Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Today's post is dedicated to Dee.
Accountability is a funny thing. Whenever we set a goal for ourselves, we do have to keep ourselves in check to some degree because otherwise we'll never get there. But for something like weight loss and a lifestyle change, I think there's "accountability" - ie: just keeping an eye on yourself and reminding yourself why you're doing it every time you are tempted to give in - and then there's "accountability", being so hard on yourself that your motivation completely wanes because it's no fun anymore.
Hands up, I'm guilty of that, no doubt about it. It's the reason why, before 2005, all my previous attempts to sort my life out were over in a matter of hours. It was this "all or nothing" thinking that kept me on the couch when I'd skipped three workouts in a row, or opening a bag of chips because I'd already had sugar in my coffee that day, so it was a write-off! It's really not the most sensible logic, when you think about it!
I've also experienced this gruelling "accountability" at a healthy weight as well. Last year, as I mentioned in this post, I was very hard on myself. I was terrified of getting fat again and thus pushed and pushed and pushed until eventually I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't work out for six weeks after that. I just needed a break. I still took the stairs at work, the stairs at the tube station, went for walks and watched what I ate. But I gave myself a rest from the hard core stuff. I had to. I needed some way of proving to myself that the world would not end if I didn't go for a run. And, more to the point, I was not a bad or unworthy person if I didn't go for a run.
I know a lot of people (the old me included) who have every intention of exercising. Grand plans. A gym workout every day before work! Aerobics DVD every night! Hard core abs! But then it never happens. And then there's the whole cycle of guilt and hopelessness that accompanies it.
It's not a fun way to live life, is it? Constantly thinking that you're not good enough, that you should be doing more, more, more?
I really believe in holding yourself accountable when you're trying to reach a goal. But I believe in being accountable in a loving and supportive way, that makes you feel good about what you're doing, and where you feel genuine pride in what you achieve, however small it is. Sometimes life gets in the way, and that's fine. Sometimes we need a break. That's fine too. But when you've invested so much in your healthy lifestyle, and it really matters to you, you'll want to get going again before too long! And sometimes being accountable can give you a much needed reality check. I know seeing 103.5kg on the scales was mine!!
Four years on, I still like my lazy time as much as the next person. I also love exercise. No, really! I absolutely love keeping active. So I've chosen to focus on exercise that I really enjoy (running and yoga), so it's not so much of a chore to do it on the occasions when I, like any other human being with a penchant for DVDs, books and chocolate, cannot be arsed.
I try to use my preferred activities as a fun way to socialise with others, as opposed to just going to the pub (we do that afterwards!). I also run to work and walk home - not only as an incentive to save money and stay away from the overcrowded tubes, but also to get my workout "out of the way" as it were, so that when I get home, I don't have to do anything else unless I want to. When I get home of an evening, I've either ran or walked 3.5 miles (about 6km). Depending on how I feel, I might get out the yoga mat and do my Shiva Rea DVD. I might get out in my garden. Or I might get in the shower, then get a cold drink and settle in with a book. Whatever I do, it's my choice!
That's the message I want to get across today. At the heart of this thing called "accountability" lies knowing that you have a choice. It's all up to you. And the choices that you make will show you whether what you want to achieve is important enough to you to keep going, even when the going gets tough. And it does, believe me.
But most importantly, the only person you should be accountable to is you.
So, how do I stay accountable? How do I keep myself going?
The simple answer is because these things have made me happy and more excited about life. I like being a woman who looks forward to running to work nearly every morning, and doing yoga most evenings. I love being able to run for miles without feeling like I'm going to die. I love the thought of entering a half marathon and not freaking out because I know I'm up for the challenge. I love the strength I have in my upper body because of the hardcore ashtanga yoga I've been doing. I love being able to wear nice clothes. I also get such joy and pleasure from eating well.
When I think about all the pleasure and happiness I get from living my life this way, the thought of "staying accountable" and staying on track doesn't really register. This is just my life. Yes, of course, some days I eat too many biscuits, or I sleep in and take the tube to work rather than run, but I know it all evens out in the end. I don't give myself a hard time, I just try to compensate for lazy days or indulgences.
Somewhere along the way, I learned that as long as I viewed exercise and eating well as temporary things in my life until I had achieved a physical ideal, then there really was no point. I needed to be happy in my life, regardless of what I looked like. I needed to feel purposeful, energised and confident. By considering myself worth the effort of a healthy lifestyle, I got all those things. And the desire to keep those things in my life is what keeps me going.
Because I enjoy myself so much with this healthy lifestyle, I know for some people it must seem like things are pretty easy and effortless for me.
But they're not. Getting here wasn't easy, and staying here isn't easy. I certainly couldn't run at the start of my journey - if you want proof, read this post from 2005 where I struggled to do five consecutive minutes. Tonight I did 11 kilometres.
If I didn't exercise, I'd be the size of a house - not because I eat too much, but because that's the way my body is. Without constant exercise, it gets lumpy! I've accepted that if I don't exercise, that I would probably be a size or two bigger and I wouldn't be as toned. My actions and decisions have consequences. And I know what I'd rather have.
I've said this many times but successfully creating and maintaining a healthy life for yourself has nothing to do with willpower. But it has everything to do with tenacity and determination and mental strength. You'll get there if you believe in yourself. You'll get there if you understand that from every choice you make there is a result that will either bring your closer to or further away from what you want. You'll get there if you don't give up. You'll get there if you stop letting your frustration and desperation beat you. You'll get there if you want it badly enough.
If you're struggling, please know that I understand. I've been there. It stinks. But remember that we all have to start somewhere. You're doing something amazing for yourself by committing to a healthier lifestyle. These are some things that helped me:
Work out what you really want. Are you really doing this for you? Be honest. The only way you will keep yourself accountable is if you really care about what you're doing for yourself. Write a list of things you want to change, things that really matter to you. I remember my list had things like "I want to be able to look forward to getting holiday photos printed, rather than dread what I'll look like" and "I want to be able to wear fashionable clothes like a normal 24 year old". Identify what is truly meaningful for you on this journey.
Start small. Set small objectives within your big goal so that you can achieve them and boost your confidence along the way.
Reach out. There are so many of us in the same boat! Share your goals and dreams with your friends - support each other. Meet up for walks, join a gym or enter a fun run together -it's so much fun! Encourage each other to reach for the stars. It can be a pretty lonely journey without support, and sometimes being accountable to other people in a way can help you with being accountable to yourself.
Choices have consequences. Examine those consequences and use them to decide what's important to you.
Be kind to yourself. That makes things so much easier. If you have an off day or week, fine. But if it goes on indefinitely, then you know you need to address something.
Realise that this is your life, right here, right now. You can choose to fill it with things that make you feel wonderful, that give you energy and happiness, and that make you feel fulfilled, strong and healthy. Or you can live in a cycle of deprivation, guilt and resentment. Do things because you want to. Or do them until you want to do them :)
It's your choice. It always is.
Until next time, friends - and thank you, as always, for reading.