Baby Steps

“I’m baby-stepping down the hall, I’m baby-stepping into the elevator . . . ”  What’s that?  You haven’t seen What About Bob?  What’s WRONG with you?!  Go now!  Rent it!  Watch it!  I’ll wait!

Are you back?  Good.

Every time I read a study telling me something new, I feel like a failure all over again.  Rational?  No.  Powerful?  Yes.  Specifically with exercise; food doesn’t bother me as much, because I already have my own (warped, but entrenched) ideas about food, and something as insignificant as mere SCIENCE isn’t going to change my views.  I’m just sayin’.

But exercise is a WHOLE ‘nother thing.  I don’t know as much about exercise, nor do I have as many firmly entrenched preconceived misconceptions.  (What?  At least I’m honest.)  So when a study comes out saying that all I need is 20 minutes 3 times a week, I’m all, “Woo-hoo!  I already get that!  I am SO. HEALTHY.  Go me!”  But then when the NEXT study comes out saying, “Oh, never mind, we really meant 60 minutes 5 DAYS A WEEK,” I think, “WHAT?!  What’s wrong with me?  EVERYONE ELSE is doing it [yeah, I know they’re not, either – that’s just what I think]!  I’m a miserable failure and might as well QUIT ALTOGETHER.”  (Those were both actual studies that I’m too lazy to go track down, but hey: I make no pretensions to running a well-researched blog, ok?)

See the issue there?  (No, not the one where I should stop reading studies.  That will NEVER happen.  Pay attention for a minute, will you?  Sheesh.)

No, the issue is that what I’m doing hasn’t actually CHANGED from one study to the next.  The only thing that’s changed is my attitude.  In the first example, I will keep busting my little ass for 20 minutes 3 days a week – until I get cocky and think that I could probably do THIRTY.  OOOOOOO, BIG ATHLETE, RIGHT HERE.  So then I do 30 minutes 3 times a week for a while – and then I think, why not add the other 2 days?  Now I’m up to 30 minutes, 5 days a week, right?  And then eventually I add another 15 minutes 3 of those days, then the other 2.  Then after a while I figure, what the hell, and round all 5 days up to an hour, at which point I feel like I am KICKING ASS.  I might even throw in an extra class on Saturday, just because I CAN. BECAUSE I AM THAT GOOD.  THAT’S RIGHT.  BRING. IT. ON, BABY!!

(Not that I would ever actually even THINK something as cheesy as that last part.  Nope, not me, nosiree bob.  I just, um, WROTE it to make a POINT.  Yeah.)

But the other scenario is the polar opposite.  In the other scenario, I’m cruising along with my 20 minutes, 3 times a week, feeling like, “Hey!  I haven’t gotten regular exercise in GOD KNOWS HOW LONG, but this is do-able!  I can do this!” and then I read That Other Study.  The one that says, “Hey, dipshit, you might as well be doing NOTHING for all the good you’re ACTUALLY DOING YOURSELF, you DELUSIONAL TWIT.”  And I look at the recommendations for 60 minutes, 5 days a week, and think, “I’m barely getting 20 minutes on 3 days!  I can’t do 60 minutes 5 days a week!  Who am I kidding?  I’m not an athlete.  I’m not even particularly healthy.  All I’m doing is wasting an hour a week on the fucking treadmill when I could be doing something else.  Screw it, I’m going home to eat mac’n’cheese.”

See what I mean?  Sometimes I read well-intentioned articles on Baby Steps, and they often say things like, “Just focus on 60 minutes TODAY!  Don’t think about tomorrow!  Just do today’s workout!  Think about tomorrow, tomorrow!” 

Know what?  Fuck that.  Sixty minutes is TOO DAMN LONG if you’re just starting out.  I need a SMALL goal.  Frankly, I’m enough of an overachiever that I need a goal I can EASILY BEAT.  Because if I can do 30 minutes instead of 20?  Watch me.  And when I’m used to that amount of time, and it no longer seems like an accomplishment, I’ll look for something else, something bigger.

But when I’m starting from ground zero, that 20 minutes, 3 days a week isn’t about health – not really.  It’s simply about proving to myself that I can do something – and anything will do.  The idea of Baby Steps as an external path to your goal is a good one, but if your INTERNAL shit doesn’t line up, you won’t get there anyway.  That 20 minutes, 3 times a week? That’s for the INTERNAL part.  That’s for the part that doesn’t really think I can do it, the part that has to be convinced with something so easy, so simple, that I’d have to work at NOT doing it.  See what I mean? 

This all came up because someone asked me to look at some writing s/he was doing (you know who you are – :D), and part of the writing touched on setting yourself up for success.  Sometimes that means ignoring all the conventional wisdom.  (Obviously, there are occasional exceptions to this.  If you have diabetes, and you’ve always lived on sugar, I wouldn’t recommend cutting out 1 ice cream a day and calling it a win.  Then again, I’m guessing the fear of imminent death by sugar would be a WAY better motivator to quit eating it than say, wanting to wear a bikini on the beach.  Know what I mean?)

ANYWAY.  Now I’m just rambling.  But seriously.  Sometimes Baby Steps means setting ridiculously low goals, just so that you can prove to yourself that you can meet them at all.  And that goes for more than exercise (although exercise is an awfully convenient example, what with the numbers and all).  It goes for just about everything you’ve ever felt like a failure at. 

Seriously.  If you think you’ve failed, set your goal lower.  And lower. And LOWER, if you have to.  Find the goal you can meet, no matter how low, and then start building back up from there.  Because if you really don’t believe you can do it . . . well, you know, you’re right.  So find something, ANYTHING, that you can do.  And then do that – JUST that, and don’t beat yourself up about not doing anything more.

Trust me on this one.  You don’t want to end up crying in the bathroom.  😉

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11 responses to “Baby Steps

  1. this is actually really good advice … especially for those of us who have slacked off or gotten off track and get seriously bummed out when we can’t go back to what we were lifting.

    not that i’d know anything about that of course … *cough*

  2. It’s funny – I’m just the opposite of you. I’m pretty secure in my exercising but go all kinds of crazy with the food research & never feel like I’m doing “the right” thing with my diet! It’s so frustrating! Good reminder about the baby steps:)

  3. When I got my elliptical, I could max 30 seconds. I thought it looked easy but it wasn’t. I worked my way up, daily, doing as little as a minute at a time until I finally worked up to 30 minutes a day. But it took a couple of months. My goals were ridiculously low but small goals work up to big payoffs over time.

  4. Im all about the babystepping.
    So much so that pre-Toddler Id use the phrase in emails so frequently with regards to my plans people OFT mistook it for the fact I was knocked up.

    (I must be a really good writer huh? I learned quickly that I needed to say SMALL STEPS!)

  5. LOL, T, I’m right there these days . . .

    Charlotte, that cracks me up that you’re exactly the opposite. If we could figure out how to swap little bits of neuroses, maybe we’d come out normal? 😉

    POD, I know, right? I have to remind myself that 45 seconds is still progress over 30, and that progress is progress, no matter how small. Otherwise it’s too easy for me to get overwhelmed and quit. But thanks for the reminder that if I hang in there, eventually 30 seconds becomes 30 minutes. I need to hear that sometimes.

    Miz, that’s HILARIOUS. I’ve never had anyone mistake my meaning like that, but now I’ll be thinking about it every time I say “Baby Steps!” LOL!

  6. I have to do baby steps with regard to cleaning. Sometimes the place is so messy I get overwhelmed and I can’t do anything, but if I decide to clean only the bathroom, then I’m inspired, and maybe I’ll also clean something else. It works much better than doing nothing.

  7. Julie, I know just what you mean. Have you seen the FlyLady site? It’s over in the sidebar, under “Not Blogs, but Cool,” and it was the first place where I realized that I didn’t have to do it ALL RIGHT NOW. Now I get most of my cleaning done a little at a time during the week, and have the weekend to play. I LOVE that site (even if they are a little Donna-Reed-ish, with the “dear husband”s and all that crap).

    • I actually get FlyLady emails, don’t read them. Maybe I will start, it’s a part of my life that I would like to get under control. I wonder sometimes if it’s a weird defense mechanism to keep myself isolated, my place is too messy for guests.

  8. That’s one reason I like the 100 push ups challenge. There’s no way in hell I can do 100 full push ups, but just 5 modified ones? Okay. And yeah, maybe another 6 after that.
    Definitely makes it easier for the mind (and the arms) to break it up like that.

  9. MARSTE!!! How ya been lady!! My site had a referral from this one. As it happens I wrote a post titled “Baby Steps” myself on 4/27.

    Over the past couple of years I have adopted extensive exercise into my life but it remains something that is often difficult for me to do. I am having some disagreements with my trainer these days because she thinks I am holding back my abilities which is ridiculous. She does not know what it is like to be the girl NOBODY wanted on their team! I see myself as vastly improved; to her I’m slacking off. Um. NO. For some exercises I have to break them down and work at them with patience and persistence until I get it right and that may be A WHILE!

    A lot of people don’t understand this frame of reference, well fuck ’em!

  10. Merry, I KNOW, RIGHT? I really want to do the 100 pushup challenge. But first I have to get to doing ONE. 😦 I can do them if I put my hands waaaaaay far apart, but not even ONE with my hands under my shoulders. I’m working on it. 😉

    Hey Dagny, how the hell are ya? How funny about the referral. That feature cracks me up sometimes. 🙂 But I know what you mean about breaking down some exercises. Right now I’m going through that with the damn pushups, LOL. It’s humbling.

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