This year marks a decade and a half that I've been teaching people how to take care of themselves. So I thought I'd share with you an experience that happens a few times a year without fail.
I've worked with thousands of people to reach their wellness goals over the last 15 years. We have the highest completion rates in the industry, but even so there will always be that student who dropped out, gave up, or abandoned their program prematurely.
So I'll be out and about, going to the bank or the post office or something, and in front of me in line or across the street I'll see one of these students also going about their business. From here the encounter can go one of two ways:
Scenario 1. Suddenly we're in The Bourne Identity. The person gains secret agent powers of stealth and misdirection. They blend into crowds, get a very important message on their cell phone, take an abnormal interest in a window display, anything to avoid eye contact. In mere seconds they have slipped off down a side street or ducked into a building. Amazing!
Scenario 2. The awkward conversation. If visual contact has been undeniably established and escape is impossible we enter into an uncomfortable parlay that goes something like this.
"Oh hey there [student's name], you going to the ATM too?"
"Patrick! Yeah! I've been meaning to work out but it's been sooo busy this year my department at the office was just merged with another one and with my daughter's ballet classes I can't make it to my usual Saturday session so I'm trying to find the time on Wednesdays, it's so good to see you!"
"Uh, yeah, you too!"
"You know I just feel so much better when I exercise and you have a great program, it's not you, it's just my schedule has been so crazy it's hard for us parents to make time for ourselves, things should quiet down in spring and I'll definitely be by, ok, have to go great to see you!"
And like in scenario 1, an amazing disappearing act takes place.
At first these encounters freaked me out, but talking to other people in the fitness and wellness field over the years I've learned that they are quite commonplace amongst all teachers. I'm sure these descriptions have rung some bells with you as well, no matter which side of the situation you've been on.
There's no need for these awkward moments. Believe it or not, I don't carry a mental list with me of people who've stopped training, people who I can find on the street and wag my finger at. I'm usually really happy just to see you, and the thought "Why haven't you been training" doesn't even enter my mind. You don't need to bring it up, and you certainly don't need to explain yourself to me.
Here's the truth: If you've worked with me towards a healthier life and have since lapsed, know that I'm not upset, and in some ways I don't really care. I care about you as a person, I want you to be as healthy and happy as possible, and I will gladly share everything I know with you, but I'm not losing sleep over the fact that you haven't done a workout in 6 months.
A human life is incredibly complicated and I have no right or desire to impose judgment on you for your health choices. You don't need to explain why you've stopped exercising, because it has nothing to do with me. That's between you and your body. Everyone is doing their best in their short time on this earth, and I'd rather talk to you about something normal than run through your list of excuses. So chill.
But what I want people to internalize here is that when it comes to your health NO ONE REALLY CARES. No one else but you has to have that backache, has to lose their breath going up stairs, or has to look at you in the mirror every single day.
At first blush this seems like a depressing and mean-spirited truth. It's not. It's empowering. We spend the first 20 or so years of our lives working so hard not to disappoint others. Our families, our teachers, our peers, they all ask different things from us and the majority of youth is spent figuring out how to make them happy. (I think the awkward encounters I have with lapsed students are vestigial traces of those early social needs to please an authority figure.)
But then, hopefully, you grow up. You stop caring what people think and do things for yourself. And nowhere is this more important than your own health.
The people around you love you and want the best for you, but they will only invest so much attention towards your health. After all, they have their own one-of-a-kind body to take care of.
On this entire planet, there is no one who has a more vested interest in your well-being than you.
When you finally get that through your head, your motivation becomes like tempered steel. Dilettantes eat well and exercise because they want other people to think better of them. The truly healthy eat well and exercise because they know that no one else really cares and no one else will do it for them.
If you've put on some weight, lost strength, and let your body slide to a point that it's starting to disturb you, get your thinking straight right here and now.
• It's your fault.
• No one else really cares, because it's not their body.
• This means that no one else can match your motivation and will to change.
• You are in control.
When you believe these facts deep in your soul, you start to realize that all the excuses and rationalizations have nothing to do with the person you're giving them to. They're all about you trying to make yourself feel better. Save your breath and make real changes! If you need some help, there are tens of thousands of teachers out there just like me who know what they're doing and would be thrilled to help you out.
Just know that as committed as they are to you, at the end of the day you will only answer to yourself. And that's exactly how it should be.
Photo credit: Molecule Man statue photo by Wolfgang Staudt.