Being Comfy or Being Better?

If you come to my weekly pieces for the politics, you might want to take this week off.

Today I’m going to be talking about motivation and inspiration.

Most of you know by now that I’ve been working on losing weight. Most of you know that work has been paying off. Most of you are sick of hearing me talk about it.

I have been doing a lot of work and a lot of thinking about it, which is one way you stay on the horse, so to speak, but I also know that it would drive everyone nuts to share everything I’ve seen, done, and thought on the subject of late, so instead I’ve been taking the opportunity to write about it. Then I take what I’ve written and I save it to the cloud. That way, nobody has to hear it all and I’ve managed to get it out of my system.

But today, I felt like sharing something, because I think it’s relevant to a lot of us.

Here’s how the voyage (I call it that only because I’m sick of people calling it a “journey”) is going so far. At the end of 2017, I decided to do something about my weight and I set—as we so often do—January 1stas my start date. I had success with my usual method, which was to simply eat less. By the time we went on our summer vacation I’d lost 58 pounds. Unfortunately, summer vacations have always been big stalling points. In fact, anything outside of the routine is always a stumbling block for me. In short order I’d gained all but ten of those pounds back.

In January of last year, I decided to track my eating again, not with any aim towards trying to lose weight, but just to see what I was taking in. What happens when you start keeping track of what you take it is that you inevitably start to want to do something about it. By February, I decided to start reducing my intake and trying to lose a few pounds.

Exercise was never really part of my weight loss routine, but this time around, I let my wife drag me out on our daily dog walks. Then I let her drag me out for a daily bike ride. Before long, they’d both become part of my routine and when both she and G-Man had to have surgery that took them both off their feet, I become solely responsible for walking the dogs and I continued to ride my bike. This was really significant for me, because I was doing it on my own, not because someone was cajoling me to do it, which, early on, was exactly what my wife did.

I use an app to track all of my walks and bike rides. It keeps track of my average speed and distance. It also feeds the data to my calorie app and that tells me how many calories I burned in the process of doing the activity in question.

Here’s what I know (and I’m going to get to my point shortly): to date, I’ve lost a total of 132 pounds, counting the ten I didn’t gain back from 2018. I count that because it’s the first time in my life I’ve not lost weight and then gained even MORE than I lost. I have done this through a combination of eating less and exercising more. I also have learned that the less you weigh, the fewer calories you burn while exercising, which means I am constantly having to up the ante on the exercise. The bike rides started as one lap around our neighborhood. I barely made the first one. Soon after, I increased it to two. Then three. I later added extra laps to Saturdays and Sundays, and eventually I was doing ten laps a day (fifteen on Saturdays and Sundays).

The pace is also important, and I try to average at least 14 miles an hour on my rides. Why? Because my calorie app rewards me with calories back (almost all of which I try not to use, but they’re a great buffer for the days when I go just a tad over my calorie budget), and it does so at one level when I average 14mph. It rewards me at a higher level if I average 16mph. For that reason, those have become my two target average speeds.

Still getting there. Just hang on.

On my bike there’s a pretty big difference in effort between averaging 14mph for an 8-mile ride and averaging 16mph. Some days I’m just not feeling it and stay in the neighborhood of 14. Some days the wind is so strong and in my face that I struggle to maintain 14. I will often build up some extra mileage on my average and take some cooldown laps at the end of the ride. In other words, If I’m averaging 14.8mph, I’ll slow it down on the last few laps. After all, whether I finish at 14.8 or 14.2 my app is going to reward me with the same number of calories.

Recently I decided to add a couple more laps to my daily total, so now I ride 12 laps around my neighborhood each day (18 on Saturdays and Sundays). Adding a little over a mile and a half to each day makes it tougher to finish in the 16mph range, so I haven’t been pushing it to get there, content to burn 14mph worth of calories.

But last night something happened. I started the ride in a bad mood. It was late and I really wasn’t feeling motivated at all (you still have to go even when you’re not motivated; that’s lesson one). As I was riding, I noticed the wind was mild and I figured I could build up a good bit of extra mileage early and just take it easy for a significant chunk of the ride.

On lap four, though, I noticed my average had crept up above 15mph. My initial reaction was, “Great! I’m getting there faster than I thought! I might even be able to take it easy for half the ride!”

Then that other part of my brain kicked in. The one with high standards. The one with the competitive drive. The one that doesn’t like to settle. The one that pushes me to do better. The one I hate, because it makes me work hard. That part of my brain said, “You’re over halfway between 14 and 15, and you’re not even halfway done with the ride. Don’t you think you can get to 16 before you’re done? Don’t you think you can push yourself?

“Don’t you think you can do better?”

Faced with a choice of having done so well I can either take it easy or I can use it as a springboard to do even better, I ultimately chose to do better. By the beginning of lap 12, I was averaging 16.18mph and I got to take my cool down lap after all. I felt tired. I felt worn out. I felt…amazing. I’d set a new personal best for speed over 12 laps.

And finally I’ve gotten to my point! Which is that often in life we do just enough to get by. We do just enough to cruise the rest of the way. But in doing so we often put ourselves in a position to do more, to do better, to set new personal bests. When faced with that choice, which way will you go? Which path will you take. Will you do just enough and stop, or will you use what you’ve done as a springboard to make yourself better than you were before?

The choice is yours. I made mine.

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