By Michael Krueger
There are all sorts of enablers in our lives. They come in every shape and size. They might be your husband or wife, mother or father, best friend, lifting partner, or anyone who lets you slide when you need a push or tells you you’re doing well when that is the farthest thing from the truth. These enablers really do (in their own way) care about you and want you to be happy, so they tell you what you want to hear.
Other enablers are evil and don’t care what happens to you so long as they come out on top. Some of these people set you up for failure so that they look good, all the time pretending to have your best interests at heart. Though I think the worst of these are the marketers and advertisers who sell you huge portions of junk and poison that look and taste like food, all under the pretense that they are only providing what you want.
Then we also have that enabler who lives in our own head; that one is by far the hardest to deal with.
The Usual Suspects
The enablers who care about you can be difficult to recognize and tougher to deal with. Remember when Grandma would give you a cookie when you felt badly or scraped your knee, thereby teaching you to comfort and soothe yourself with food? People like Grandma really do have your best interests at heart. Unfortunately, they are your best “short- term” interests.
You probably have some friends who will suggest you come out to the bar with them, get a burger, and watch the game. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as beer and burgers are part of your nutritional program and you didn’t have a workout scheduled for that night.
When you tell them of your plans, a good nonenabler friend will accept that you have something to do and invite you to stop over afterward if that works for you. These are good friends, and you should hang onto them. Some people will goodnaturedly berate your plans and dedication to your health and fitness and give you a royally hard time. These people generally aren’t too hard to deal with. You can just laugh them off, give them a hard time right back, and go do your workout. They are the “good time Charley” types who will always ask you to join them and give you grief when you don’t; they are harmless. The toughest group to deal with is the one who just keeps at you with flattery, sweet talk, and convoluted arguments in an effort to break down your resolve. These people claim to be your friends and yet they are doing everything they can to convince you that you should do what they want rather than what you want. Why is that?
The fact of the matter is that they know you well enough to know that there is a part of you that wants to go out to the bar as much as they want you to go. Both you and they know that if you go you will in fact have a good time. They tell you that it isn’t the same without you along, and you like to hear that. As for missing your workout, they’ll tell you what great shape you’re in and how good you look, and once again we all like to hear that. They don’t work out (and maybe feel guilty about it), and they don’t understand why you do. They don’t like it that training is important enough to you that you would rather work out than hang with them. If you basically like these people, be gentle with them and explain what you are doing and why. If they then understand, great; if they don’t, then just carry on anyway.
The last group is one you don’t have to have any sympathy for: These are the advertisers and marketers of the world, and they just need to be ignored. They don’t care about you, your health, your fitness, or your goals; all they want is your money, and they will tell you whatever it takes to get it. Junk food marketers offer two for one deals, supersizing for “only” a dollar more, odd names for drink sizes so you can rationalize that you didn’t get the extra large, you just got a “Venti” or “Trenta.” The ultimate enabler slogan of recent years was “You deserve a break today …” implying that your life is so hard, and we care so much about you that you needn’t cook, just drive thru and buy our deep fried, nutritiously lacking, salt laden, sugary processed “food.”
The rule of thumb to avoid nutrition manipulation: Don’t eat any food that has a TV commercial.
Right off the top, you need to accept that you must be your own best friend. You know best what you want and need out of life. If training is important to you then you make it a priority. If a clean healthful, and nutritious diet is on top of your to do list, give it the attention that you claim it deserves. If you are dedicated to becoming the best at something, even if it is just the best that you can be, you must get a little “unbalanced” to do it. You can’t live as an ordinary person if you want to be extraordinary.
By becoming unbalanced, I mean that you must be willing to forgo some of the things that ordinary people do. When it comes to training, you will need to work harder, eat smarter and more consistently than you have ever worked or eaten before. To do this you won’t be able to have late nights with friends. You will be packing your lunch rather than going out with your crew. You may have to sit in the truck and eat while they go into a restaurant and have a “nice” meal. You won’t be particularly flexible with your schedule and habits because flexibility interferes with your training/diet paradigm and of course this annoys everyone around you.
Even outside of fitness, these things are true. If you have set a goal of advancing in the fire service and are taking classes, you will need to employ the discipline needed to make sure you do justice to your goals. You may have to spend all your free time studying rather than hanging out in the station lounge. You may spend more of your time training in mundane skills simply because it makes your mind tougher, your reflexes nimbler, and your muscle memory more responsive. Some people will scoff at what you are doing by suggesting that you are becoming obsessed with all this training, but their attitude is their problem, not yours.
Granted, it is possible to become so wrapped up in what you are doing that you lose touch with the less important things in your life, but think back to anything important that you have accomplished. It might be a college degree, getting through boot camp, qualifying for the fire service, or even being a parent. When something is very important to you, you must treat it with the appropriate seriousness or you are just a poser and will not make the grade. For most people, this extreme single-mindedness comes and goes depending on where you are in your goal/achievement cycle. This isn’t to say that you may not be permanently changed by the experience and never go back to your previous less-focused life. To my mind though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Strategies for Success
I was hoping to write some really good ideas complete with witty comebacks for all the times that people try consciously or unconsciously to derail your efforts. Unfortunately I couldn’t come up with any.
It turns out that the only way you can succeed is to come up with your own good ideas and witty comebacks. Making it even more difficult is that you need to use these on yourself, not on the people around you. You can’t change them, you can’t completely avoid them, and even if you could it wouldn’t make any difference if you aren’t making changes in yourself.
Understanding your motivations and knowing your strengths and weaknesses will be the surest path to not succumbing to the manipulations of others and achieving your goals. By being committed to your personal success, you will develop the inner strength to deal tactfully but sternly with the enablers around you as well as the enabling voices in your own head.
Staying the Course
Every day you will be challenged with temptations that would take you further from your goals. Most of these will be born in your own head, while others will come from those around you. Your best defense is to first deal with the negative enabling thoughts in your head, and once you can do that the external challenges will be easy to overcome.
Being a little unbalanced in the pursuit of excellence isn’t a bad thing; but then again, having a beer and a burger with friends once in awhile helps keep life in perspective too.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.com.