be this time last year. (Whoa, Steph, step away from the bottle…)
This all might sound noble of me to just say, but my current perspective and silly ramblings are, of course, only possible after having experienced the struggles, the highs, the lows, and the breakthrough moments throughout last year’s contest and the many months thereafter. In actuality, they have all helped shape how I approach fitness content and my own “fit life” today. So, I have “no ragrets,” as this guy’s tattoo-gone-wrong says.
But also I’ve had the clearer realization–one that isn’t novel or new, just a long time in coming–that being involved in fitness is not meant to be a means to an end; it’s a process with many forms of growth (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) that should stay with you way past 12 weeks or 24 weeks or whatever. It certainly has for me.
As I mentioned in JC’s article, I’ve thoroughly pounded the “process” itself into my way of life that I can’t imagine a day passing by without doing what I think is right to help me in mind and body. It would be like waking up one day and deciding not to breathe…or giving up Sriracha. I will say this: if the musclez peep out as a side effect of a consistent process, I’m not one to shy away from flexing them proudly.
So, unless I’m doing some kind of competition or guaranteed oodles of money, I’m content with not staking so much of my life energies on any ideal physique.
If you’ve entered the contest or are taking up fitness for whatever reason–be it money, dissatisfaction, declining health, a fun challenge, or whatever–I hope you remember to look at the big picture; to look past your expectations at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and beyond, and to take your lessons and then learn to be content (not complacent).
Once you have that view, it changes everything.