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May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 2000 Page: 1 | 2 | 3

Philippe Weisbecker

Loehr would later tell me that my Chariots of Fire episode along the Potomac indicated that I'd become disciplined, meaning that what once was a chore had now become habit. As much as 95 percent of our behavior, he'd explained before, is habitual—from the way we brush our teeth to how we react to a crisis. That means only about 5 percent of what we do is consciously determined. With such puny willpower, the way to create Loehr's brand of discipline is to hammer away at bad habits, one at time, until they become good ones (see "The Great Barrier Leap," below.)

That all sounds fine, but isn't it something of a Catch-22? If you lack discipline, how do you make yourself stick to a new program designed to create it? And even if you manage to gain some good habits, how do you hang on to them? Those questions haunted me soon after I returned from Maryland. Battling my usual twin villains—travel and deadlines—I somehow lost the recovery habit and everything fell apart. Worse, around week nine, I picked up a nasty flu that not only ruined the mountain-biking vacation I was on, but lingered for a month spent dragging myself to the office and then collapsing at home afterward. By the time I fully recovered, I was in the middle of month four of the six-month program, and utterly depressed. I felt like I was in lousy shape, way behind at work, and had dropped the few good habits I'd established. Now I had a scant ten weeks to reach my fitness goals, some of which were formidable. LGE likes to get its clients into the 75th percentile for their age and gender, so I was expected to drop my body-fat from 23 to 17 percent while dramatically increasing my cardiovascular capacity. Right.

The way out of my slough of despond, Striegel informed me in another telephone checkup, was to fundamentally change the way I thought about such goals. "There needs to be some ownership on your part about what your goals are," he said. "The ones we gave you came from exercise software. Take your own life into consideration, what you want out of this. Given that you're not a competing athlete, you can always adjust them. It's up to you."

This was a revelation. I had gotten stuck on the narrow idea of a single, unchanging, objective standard. Compromise, in my book, was tantamount to surrender; calling a goal unattainable was a thinly veiled rationalization to let me off the hook. But goals, I was learning, are really just a constructive form of self-delusion. The point isn't so much achieving them as using them to keep you pointed in the right direction. Clearly, I had allowed my initial LGE-prescribed objectives to make me feel intimidated and defeated—like the program was controlling me, not the other way around. What I really want—my real goal—is to feel stronger, have more energy, and perform better in the sports I love.

Before LGE, I'd been working out two to three times a week, but rarely with much intensity. Now, once again, I'd stagnated. So I created a new goal: to work out hard for a minimum of three days a week, with a fourth day every other week. I even rigorously kept a workout log. For nutritional discipline, I made up a menu of three healthy breakfasts—poached eggs, egg-white vegetarian omelets, and whole-wheat French toast made with egg whites—spiced them up with fruit, low-fat ham, and 1 percent milk, and rotated them each day. At midmorning and midafternoon I snacked on energy bars, cottage cheese, fruit, and pretzels to keep up my blood sugar. And I found a lunch place where I'm guaranteed a healthy meal every day, chock-full of vegetables and low-fat protein like fish and chicken. (Dinner, alas, remains problematic; I eat out a lot, and the social ritual often trumps my fitness ritual of eating lean and mean.)

I went back to my recovery rituals, too, taking more rather than fewer breaks when the going got tough. That meant quick naps in the office and scheduling recuperation time during trips, including occasional five-minute catnaps on the side of the road while driving between meetings. By the end of the fifth month I felt better about the program than ever before. Finally, my rituals were becoming habits. I was working out harder and more frequently, generating huge energy boosts, and sleeping more soundly. Muscles were growing taut; fat, evaporating. I began feeling great even during my most stressful and exhausting days.

The Great Barrier Leap
Everyone's got problems—here's how to kiss yours goodbye
DISORGANIZED Create a ritual to clean your home or office at the same time every day. Spend 15 minutes each day making a priority list.
QUICK-TEMPERED Visualize situations in the day ahead in which you react to stress without losing your temper. Cook up a mantra (e.g. "This chump's not worth it") to repeat silently when you feel your blood boil.
HAVING TROUBLE SLEEPING Focus on your breathing, counting each breath. If you haven't fallen asleep within 20 or 30 minutes, get out of bed and write down whatever thoughts are nagging at you.
WORKING TOO HARD Schedule R&R for the week ahead, and then keep a log to see how well you're sticking to it. Take a midday break for 30 minutes to enjoy something besides work.
LOW ON ENERGY Set a timer to remind yourself to eat a healthy snack in the midmorning and midafternoon. Plan three nutritious meals per day (low fat, plenty of protein, lots of vegetables, whole grains), making sure to keep them small since you're snacking.
SHORT ON TIME TO WORK OUT Split weight training and cardio workouts into separate days to cut your workout time in half. Negotiate with your boss or spouse to let you escape for exercise, and be willing to give them some extra time in return.

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