Celebrate the Changes

My most recent selfie. I should have taken the pen out of my pocket.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come, or how much progress we’ve made unless we remind ourselves. This is important, not for vanity’s sake, but for motivation. It’s hard to work at something that has no real end state when you don’t have feedback on your progress. This is especially true for me, as I’m not working toward a target weight, a target strength goal, or a target run time. I am working toward the never-ending and always-moving target of staying fit, staying healthy, and keeping old age at bay.

What I’ve found does help me, however, is to take any small victory I can and celebrate it. This morning as I got ready for work, I walked into the closed to pick out a shirt to wear for the day as I do every day I go into the office. This time, my eye was drawn to a shirt I always liked to wear, but have been unable to due to weight gain/swelling after my surgery. I tried to put this shirt on about a month ago and could barely get it buttoned over my midsection. It made me sad, and honestly, left me kind of depressed for a few weeks afterward. I was terrified that this new body shape might become a new normal.

Well, after seeing the changes in how my trousers fit, I decided to give the shirt a try. I pulled it off the rack and took the shirt off the hanger. As I put my arm into the sleeve, I braced myself for disappointment. I watched carefully in the mirror as I buttoned each button, and to my surprise and pleasure, I was able to not only get the shirt buttoned all the way, but it fit properly. Not too loose, not too tight; just as it used to fit prior to my surgery. There was one change, however, but this is one that I will happily accept: my arms fill out the upper sleeves a bit more. If I flex, my arm fills the shirt completely and actually stretches it.

So, I’m gaining access to much more of my wardrobe. Fortunately, I like the clothes in my closet, so I will actually wear them all again. It’s amazing how much better I feel about myself, my health, my fitness progress, and life in general. I shouldn’t be so concerned with my body shape, but honestly, as someone in the military whose career partly depends on my physical fitness and adherence to height/weight regulations, it is always in the back of my mind.

I had an outstanding lifting session and run yesterday, and afterward, Sherry and I went out to eat some Indian food and I ate a spicy Vindaloo that was phenomenal. This morning, I tried a new Paleo-friendly cereal with a coconut/almond milk blend, and it was quite tasty (although I ate too much of it; a little bit of this “cereal” goes a long way).

I am actually looking forward to my lifting and run tomorrow afternoon, as it’s getting fun again. I finally got past the “Getting back into it” phase and I think I’ve psychologically and physically moved into the “This is fun; let’s keep building” phase.

Seeing and feeling the fruits of my labors realized by being able to wear this shirt really has helped me immensely. I’m glad I took a chance on this shirt. Oh, I think it looks pretty snazzy, too, so there’s a bonus.

Dedication and Starting Over: Don’t Overthink it

People say that it is hard to start a new lifestyle. I used to believe that it’s even harder to restart when you had a good run but had to stop for some reason. While I never stopped eating well and paying attention to my diet, I did have to stop exercising for two months as I recovered from my surgery and that led me to some serious anxiety over my ability to get fit again.

My silly grin after a great bike ride.

Going into the surgery, my biggest fear wasn’t the pain, the discomfort, or even the recovery. I wasn’t even afraid of dying. I was most afraid of the hard work it would take to get back into shape, to get back to being able to pass the ACFT.

I realized too late that our thoughts are very impactful on the outcomes of our efforts. I made it out to be so hard and difficult, and that progress would be slow and cumbersome. And, to no surprise, it was. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was only being slow and cumbersome because I had predisposed my mind to believing it was so. I seemed to forget that I didn’t get into top physical form in mere weeks; it took months of hard work, day after day.

I wish I could say I realized this sooner than I did, but honestly, it’s something that came to me today. I was looking back on my progress (I write down and track my physical fitness results) and realized that I’m making progress at the same rate I did the first time I decided to get fit again. I’m not making slower progress; I am making progress.

After my run on Monday. It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than similar runs before it.

I also made another realization: even if that progress was, in fact, slower, it’s better than no progress. Every bit of progress is movement in the right direction and preferable to no progress. Seeing the lines in the graphs trending upward was a good wake up call for me to stop being negative and start embracing the progress and how awesome that is.

Right now, my goal is to lift weights, do my crunches, pull-ups, and run three times a week. On the “off” days, my plan is to ride my mountain bike for about 45 minutes to an hour (at an easy pace that keeps my heart in the 140-145 bpm range). The reality is that I’ve been lifting about twice a week and riding my bike once or twice. I need to fix that with re-dedicating myself to my fitness, and to motivate myself to keep going.

I lifted/ran on Monday, and rode my bike yesterday (without a crash for the first time in four bike rides). Tonight, after work, I will lift and run again. I know it’s going to be tough, and I will be a little tired, but I am motivated by my progress thus far considering the lackluster effort. When I think back on the progress I made before, it was because I was very strict about the 3x a week lifting/running regimen. Now, adding the biking in at least twice a week in conjunction with the 3x lifting and running, I should be just fine for my military service this fall.

I’ve come a long way, and I will never go back to being unhealthy and unfit without a fight.

It’s easy to think negatively. Starting anything at all is the hardest part of doing it. A fellow blogger said that long runs were much better after they were done, and it’s true; I typically don’t really enjoy running while I’m in the act of running. I sometimes even dread running before I start. But once I start, it’s just a matter of time and effort before I’m done, and once the run is over, I feel great.

Minor Setback and Motivation

This is the picture I took of myself on Monday after my run.

I felt defeated, angry, and upset. It was the first time in five years that I had to cut a run short due to pain. I was annoyed and I had negative thoughts almost all the way home. I felt like a failure.

After about a half mile of walking, I decided to try running again to see if the pain was still there; it was not. But I stopped running and continued walking that last mile home. I didn’t want to re-injure it, or make it worse. I figured I’d give it time to heal for my next run.

I thought about it a lot on that walk home, and after I let the anger and frustration go, I thought objectively about where I was in my fitness journey. I was still just weeks into getting back into it after a major surgery. I was pushing myself harder than I should again; something I told myself I wouldn’t do. I needed to dial it back a bit and allow my body time to adjust and strengthen at it’s own speed.

My next scheduled run was supposed to be yesterday, but a lack of sleep the night before kept me from exercising. I have found that every time I’ve injured myself in the gym or on the road has been after nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, so I’ve learned that it’s better to skip a day if I’m not rested than to push it and risk an injury which could set me back.

Last night, I still got to bed later than I wanted to, but I felt rested when I woke up. I feel motivated to lift weights and to run later today, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve been making great progress with my pull-ups and sit-ups. I’m up to 10 assisted pull-ups and 125 sit-ups. For someone who had their abdominal muscles sewn back together just two months ago, that’s pretty good.

My strength in weightlifting has also been improving steadily and safely without discomfort. StrongLifts 5×5 really does work, and it’s a great beginner program. Coupled with my own fitness program, I will definitely be ready for WOBC in October/November.

Setbacks happen. Sometimes they’re serious, and other times, they’re minor. Either way, the hardest part is getting over the psychological damage those setbacks cause, and getting “Back up on that horse.” We’ve all heard the motivational phrases, so I’ll spare you that here. But, I do use those motivational phrases on myself. I start repeating them over and over until I believe them. I motivate myself by reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to exercise, to be able to lift weights, to be able to get out on the road and run. There are so many people who can’t do that for one reason or another, especially at my age. But here I am, suiting up, hitting the gym, and then going out in the heat and getting it done. Even if I’m slow, I’m not on the couch. I haven’t surrendered, and I never will.

I will always work to be better today than I was yesterday, whether that’s in how I deal with people, my diet, or my fitness. I just want to continue to be better. Sure, I’ll hit roadblocks and setbacks, but I’ll never quit. I may lose a battle, but I will not lose the war. I may have cut a run short this week, but that won’t be my last run. I will keep going, and I will keep running.

Really, REALLY Didn’t Want to Do It

Me after my latest run.

I really didn’t want to work out or run today. I was actually dreading it. I had ZERO motivation, and all I could think about was not doing anything. But the more I thought about skipping today, the worse I felt. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of skipping my workout, and with allowing myself to skip it.

Because the guilt would eat me up, I went ahead and suited up and went upstairs and did my usual StrongLifts 5×5 workout along with 8 assisted pull-ups, one unassisted pull-up, and 80 sit-ups.

After the gym workout, I hit the road for a three-mile run. I wasn’t fast by any stretch, but I was consistent and I got it done. I was tired, but again, not sore. I didn’t feel bad, just worn-out.

I showered and relaxed for a bit and then had dinner with Sherry. She made Paleo Pizza, and afterward, we split a Crave 007 cupcake. It was the perfect dessert for one of my favorite dinners.

The most rewarding part? Knowing that I got my workout and run done. I didn’t allow myself to skip, and I stayed consistent with my workouts. I have to make sure I’m ready for my military training in October, and I lost a bit of my speed and stamina due to the surgery, so consistency and determination are going to get me back to where I need to be.

The hardest part of working out is getting started; getting past the self-doubt, the laziness, and the ease of sitting around and not working out. I get it. I am there more often than not lately because it’s hard to get back into shape. But my health and fitness are more important to me than the slow death of comfort. I prefer the active lifestyle, and I prefer staying fit. It was totally worth the effort today.

Getting It Done in the Heat

It was 96 degrees Fahrenheit outside when I ran.

I’ve been asked why I run outside when it’s so hot, and why I don’t run on my treadmill indoors during the heat. It’s because I need to make sure my body is prepared and able to run during the worst conditions at all times. As a member of the military, I won’t get the privilege of dictating my environmental conditions during exercise or operations (combat or otherwise). If I can exercise in the worst of conditions, then operating in any condition not as severe will be much easier for me.

It was nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit here. There is no time off for heat.

I don’t over-hydrate before runs, either. I never have. Why? Same reason; my body is accustomed to running at my normal hydration levels (and I admittedly stay well-hydrated throughout the day). If I run for anything more than an hour, then I’ll definitely drink before a run, and I’ll drink water with DropDrop ORS in it to replenish electrolytes and other nutrients, but for a normal workout? One half of a banana before exercise followed by another half of a banana is all I really need.

I must stress that when I run in the heat, I dial back the intensity. The hotter it is, the more I dial it back. My goal becomes completing the distance, not making a pace or time. When it cools down (under 83 degrees or so), I push myself harder because my body is able to utilize sweating to cool down enough, but otherwise, if it’s really hot out, I literally just take it easy and pay attention to any warning signs that may appear (no longer sweating, feeling dizzy, headache). If any of those symptoms come up (and they haven’t yet), then I will stop and seek shade, water, and assistance.

I also only run on the “Track” around the lake in front of my house when it’s very hot out. That way, if I need help for any reason, I’m no more than 100 yards from my home at any time. It’s also a very visible area, so if I were to go down, I’d be seen pretty quickly.

Another thing I do is run with LiveTrack on my Garmin Forerunner 945 watch. This watch sends out a beacon to my wife, daughter, and son and let’s them know I’m exercising, and provides them with a link to actually watch my progress as I run. If the device detects that I’ve fallen, my heart rate become erratic, or that I’ve stopped quickly with no further input, it notifies them and tells them there’s a problem.

I have found in the past that running in the extreme heat, while not very fun or comfortable, has prepared me well for cooler weather. Since I am needing to be ready for the ACFT in October, I don’t have the luxury of taking time off during the hottest times. “Then why don’t you use the treadmill in the A/C?” For a few reasons.

First, I vary my pace. Everyone does, actually, when running outdoors. I prefer being able to adjust my pace on the fly without needing to push buttons and trying to match a pace with how well I feel. I find that when building speed and stamina, it’s much more important that I can push my pace here and there naturally when my body feels like it’s up for it versus running a single pace for a long time. My treadmill is smart and has some workouts built in, but they’re not organic. I base my running pace and effort on how I feel. If I am energetic, I will push it. If I’m tired, I can dial it back.

Second, I have a hard time focusing and staying motivated to complete runs on the treadmill. I’ve watched movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and music videos while I ran to try to keep me distracted long enough to complete a run, but my mind doesn’t accept it. It becomes drudgery, and I end up lowering the pace just to get through it and I don’t get as good of a workout with it.

So, running in the heat, it is. The kicker is that my runs follow a weightlifting session in my gym, so every time I go out and run, it means I’ve already completed my weightlifting and pull-ups/sit-ups/push-ups.

I never planned for my workouts to be structured this way, but when I tried to lift weights and run on alternating days, I found my muscles didn’t have a chance to recover (since every day is leg day for me). When I combined the weightlifting and the run days and allowed for recovery days in between, my progress became much better and I experienced far less fatigue and pain in my muscles. It turned out to be fortuitous: the Army Combat Fitness Test is a 6-event test that combines strength and cardio. My fitness plan actually compliments this well.

As a Warrant Officer, I have to be ready at all times for any job they give me.

So, when you see me running in the heat, know that I’m being safe, and that there are many good reasons for it. I take my job as a Soldier in the Army National Guard very seriously, and I feel that I need to be as prepared as I can be physically and mentally. Running in the heat helps me stay prepared and ensures that I can be relied upon to accomplish any task put before me.

Feeling More and More Like Me

I might not look too happy in this picture, but I was “In the zone,” so to speak.

My fitness re-boot has been going a little slower than I’d hoped in the beginning, but if yesterday’s workout is any indication of how things will be going, then I’m really excited. I started with my StrongLifts 5×5 workout with 75 sit-ups (total) done between my squats and 7 assisted pull-ups (up from only 4 on Friday). I also did some barbell curls during and after the workout.

Holy smokes it was hot out there! But I got it done, and I didn’t die!

I then went out and ran 2 miles in the 95-degree heat. It wasn’t nearly as hard as it was on Friday, and that made me feel great. There was one point during the run where I actually felt okay. Not great, and nowhere near a “Runner’s High,” but I felt good. My first mile pace was also the fastest since my surgery, and my overall two-mile time was also the fastest.

What gave me the most hope, however, is how I felt afterward: I felt good. My limbs had that “Recently worked out” feeling to them, but I wasn’t in pain. More importantly, when I woke up this morning, I felt decent. Again, I still had the post-workout soreness, but nothing more.

That bodes well for the rest of the next three months as I prepare for Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC) in October. I need to be able to participate in daily PT, and I need to be at a decent level of fitness to not embarrass myself. Now, I’m confident I’ll get there.

Tomorrow, I will outline my fitness plan in detail. It’s something I developed through trial and error, and it’s a plan designed primarily for people over 50 (but truthfully, I think it’ll work for anyone and will even give better results for younger people). It’s been proven to work for me three times, and now on my fourth time, I’m seeing the same results already only three weeks in.

Tightening Screws is Always Hardest

Sherry and me in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

It has become readily apparent to me that it’s time to buckle down, tighten the screws, and get back to eating healthy and exercising without anymore excuses. I’ve allowed far too much alcohol into my diet as well as making sketchy food decisions while drinking.

It’s not that I drink a lot. I honestly don’t. But this summer has had many occasions that socially led me to imbibe alcoholic beverages, and when I’m drinking, my self-control slides away and I find myself eating in a way that is not conducive to my best health. It’s not that I go completely off the rails (except sometimes), but I tend to over-eat. Even healthy foods in large amounts results in too many calories.

So, starting today, I’m back to my very strict Paleo diet. If it’s not compliant, it’s not going in my mouth, and that includes alcohol. I’m also sticking to the healthy portion sizes and not going for seconds. It’s going to be tough for the next few days as my body has to get used to the reduced calorie intake, but it’s become necessary.

I’m also starting my 6-day/week exercise plan. Don’t worry; I’m not going, “All out.” I’m still being very careful and slow with my progress, but I am increasing the number of days I’m committing to the exercise.

I’ve had to resort to the “Fake it ‘til you make it” mindset when it comes to my running and weightlifting. I keep repeating to myself throughout the day, “I get to run. I get to lift weights!” in a positive manner. It’s kind of funny. Even though I know I’m not all-in on feeling motivated, repeating it over and over actually has an effect, and I do find myself more motivated and excited to get started. Attitude is so important.

I am searching for something to do in addition to StrongLifts 5×5 and my running. I’m not sure yet what that will be, but I feel like it’s just not enough. I do ride my mountain bike on the “Off” days from lifting, and I don’t want to add anything for those days, but on my “On” days, I feel like I need more. I’ll continue to investigate the options and I’ll report back here when I find something.

I haven’t weighed myself yet. I’m not sure I’m going to, to be honest. While the scale is the easiest measure of our overall health, I’m going to forego that. I, instead, will be focusing on how my clothes fit, how I look, how I feel, and how fit I am. I’m less concerned with a number and more concerned with the holistic approach to my health: the sum of all the different measures. The scale has a lot of power over how we feel, and I honestly want to avoid that this time. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but time will tell. I’m optimistic that this is a good approach.

I will be going on active duty in the military starting in October, and I need to be in good shape by then both physically and in terms of my fitness levels. I have very specific goals to reach, and I’m going to do my best to reach them without sabotage. So, while to some, what I’m starting today may seem very strict and restrictive is actually a path toward liberation and freedom. Liberating myself from a lack of good fitness right now, and freedom to do whatever I want physically without restraint.

I get to run. I get to lift weights.

First Truly Comfortable Run Since my Surgery

Me after my run and cool-down walk.

This morning at 5:30 a.m., the alarm went off for me to wake up for my run. I really didn’t want to do it; the bed was comfy, it was warm, and it just felt nice to lay in bed. But, I have set Alexa to tell me the weather when I stop the alarm, and something she said stirred me; “The temperature is 71 degrees. Expect thunderstorms and a high temperature of 89 degrees with a low of 71.” I knew what this meant; 71 was the coolest it was going to be all day.

I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get a nice, cool run in. Especially here in Texas where it gets very hot in July, taking advantage of cool mornings is not something you take lightly. I pulled myself up and out of bed and got dressed. I stepped outside and felt the cool, albeit humid air, and smiled. “This run is going to be perfect,” I thought to myself.

As soon as my GPS watch was synchronized with the satellites, I took off for my run. I’ve been running a 2-mile course during my recovery and rebuilding period, and I set out for that same course with a goal of being a little faster than the last three runs. With that said, I didn’t really push myself hard. It’s not time for me to do that yet. But I did make sure that I was moving well.

When I hit the half-way point, I found that I’d cut over a minute off my previous one-mile time. That felt great! I knew my second mile would be slower, but that didn’t deter or dissuade me from continuing with a comfortable pace, pushing only as far as to run within my comfort zone. I also decided that I was feeling amazing, and that adding a little bit of distance would be a good thing. My goal is to run 4 miles per run, so adding a little distance every few runs is part of my long-term plan. I added a quarter of a mile, and when I finished, I found that I’d cut two minutes off my two-mile time.

I did my quarter-mile cool-down walk, and when I got in the house for my shower, I found that I felt great. No muscle pain, not winded, and generally mentally sharp and ready for my day.

As I look back on the series of events that took place this morning, it’s funny to me that there was a moment when I almost stayed in bed and skipped this run. I’m glad that I didn’t.

Mentally, I’ve been struggling with motivation. I’ve allowed myself to talk myself out of runs lately, and I found it’s because I’ve had an aversion to adding to the pain my body is in. I decided to go back to an old trick I used when I first started running; I tell myself repeatedly throughout the day whenever I think about running and start feeling any kind of dread that I am fortunate that I can still run; I get to run.

I get to run.

In other words, I am not only able to run, but I’m healthy enough to be able to run. I’m physically fit enough to run. I’m not injured, and I’m not disabled. I’m not wounded and I’m not dead.

I get to run.

So I run. After I repeat this to myself over and over throughout the day, I find that it changes my mindset and when the time comes to make the decision to run or not run, I am far more likely to decide to run. The decision is easier, and it even affects my attitude and performance throughout my run.

Our mindset is the most important ingredient to our success. We become what we believe, and what we think. If we think we can’t do something, the chances of us being able to do it are decreased.

If you want to make a serious change in your life or just get back to some good habits, start telling yourself that you can do it, that it’s a good thing, and that you get to do it. There are many out there who don’t have that ability or luxury, and you should treasure it.

Resilience

We all fall down. Whether it’s literally falling down on a run or figuratively by falling off a diet or falling behind on a workout plan. Everyone falls. I fall all the time. But what I would rather be defined by is not how often I fall, but how I keep getting back up. It’s all about resilience.

Resting between sets. Sometimes, it’s tempting to just stop, but I never do.

In the Army, we have resilience training every year. Why? Because the Army feels that it’s important for us to receive continuous training on how to deal mentally and emotionally with the challenges of not only our garrison work, but of combat. How a person frames their ability to get past obstacles defines the result. An example of this is how you think you will do on a strength test. If you think you can’t do it going in, it’s likely you won’t be able to. On the other hand, pumping yourself up, psyching yourself up for a big lift makes it much more likely you can succeed.

I tried losing weight many times in my life before I was finally met with success through Whole30 and the Paleo Diet. Each time prior, I was always doubtful of either the program’s efficacy or my ability to follow through. As a result, I wasn’t as disciplined and I failed over and over again. Somehow, I tried one last time, but the difference this time was that I went into it with determination and a better mindset. I possessed pure determination to succeed. I told myself I would not fail, and I didn’t. I told myself I could not have cheat meals, cheat days, or succomb to temptation (or what I call sabotage), and I didn’t. I decided what my reality would be, and it came true.

This is a really powerful mindhack. Heck, it’s a lifehack. You can create your own reality by telling yourself that you will accept nothing else but your goal, and that you will do whatever it takes to get there. You’ll take however much time it takes to get there, but you will get there. Nobody can do the work for you; it’s all on your shoulders. There will be people who try to derail you or talk you out of the hard work; Don’t let them. You can create the best version of yourself you can, and you do that by believing in yourself, in your ability to get the work done, and your ability to dust yourself off and to get back up when you do fall.

You get to decide your future. Is it sedentary or active? Adventurous or safe? Are you going to sit on the couch and eat chips or are you going to take the time to make healthy food that your body will use as fuel to live your best life? It’s all about choices, and they’re all in your power to make. Sure, it requires resilience to reach a goal, but you can do this. We’ve all fallen down before. Just remember to keep getting back up.

Exercise is a Gift

When I was on active duty in the Marines, exercise was a way of life and a big part of our jobs. We had “PT,” or physical training at least once or twice a week with the platoon, once every other week with the Company, and about once per quarter with the Battalion. We were also expected to conduct “Personal PT,” or to exercise on our own for another three times a week to stay in peak condition. I have to admit that I rarely did personal PT, and when I did, it was usually not something I enjoyed. As an NCO, I had to conduct PT one-on-one with troops who needed extra help to pass the physical fitness test (PFT) or whose PT standards were slipping, but otherwise, I relied on the resilience of youth to see me through the regular PT sessions we had.

Once I left the Marines, I left behind exercise. It was a conscious rebellion; I wanted nothing to do with exercise ever again. This lasted almost 20 years as evidenced by my refusing to do any form of exercise during my first year in my new healthy lifestyle where I lost 110 lbs. I abstained from exercise not only because I wanted to see how much weight I could lose without any exercise, but because I truly disliked it. The Marine Corps had killed any enjoyment I possibly could have gotten out of exercise. It’s not because the Marine Corps doesn’t do fitness right (it does), but because past boot camp, I was never really fit, and my exercise sessions were filled with soreness and a lot of effort. There was the occasional fun run where we ran as a large group around the base, and we actually enjoyed ourselves, but those were few and far in between for me. As a whole, I didn’t enjoy exercise or fitness.

After leaving the Marines, I thought that exercise was what a person did to counter-act caloric intake or what a person did to get all muscled-up (aka ripped, jacked, swoll, etc). I felt like exercise was a punishment for eating unhealthy or too much food. In other words, every association I had with exercise was negative. That made it hard for me to ever get into a good routine, to make any lasting habits of an exercise routine, or to realize any real benefit from exercise. I did actually try for the sake of improving my fitness and (mistakenly) to try to lose weight, but no plan or routine ever stuck.

After losing 110 lbs, I began to see the need for exercise. I had lost a lot of weight, but I still looked soft. I wanted to look healthy, and I came to realize that the only way to accomplish that goal was to exercise. I actively thought about how I had succeeded with the weight loss and also thought about how I had repeatedly failed to sustain an exercise regimen. I came the the following conclusion: mindset was the key. I was able to stick to my new lifestyle (diet) through a very positive mindset and believing in the process. With exercise, I had always done the exact opposite and the results were exactly the opposite of the results from my diet. A lightbulb went off in my head.

In the Marines, we used to say, “Fake it ’til you make it,” whenever we had to do something we were uncomfortable with. Leading PT for the first time? Act confident even when you aren’t, and eventually, you will be. Need to teach classes to the platoon and you’re nervous about coming off as scared? Pretend to be confident, and eventually, you will be. I decided that I would fake excitement for exercise until it became a reality. I reasoned with myself that if a positive attitude could have such a positive impact on my weight loss and overall health, perhaps it could carry over to my fitness.

Every day, when I awoke, I would start telling myself, “I get to workout today,” or “I get to run today.” I framed it as a gift because I know so many people who want to run or exercise but cannot. As a veteran, I know more than my fair share of men and women who are no longer with us that would likely rather be runnning or working out. I began to think of the many veterans who are physically disabled due to their service who would do anything to have one more run. I began to see myself as fortunate, and my ability to exercise as a gift. Even though I felt it was cringey at first to say, “I get to run today,” a strange thing happened; I began to believe it. The reasons behind the mantra became very real and evident to me, and instead of being an abstract statement, I began to see the faces of the many people I know who can’t run anymore. I began to think about people I knew and missed.

I took it a step further, and sometimes on runs, when things got tough or I felt like it was too hot to be running or that maybe I was too worn out, I would think of someone in particular who was no longer with us, and dedicate my run to them. It was a different person every time, but I felt like they were watching me, and since I dedicated my effort on that run to them, I was not going to let them down. It would lead me to pushing harder and pushing through the barrier.

Now, it’s become second nature to me. Every day that I wake up, I tell myself, “I get to exercise today,” and it makes me smile. At my age, my body still lets me exericse. I am still able to get out there, to lift weights, to do pull-ups, push-ups, and then run 3+ miles without pain afterwards, and that’s truly a gift. It wasn’t something that was given to me or that I inherited; I had to work for it, and in another sense, that’s what makes it truly valuable.

I have a 4 mile ruck (road march) coming up in three weeks, and if it’s like any of the other rucks I’ve done in the past few years, it’ll start with a shuffle, which is a sort of run you do with a 48+ lbs rucksack on your back while wearing a helmet and carrying a rifle. It’s not easy, but you do it to give yourself as much benefit to complete the ruck within the allotted time (under 17 minutes/mile). That sounds slow, but trust me; with all that weight on your back, on your head, and carrying a rifle while in full uniform wearing combat boots, it’s not that easy. But, strangely enough, typically about a mile into each ruck, there’s a moment when it hits me: I get to do this. There are so many people I know who would give anything to be in my boots, doing what I’m doing, discomfort and all. That makes me fortunate. And then it happens: I smile and I pick up the pace and shuffle some more.

Your mindset is the single most important thing as it pertains to your success in health and fitness as it is in any facet of your life. You’ve heard the saying, “You reap what you sow.” The same holds true for attitude. If you believe you’re going to fail, or that you have no chance for succeeding, the likelihood of success is greatly diminished. Sure, overconfidence is also a bad thing, but confidence is not. A positive mindset can never hurt you. Believe that you can do it, trust in the process, harness your motivations, and no matter what, remember that your ability to exercise is a gift that countless others would give anything for. Don’t squander it.