Category: Overcoming Adversity

How My Workouts Were Influenced by My Personal Beliefs

  • What drives you to go to lift weights at the gym?
  • How do you decide what exercises to choose once there?
  • How long do you stay at the gym?
  • Do you have a planned workout that you take along with you?
  • How do your eating habits before or after the gym influence what you do there and how you feel afterward?
  • How do you feel after you leave the gym?… Happy, sad frustrated?

What influences many of these, and other decisions you make regarding your physical fitness, are your beliefs and the emotion that you attach to them.

 

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The School of Hard Knocks.

As a psychotherapist, I know this, but sometimes, even I still need to learn my life lessons in a very up-close and personal way. I’d like to share some stories from my life that helped me to understand this concept better.

Before I started back to the gym, I avoided it like the plague. Every morning, I told myself I would go and then I found every excuse not to. No parking space nearby? “I’ll try again this evening.” Gym hot or stuffy? “The ventilation is bad and I can’t finish my workout.” Other excuses? Low energy. IBS. Arthritis. “I just don’t feel like I can make it in today.”

These things were all part of my reality, but I was using the feelings as excuses for stagnation in my life. I was driving myself deeper and deeper into a self-made prison of physical and emotional weakness, and I was allowing the circumstances of my life to control me.

One day, I had a shift in my perspective. I felt more determined and asked one of the gym workers if they could turn on a fan or open the door. They were happy to oblige, unlike the previous time when I mustered up the courage to ask and was told, “No, that’s just the way it is here.”

After that moment, I finally understood something that I honestly already knew. I was creating my own roadblocks to advancing my workouts and reaching my fitness goals.

Why was I choosing to sabotage myself in this way? It’s not an easy question to answer.

 

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Why Do We Choose to Sabotage Our Own Health? 

Why do we make poor choices where exercise and even food choices are concerned when we know better? Here are some common reasons:

  • Poor self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Feeling overwhelmed with life
  • Maybe a little depression

This is an emotionally toxic cocktail. It can lead to isolation and eventually absenteeism from the gym for at least a month or more. Often times, this may lead to canceling gym membership for some people and/or drowning in piles of seeming healthy “treats” for others.

My self-sabotaging feelings caused me to disconnect from myself. I felt I was not in control of my body or my life. I told myself that there was nothing I could do to change my life story in any way, shape, or form. I took solace in hiding from the solutions I could have created for myself.

 

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Lessons Learned.

What shifted my perception of reality? I can assure you it was not winning the lottery (much as I wished that this was true). Arthritis and IBS did not suddenly disappear. On the contrary, I’ve had a host of other physical and emotional challenges to grapple with these past few years: glaucoma and the painful surgeries that accompany it, an extremely painful emergency surgery for a blocked tear duct, and the aftermath of being the single mom of a cancer survivor.

Here are some of the insights I made after a long period of introspection:

1. You cannot change your reality. You must embrace it and move forward.

Sometimes, going with the flow of negative life circumstances can cause a person to drown in the tears of their own sorrow. There is no point in allowing that to occur unless a person has a true death wish, which I did not. I remembered how I reacted when I was told that my son had a HUGE tumor growing inside his chest cavity. I allowed myself to be shocked for about ten minutes flat and then shifted into warrior mode, determined to save his life or die trying.

To move past of my exercise funk, I channeled that warrior again.

2. Without caring for yourself, you can be of no use to care for others.

A few years after my son’s initial cancer diagnosis, I found myself depressed in trying to cope with the devastating aftermath of living through his cancer battle. I knew I needed to snap out of it and find a way to heal myself or I would succumb to my own disease and surely die. The very thing I had fought so hard to prevent in my son’s life was about to take over and finish me off. Cancer had not beaten my son directly, but I was allowing it to win by succumbing to the emotional after effects.

I realized my son needed me to live in order to heal and thrive in his own life.

My despair distanced me from his healing journey. It was slowly killing me physically and emotionally. I was still able to function enough to return to work as needed to support our daily life, but my authentic soul was not grounded. I was a shadow of my former self and felt like a functional robot. I hardly smiled and never laughed at that time; I felt ill most of the time and was consumed with worry about making enough money to put the best food on the table to keep my son’s remission in tact. I uttered daily words of gratitude for his health, but was not able to feel them very much when my own physical challenges felt as though they were too much to bear.

Have you ever felt so out of touch with yourself that you didn’t quite know who you were anymore?

3. Set the intention to persevere and give it your best.

I decided to join a local gym, knowing it would be a sure way to start combatting the physical devastation of arthritis in my hips and legs. I was NOT about to agree to a surgery that required a huge amount of rehabilitation. A botched hernia surgery a couple years prior almost put me over the side for several months. I was NOT going to run that risk again.

I visited the gym a couple times a week at first and “did what I could,” but was not putting the same amount of intention into my workout as I had when my son and I would go to the gym every morning prior to his radiation appointments. I sat and encouraged him to do his best at each machine after a trainer at the gym was kind enough to set up a program to help him regain his strength.

I would always empower him by saying, “you can do this, I know that you can,” when he felt defeated and wanted to give up and leave. A couple of times, he did get frustrated and run out the door. Facing the reality of what cancer treatment had done to his body was too much for him to bear at sixteen years of age. Prior to diagnosis, he was quite strong and “ripped” as they call it, but cancer treatment and the cancer itself had robbed him of his strength and ability to breath well during exertion.

I hung in there with him, and little by little, he came to understand that he had to force himself to accomplish these daily workouts to fight his depression and recover at least a little bit of the physical strength he had prided himself on prior to his cancer diagnosis. Indeed, it helped him to overcome some of the most challenging moments of the disease.

His courage has always been mind boggling to me and he is always quick to remind me that my presence and perseverance is what saved his life and keeps him alive to this very day. How could I allow myself to drown in a similar sort of depression that cancer patients are faced with? For several years, I felt as though my circumstances were larger than my ability to overcome them, but my son’s courage helped me to break past that mindset.

4. Stop making excuses. Start simple and just do it… and then do it again… and again.

Until recently, I felt that my life was still out of control. I knew I needed to stop and be still for a while. I wanted to feel more alive and to do that, I needed to strengthen my physical body. That’s when I finally stopped making excuses for not going to the gym on a daily basis. Whether I wanted to go or not (other than a couple legitimate IBS-related occurrences), I started to hit the gym 6 days a week without fail.

I created simple workouts for myself, at first, and learned to master them along the way. Soon enough, I was able to ride a bike for a full hour and accomplish approximately ten miles.

I also began resistance training. It may not sound like much, but I had to start small with only two pound weights and even that was a challenge. Now, I can lift 30 lbs easily and 12.5 lb dumbbells in each hand feels quite manageable. Every improvement has merit, no matter where you start, but make sure that you do start… period. Don’t let your ego stop you if you think you aren’t lifting enough. Don’t let your self-esteem stop you if you have to start small. Trust me, if I can do this, anybody can, and I mean anybody.

In Conclusion…

It’s not easy for me to share my personal story, but I’m hopeful it will help anyone who is not convinced their daily life habits and workouts are indeed influenced by personal beliefs, both for the positive and for the negative.

Now that you have this information, I invite you to take a good look at your own personal beliefs and examine whether they are helping or hurting your fitness goals.

Personal Boundaries: Where Do You Draw the Line?

  • Do you have a hard time saying “no” to people in your personal life space?
  • Do you find yourself agreeing to do things with and for certain people in your life, so as not to rock the boat in that relationship?
  • Do you have any insights into your behavior within that relationship or is it a conditioned response you’ve grown so accustomed to, that you don’t think to question it?
  • Do you have a hard time setting boundaries in your personal or perhaps even your business relationships?
  • If so why is that?
  • Do you lack self esteem and need the validation from others to feel good about yourself?
  • Do you agree and do whatever they may ask of you for fear of feeling rejected or abandoned by them if you don’t comply?

Boundaries are an absolutely critical component needed for creating and maintaining satisfying and respectful relationships in our daily lives, both personal and professional. The question is, “Why are these boundaries so difficult for many of you to uphold when even the smallest of triggers presents itself?

At the core of this personal boundaries dilemma is your relationship with yourself.

How do you treat yourself? Are you in denial of your need for self love, or do you just not care enough about yourself to bother taking care of you? I’m going to guess that at least some of you are far more mindful of other people in your life than you are of yourself. Your relationship partner, children, parents, and even friends really enjoy the way that you care for them and have perhaps learned to expect it from you.

But where do you draw the line or do you not draw it at all?

Do you find the courage to say, “No, I can’t do this for you,” or, “I just don’t really want to do it today”? Or do you simply blow up at someone when you just can’t take it anymore because you feel so overwhelmed with all the demands placed upon you by them and others in your daily life?

There are a lot of important questions to ponder here. I hope you take some time to answer them for yourself and then decide what you want to do about creating more mindful and respectful boundaries with the people in your life.

The best place to start is with yourself:

  1. It’s truly ok to show yourself some love. Even if you don’t feel it, act as if you do and then see how you like it. Pretend that you are someone special and treat yourself as such for one whole day. From pampering to positive self talk, give yourself the works from the inside out. At the end of that day, sit back relax and reflect. How was it for you? If you enjoyed it, why do you not do this daily? Why do you not treat yourself with the respect you deserve each and every day of your life?
  2. Stop being dependent on others for attention that will feed your starving sense of self. You don’t like yourself, so you figure if other people respond to you in positive ways, it might influence you to like yourself even a little bit or perhaps not to dislike yourself as much you already do. For many of you, the reason you do this is that you lack self esteem and a feeling of self worth, which is reflected in your lack of personal boundaries.
  3. Take back your power if you are truly fed up with this way of living. You can do this if you decide that you are ready to make a change in your life. It’s not an easy task, but changing daily life habits that influence your negative self talk will help a lot.
  4. Get off your butt and go to the gym even if you don’t want to. Plan your workout in advance if your able and if not, ask for help or invest in a few training sessions to get you started. There are great apps to use in the gym, many of which are free. Exercise is a critical component in shifting the way you feel about yourself from the inside out. Before going to the gym, put on some fresh gym clothes that you feel good in. You know… the ones you bought and wore only once because you felt too conspicuous in them, after which you shoved them back in the drawer and got out the potato sack you always wear if you do decide to go to the gym or the park for a run. No more! Wear gym clothes that make you feel and look beautiful and confident to yourself first.
  5. Clean up your diet. You know enough about nutrition to understand that the junk food you eat daily influences the way you feel and think, but you feel like crap right now, so you decided that eating junk foods daily is the way to go. Stop it right now. If you need some suggestion on what to eat, consult Google university or send me your questions and I’ll be happy to answer them for you. There are indeed foods to eat that influence endorphins, and also improve your mood and digestion. You can unlearn these shitty habits the same way you learned them. Twenty one days of different food choices should take care of that problem. I didn’t say this was easy, but I am saying that it’s doable. You just have to want to. And if you need some added support, reach out to me in the comments below or via email and perhaps I can be of help if you feel that you need it.

Where do you draw the line?

The answer is:

I draw the line in a place that is respectful of myself and my own needs on a given day. If I’ve taken care of myself first and am comfortable in giving you what you are asking of me today, then it’s all good because I’m not dependant upon your response to determine my self worth.

It’s really ok to say “NO” to others and “YES” to yourself and your self esteem. Go on try it! I bet you might even enjoy it!

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The Edge of My Mountain

I open my office to welcome her. A warm transparent smile draws attention away from the sad expression that adorns her hazel eyes as she extends her hand toward me. She has shoulder length auburn hair with several wisps of grey interwoven around her face, as well as the back of her head. I take notice of it as we enter the office where we will spend the next 90 or so minutes talking about her relationship with food and how it influences her daily life choices.

Her mouth and her eyes tell me two different stories. This much is already clear to me. She tells me that she is, “58 years old and does not have a comfortable relationship with her age, her body, or her food choices.” She adds that this has been, “going on for close to twenty years to varying degrees of severity.” Upon further questioning, I learn that the past five years had been “extremely difficult” for her.

When I ask her what she did to manage the life triggers that lead her to feel that she needs to act out with food, she just stares at me with huge tears in her eyes and says nothing.

“I have no control over anything that goes on in my life, that’s part of the problem. I just go along with everything that is said and done to me and around me even though I don’t agree with any of it. I feel stuck and trapped in my life as well as my body. I hate it all. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a mom, I would have found a way to finish myself off a long time ago.”

Well… that was one hell of an opening statement for a woman that I just met less than 15 minutes ago. I understand that she feels very helpless and angry at herself and the people around her. She perceives herself to be drowning in the shape that her body of life has formed. When I ask why she reached out to me, tears begin to flow like a faucet.

“I want to feel happy with myself and I’m not. I want to have some control of my daily life and I feel as though I don’t. I hate the way that I feel inside my body so I use food to numb what hurts me so much. I just don’t understand why I keep doing this to myself day after day.”

She is hurting badly. I can just see the emotional pain oozing from her pores as she shares her story with me. The veins on the side of her temples are bulging around her drawn pale complexion. I reach my hands out toward her and she latches on to them ever so quickly as though she is dangling from a steep mountain’s edge. I sense her desperation and have a clear sense that she needs to feel connection and support with someone who is not here to judge her or challenge her in any way.

All I did was listen, reflect, and re-frame some of the things that she feels
like sharing in a less dark, yet supportive and hopeful way. After about forty minutes pass, she suddenly stops talking. I ask her to try and draw in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. What emerges along with her exhale is a smile – the first one I have seen since we met about one hour ago.

“I feel better and a little stronger as though you gave me a vitamin injection.”

I can’t help but smile right back at her.

I ask, “And what kind of vitamin might that be?”

She squeezes my hands and chokes on her tears. I sense that she needs to hold on a bit longer, so I stay put right where I am with her. Something shifts for her inside and she is able to let go of one of my hands and draw another deep breath.

“Talking to you gives me hope that I don’t have to drown in this mess. I can also feel and see that you are not judging me and that you understand what I’m feeling.”

“Yes, Liv, I understand how you feel and I hear the pain and the suffering that you are experiencing in your daily life. I understand why you turn to food in the hopes of drowning your pain and sorrow, I truly do. I understand that the momentary pleasure and relief that you think you are getting seems worth it in that moment. I get that. I also hear that the emotional consequence of anger and depression far outweighs any pleasure that you may derive from acting upon that impulse that seems so alluring at that particular moment. And it causes you so much anguish after you do that to yourself. That is what I am seeing today. You feel helpless at that moment as though there is nothing else for you to do with those emotions accept to eat them in this way so that you won’t have to feel them.

“Yes that’s exactly it.”

We talk awhile longer and make another appointment to continue our discussions and formulate a plan of action.

Liv wants me to share this little snippet of our talk because she hope that it might, “…Touch someone who is suffering today as I was when I came in to see you. You helped me to find my center of gravity again and accept me as I am. You also give me some perspective about what I am doing to myself that I didn’t have before. It felt kind of like I crawled out my skin for a little while and observed myself along with you much different way than before.”

“Well I hope that it was in a more caring way, Liv. If you can learn one solid thing to take away with you today, it’s that it is so critical to consider having compassion for yourself and your current situation. Compassion for yourself gives you honor and respect for who you simply are right this very minute… Even when everything looks bleak and out of control.”

“I feel like I can breath right now, Vida. For the longest time, it’s felt as though something was pinching my airways.”

She reaches her arms out to me as we approach the doorway and I offer her a big supportive hug before she leaves, hoping that the comfort and relief that she has found for herself that day will linger on for at least a little while as she re-enters her home and life space.

Self-destructive behaviors are so hard to change until we are able to understand the reason for their existence in our lives and then find the courage to learn how to replace them with nurturing habits that will eventually heal our wounds if we tend to them with compassion and respect that we so deserve.

Keep Moving On

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The first two weeks of January find me working on a long list of goals, as well as challenges. The goals are much more fun despite being demanding of so much of my time and attention. I will share a few snippets of what is going on.

My son and I decided to co-author a children’s book over the past month. We want to publish it before Valentine’s Day in hopes of reaching an audience that will enjoy reading and experiencing the details of the adventure that we have written together. My son is an amazingly talented and magical artist and also happens to be an excellent illustrator. He has been drawing cartoons for me since he was about ten years old and I have tons of scrap books loaded with samples of the characters animals and scenes that he has depicted on different sizes of papers for a myriad of occasions over the years.

Lucky for me, he has finally agreed to pen them into a little book to accompany a story about the power of love and friendship amongst a family of fish and their humans as they interact with one another in the most unlikely of stressful circumstances. Love is their guide within a dark sea of utter despair and the light that emerges from the depth of that abyss will warm the readers heart and teach both kids and adults about the true power that love and compassion can have as we travel through our lives.

We think that it will be a wonderful Valentine’s Day story and gift to share with Loved Ones! The clock keeps on ticking and we are running low on time and are truly loving the challenge of racing toward the finish line. I have so enjoyed spending this time with my son and learning so much from and about him. His wit and sense of humor has literally had me laughing so hard that salty tears would not quit streaming down my face when we were editing one another’s writing. His ability to describe our fish characters adventures with such finesse, emotion and humor is simply astounding to me. When I asked him where he learned how to do this, his response was, “duh look in the mirror Mama, I’ve had the best teacher there is. You’re an amazing writer and the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life so to answer your question…. duhh”. I didn’t know what to say after that so I gently touch his bearded cheek and mustered up the warmest smile that my heart will allow. He has far more confidence in me then I do in myself, that’s a fact. I love to make my son laugh, always have, even when cancer moved in and tried to take over our lives. But I never thought of myself as a funny person or a good writer. Well if he thinks that I’m all those things, perhaps it’s true, at least in part.

As many of my readers already know, my son and I have also been working on a book or should I say a long novel based on the true story of his life threatening battle with cancer. He calls it “our battle” with cancer so I try to respect his wishes and view it in the same light. As he always reminds me, “If you were not in the same room with me, I would have pulled those IV’s out of my body and either run for the hills or jumped straight out the window of the cancer prison and that’s a fact. You were the one that made me stand up to Cancer and fight back with oil brushes and paints as my weapons. You taught me to believe that Love, eating your food and my Art could slay the cancer beast and so far it’s all true Mama.” Ok Josh, you win. Time for a deep breath and the need to use either my sleeve or some soft tissues to wipe away the salty memories of the most painful moments that life could present to any mother or her young child. Our novel will come out in sequels once we are lucky enough to secure the right publisher. We also dream about the day when the right film producer and director will read our manuscript and become passionate about turning our story into a memorable movie for the big screen to enjoy. We keep telling ourselves to believe in all of our dreams so that they will turn into a reality when the opportunity arrives. We are both very hopeful that this dream will come true very soon because as we well know, life is short.

Way too short. We learned it the hard way and that realization is embedded into each of our souls. So the “challenges” that I was referring to on this first month of the new year, have to do with my own health and I opted to make a clear list of all of them because I fully intend to line them up, one next to the other in a straight line and execute them one by one, till I murder every last one of them. The details are not urgent at this point. Only the fact that I intend to slay them all! I will share about them in future blog posts with the intention of helping even one person who might find themselves overwhelmed by health challenges of whatever sort in life. So I have several positive goals and a number of difficult challenges that I am hoping to conquer one by one. Takes a lot of motivation and inner strength to take on such a huge physical challenge. What has helped me a ton is my decision to return to the gym on a daily basis despite all of my limitations due to arthritis. In the past month i have improved so much it’s truly mind boggling in my condition. I could barely peddle 1/4 of a mile on the stationary bike due to hip dysplasia. The pain and stiffness were ridiculous. I also had surgery on my big toe,( long story) so I lost a couple of days in the middle of the month but I am finally getting better. Today, I rode 3.5 miles in thirty minutes. I used to ride two miles in 40 minutes but daily persistence has changed all that.

My stiffness is improving a ton, yet it’s still hard to bend all the way to the floor. Give me some time, I will get there too. I share all this with you today in the hopes of encouraging and inspiring those of you who are struggling in life to cope with physical and even emotional adversities.. You can do it! I know you can! You can choose to believe in your own power to overcome starting right now! Please love yourself enough to believe in your ability to overcome your pain. I believe in you.. It’s the only way out of your darkness.. Come on.. Stand up and put one foot in front of the other.. You can do it! It’s tough I get that, but it’s what you need to do.. Please feel free to leave me a note in the comment section and tell me about what you are doing to overcome your own adversity and live in the light of life..

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