Seem like everyone else is better, fitter and healthier than you? Like you’ll never be that ‘fit person’? If so, we’ve got some surprising news for you. Plus 7 steps to feeling more “OK” with you.
Fifteen years ago, thousands of male clients came to trainers with one burning wish: Make me look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
Who could forget Pitt’s lean, sinewy, anti-establishment Tyler Durden, all abs and dirt and knuckles and free spirit? For those male clients, Tyler Durden was That Guy.
That Guy gets romance and adventure, kicks life in the ass, and rides off into the sunset.
That Guy doesn’t have to clean out eavestroughs, or slog through freeway traffic. He doesn’t have bad knees or get heartburn after eating a chili dog.
That Guy doesn’t say “uff” when he bends over to tie his shoes. His doctor isn’t telling him his rotator cuff is messed up, or that his blood cholesterol is too high. He’s not worrying about how to parent teenagers.
Female clients, of course, often have That Woman as their ideal. The jacked, gun-toting arms of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 sent a generation of women racing towards biceps curls in the 1990s.
Generally, though, That Woman may be somewhat more domestic than That Guy. (A little more First Lady Michelle Obama than freedom fighter, perhaps.)
That Woman fits into all her clothes (especially wedding dresses). She rocks Lululemon leggings and skinny jeans… even after having three angelic children.
If you are a female client who idealizes That Woman, you know this because That Woman is at your kids’ school picking up her well-groomed offspring.
She looks fabulous and together. She’s into Pilates or running or Crossfit or kale juice or something else that seems to keep her full of energy.
She’s a lawyer or a neurosurgeon or an international diplomat or perhaps a stay-at-home mother, but whatever she does, she excels at it and is fulfilled. She uses hashtags like #honored and #grateful and #blessed, and means it.
Meanwhile, you’re shoving aside banana peels and empty soda cups to make room for your kid’s dog-hair-encrusted car seat. And you’re wearing your husband’s track pant bottoms with baby spit-up on them, because they’re the only things that fit you right now.
If only we could become That Guy or That Woman.
They’re OK. Awesome, even.
And we’re not.
This might sound kind of weird, but…
As coaches, we know our clients’ secrets.
In our case, around 35,000 clients’ worth of secrets.
Now, this doesn’t mean we’re creepy peepers.
We’re discreet and committed to confidentiality. One trusted and caring coach sees one client in total confidence and privacy.
But at some point, the baggy sweat pants have to come off so we can do body measurements.
At some point, a camera captures your image, so we can observe your progress visually.
At some point, you share your cholesterol test or thyroid hormone panel with us, so we can talk about what it means.
At some point, you tell us your daily routine, so we can see how to make changes.
At some point, you tell us honestly what’s going on, so we can help you.
That’s when it gets real.
And that’s when we both learn:
Everyone is not OK.
If you don’t have the big picture, as we do, it seems like Everyone Else is doing so much better than you.
It seems like Everyone Else can handle their lives. Everyone Else quickly learns the habits we teach.
Everyone Else is losing weight or gaining muscle or getting fitter so much faster and more effortlessly than you. Everyone Else has everything you don’t.
It feels like you are the only person in the world with your problems.
The truth is:
There is no Everyone Else.
There are only imperfect, wonderful, messy, very-much-human beings with hopes and fears and desires and neuroses and jobs and lives and kids and dogs or cats and family demands and toilets that need unclogging and lines-becoming-wrinkles and hangnails and alarms that go off too early and a love of chocolate-chip cookies… and all the rest of reality.
Like all of us.
“We’re all bozos on the bus,” said Woodstock MC Wavy Gravy in 1969, “so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open and a TED speaker, adds: “If we’re all bozos, then we can put down the burden of pretense and get on with being bozos.”
In other words…
we can stop worrying about being the only person who isn’t fit enough, smart enough, together enough, getting enough things done in a day, a good enough mom / dad / worker, whatever.
we can pursue fitness, nutrition, and health goals that are actually realistic and attainable — and feel good about what we do instead of inadequate.
Here are 7 ways to start feeling more OK, right now, in your own imperfect, messy life.
1. Reboot your expectations.
In our article The Cost of Getting Lean, we explored the trade-offs that you might make for a given fitness goal.
The key messages:
Getting into reasonable, moderate shape isn’t too complicated.
All you need are small consistent changes here and there. Walking the dog after dinner, perhaps a weekly class at the gym, or packing an apple in your lunch will generally do the trick.
Getting into pretty good shape is a little trickier, but can be done if you’re committed.
You might need to focus more on food quality and portion sizes, work out a bit more, be more careful with your indulgences. Still, do-able if you’re so inclined.
Getting into film-shoot-ready or magazine-cover-ready shape is a whole other game.
You give up your life to do this.
You eat out of Tupperware. You measure everything that goes into your mouth. Your entire routine revolves around eating (or not eating), working out, and sleeping so you have enough energy to work out again.
Now here’s the secret.
People in the third group — the ones we often imagine are Everyone Else — are professionals who make their living that way.
99.99 percent of you are not those people.
They only look like that for a few hours or days. But they might pour thousands of hours of work and maybe thousands of dollars of money into that project of getting super jacked and ripped. Brad Pitt had an entire staff of well-paid professionals making sure he rolled into his shoot looking that way.
Which means that even the 0.01 percent still don’t look like that all the time.
Nor are their lives awesome.
In fact, arguably, their lives are much less awesome.
Because they’re eating three ounces of plain cold chicken out of Tupperware at a family barbecue before they go and do their third workout of the day.
(Actor Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy complained to British GQ that Brad Pitt “ruined it for everyone” by creating unrealistic body expectations, so Hunnam was forced to go and work out two and a half hours a day on top of a 14-15 hour shooting schedule.)
Getting into slightly better shape, or a slightly healthier routine, doesn’t take much effort. That may be what is realistic for most of us, right now.
Getting into epic shape takes tremendous sacrifice… and kinda sucks. It probably isn’t worth it for most of us, right now.
Getting into epic shape creates other problems. Because of the demands of their job, cover models are often less happy, healthy, and balanced than the average person. (If you’ve ever chased this dream, you may have discovered this firsthand in the form of workout injuries, anxiety and depression, disordered eating, hormonal disruption, social isolation, and a host of other problems.)
So if magazine covers are off the table at the moment, what can you do?
2. Find realistic role models.
There are more “fit and healthy” people than you imagine. They might not look like you expect.
“Fit and healthy” comes in many sizes, shapes, and abilities.
The gray-haired octogenarian standing at the bus stop. Did you know that despite her arthritis, she pops a painkiller and gets out to her dance class four times a week?
The rotund guy that delivers your mail. He walks 10 miles a day as a postman.
Your child’s preschool teacher. She only has 20 minutes a day to exercise, but she does them faithfully, hitting her exercise bike and Netflix every day before she comes to corral your kid. (Then she tries to spend all recess playing tag with 4-year-olds.)
What if you shifted your perspective to “good enough”, “a little bit better”, or “trying”?
What if you looked for small moments of health, fitness, and wellness everywhere?
What if you focused on doing what you could, today, anyway?
3. Embrace the struggle.
It’s not going anywhere.
Grappling with pain — whether that’s actual pain and suffering, or just small daily annoyances — is part of being human.
As adults, we recognize life’s complexity and richness. Wanting to “be perfect” or “have it all” is not an adult wish. It’s a child wish: to have all the toys, all the time, even your sister’s.
Everyone has a struggle. You might just not see it.
48 percent of our female clients and 33 percent of our male clients take prescription medication.
Of our clients taking medication, 33 percent of women and 24 percent of men take antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
36 percent of our clients have injuries. And many struggle with chronic pain.
27 percent of our female clients and 17 percent of our male clients are over 50 years old. (Even if you’re healthy, aging brings its own challenges.)
Many of these challenges are invisible.
You often can’t see pain or disability. You often can’t see psychological distress. Unless you see someone pop a pill, you don’t know what they’re taking.
And guess what — the PN staff struggle with the exact same things.
We have injuries. Or had them. Or will have them.
We’ve struggled with mental and emotional health sometimes. Or often.
We’ve struggled with addictions — whether that’s to work, or exercise, or food, or alcohol, or anything else that someone could get hooked on.
We’ve gained too much weight, or been scrawny, or gone weeks or months without working out.
We’ve been the ones wearing the baby barf sweatpants.
No matter what the challenge is, at least a few of us have faced it, and certainly none of us are getting any younger.
Someone who looks fit may be at the end of a long and difficult journey.
Like the cancer survivors whom we coached through post-treatment rehab.
Like people who are coming back from an injury or illness.
Like our courageous coaching clients who have chosen to do PN Coaching two, three, or even four times to really learn the habits and make the progress they want to make. That’s years of work.
They’re all being “good enough” — just showing up and trying their best in an imperfect situation.
4. Recognize and respect your not-OK-ness.
It’s OK to not be OK. None of us are 100 percent OK.
At the same time, sometimes things are really not-OK.
For instance, if you’re experiencing things like:
chronic insomnia or poor quality sleep
chronic pain or lack of mobility
frequent injuries and/or illnesses
chronic and debilitating depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns
chronic social isolation and relationship difficulties
chronic lethargy and lack of energy
feeling like you need alcohol or recreational drugs to function
concerns with food, eating, and/or exercise that seem to be taking over your life and/or harming your health…
… then you could probably benefit from making some changes.
Sometimes, being in the depths of not-OK — for instance, having a debilitating gym injury, getting a scary medical diagnosis, or ending a relationship — is exactly the wake-up call we need to start working on being a little more OK.
Pay attention to your “dashboard indicator lights”.
Are your current struggles and imperfections more like garden-variety ups and downs? If they are, that’s just fine. It’s all part of being human.
On the other hand, if something feels really off, you might need a little extra help. You might talk to a trained coach, counsellor, or other health care professional.
Learn to heed your own signals. Know when not-OK is actually not OK, and requires extra help.
5. Learn to be OK with being “not OK”.
As PN coaches, much of work is actually helping our clients get a little more comfortable with discomfort.
If you’re a coaching client, you might hear phrases like:
Step into the discomfort.
Let things be a bit messy.
You are human. You are normal. You are not a weirdo. You are not alone.
You might also hear questions like:
How might you make things a little bit simpler for yourself?
What does it feel like to sit with the discomfort of change?
How could you stretch yourself just a bit?
Life is never going to be completely OK, 100 percent of the time.
The trick is to learn how to be OK with that not-OKness, and work on making things just a little bit better.
6. Take small steps towards slightly more OK.
If there’s a lot of invisible suffering in the world, there are also a lot of invisible successes and joys too.
Nobody besides the newspaper delivery person sees you running at a dark 6 AM. But you know. And you’re proud of your dedication.
Nobody besides your doctor knows you need anti-anxiety medications or anti-inflammatories or some other drug to function. But you know. And you’re proud of weighing your options and deciding on what’s best for you, even if that choice isn’t “perfect”.
Nobody besides your grocer sees you picking out leafy greens and lean protein to put in your shopping cart. But you know. And you’re proud of passing by the Nutella and Oreos that once called your name when you struggled with binge eating.
Nobody besides the inside of your brain sees you grappling with the “right choice” in a situation where you don’t have to make the right choice. But you know. And when you make that choice… you’re proud of yourself for sticking to your values.
Maybe that “right choice” was pausing for ten seconds to review what matters most to you.
Maybe you were just following your shopping list when you grabbed those leafy greens.
Maybe you think that effort was so small, it didn’t “count”.
But here’s a coaching secret: the steps that lead to success? They’re almost all small things.
Success comes from putting small things on top of small things on top of small things.
7. Find your work-arounds.
Do you need accommodation or help? Find it. Get it.
Work on creating a system that you trust to help yourself.
If you have one body part that’s not working very well, explore other movement options, or workouts that don’t depend on that body part.
If you don’t like cooking alone or working out alone, find someone else to do this with. Grab a buddy for Sunday chili-making day, or hit a group class.
If you’re having trouble “finding time” for things, get out a calendar and start planning. Book appointments for everything, even grocery shopping. Track your time use so that you know when you’re wasting time. Then, set alarms and reminders, stick up Post-it notes, and carve out 15 minutes a day to ditch Facebook and hang out with the squirrels during a walk in the park instead.
Coaching secret: Most people aren’t “naturally” good at most things.
The people who look like they’re good at things are getting help, and/or have a trusted system to guide them.
When we start accepting our own limitations — our own “not-OKness” — that’s when we start making changes for the better.
We embrace the small improvements that add up over time.
We treat ourselves with more compassion and evolve past an “all or nothing” attitude.
We pick ourselves up after we fall down, and we make course corrections when we need to.
And we ask for help when we need it.
Best of all, the more we accept being not OK, the more life feels… well, a little more OK.
What to do next
If you’re feeling not-OK, start recording what and why.
Write down all the ways in which you don’t feel OK.
Analyze your data.
What is regular not-OK (tendonitis, having a bad day, eating a waffle over the sink for dinner, etc.) and what is not-OK worth checking out (chronic illness, debilitating depression, etc.)?
Calibrate your expectations and check your blind spots.
What are you trying to do? Write out the things you are trying to accomplish or achieve right now.
Now review those expectations.
Would a sane, kind, wise friend or mentor tell you those expectations are realistic?
(If you actually have a sane, kind, wise friend or mentor, ask them for advice.)
Using their advice (real or imaginary) as a guide, re-consider your expectations. How could you adjust them to make them more realistic and attainable?
Consider a few small next steps.
One of the hallmarks of not-OK-ness is that it often feels paralyzing. It’s like swimming through peanut butter.
Action is the antidote to paralysis.
Whatever you can do, no matter how tiny, do something to affirm your basic OK-ness, even when things don’t feel OK at all.
Assemble your team.
Do you need to add people to your “Project OK” team? Such as a trusted buddy or family member, a coach, counsellor, or other health care provider?
If so, find them and recruit them to Project OK.
Ask for what you need. Let them help.
Start building a system.
OK-ness is not a do-it-yourself project. Nor does OK-ness happen spontaneously.
Along with helpers, you need systems to be OK. Things that remind you, guide you, help you, fill in the gaps for you, and generally help you stay more or less on track.