By Michael Krueger
“I was going to start exercising this week. I’m committed, but I’m just so busy right now. I’m sure that next week will be better.”
When was the last time you got through a day without a single rationalization? We do it all the time, be it in your career, relationships, or fitness. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that we don’t really want something that we fear we can’t have. Other times we say it just doesn’t matter whether we get it or not, even though it really does. Still other times we do it just to make ourselves look noble while getting out of doing something we didn’t want to do to begin with.
It’s easy to buy into this behavior because we know so well how to delude ourselves. We are often willing to go there without allowing any critical thought to get in the way.
As common as it is, it’s not a good or productive strategy in life or in fitness.
It’s human nature to compare yourself to others. We unconsciously think about where we fit in whenever we hear any piece of normative data. If you read how much someone is paid, you think of how much you make. If you hear how much someone can lift or how fast they can run, you think about how you measure up. If you are better, you feel puffed up; and if you aren’t as good you rationalize a reason … it’s never your fault. It’s so easy to believe the data when we come out on top and find fault with the data when we fall short.
I like to believe the normative fitness data when I am in that top percentile and come up with a reason to ignore it when I’m not; it’s my favorite rationalization. With some activities, I still make it into the 90th percentile range for 20-29 males. For others, I can only attain that range if I look at my older true age, so that’s what I do. What does this say about me other than that I am an opportunist who is only looking to find a way to feel good about where I am at this moment?
If you’re young, you might not fully get this next part. If you’re over 30, you probably will.
One day someone will ask you how old you are (not counting getting carded at a bar). Your mouth will answer as your brain thinks, “Will they think I look good for my age or are they going to be shocked that I’m as young as I am and look so bad?!” This is a moment of truth, and eventually it will happen to you.
Regardless of whether or not your hair falls out or turns gray, you are going to be judged on your looks; it’s a reflection of your lifestyle. If you’ve let yourself go, you will be judged to be older. If you have taken care of yourself and maintained a fit and healthy appearance, you will be thought to be younger. Whether this is fair or right is completely immaterial; it’s the way it is.
Despite what hair I still have being gray, I am often mistaken for being 10 years younger than I am. This isn’t that big of a deal to me since I feel it says more about my peer group than it does about me. There’s nothing like being compared to unhealthy, overweight, out-of-shape people to make me look good.
Obviously, maintaining a healthy body and mind is a good idea, regardless of what superficial assumptions others may make about you. It fits in with your lifestyle because you take care of your vehicle, your home, your firefighting equipment, and pretty much everything else that’s important to you. You do this because you want them to work well; you don’t want them to break down. Unfortunately, too many people don’t do any preventive maintenance on themselves and rely on the medical world to “fix” their self-inflicted breakdowns.
Once again, by rationalizing, making excuses, ignoring problems, and blaming others, you are taking the easy path; you are being lazy.
Exercising, eating well, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, and prioritizing your mental and emotional health–these things will take you so far in life that you may never again see the inside of a doctor’s office (except for preventive screenings).
Accepting responsibility for your own well-being is hard. For too long, too many have rationalized that a certain amount of the responsibility belongs to someone else. This is simply not true.
It’s all up to you. I know, this might be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but the sooner you accept it the sooner you can take charge of your life. Get up off your butt and exercise. Get to the grocery store and buy some good fresh food. Step into your kitchen and make something other than nachos and chili! Create relationships that will nurture your soul rather than simply confirm the toxic view of how bad and unfair life is. Quit saying you don’t care or it doesn’t matter … because it does!
I know that if you’re in your 20s, you may rationalize that you have more than enough time to make your life the way you want it to be; and maybe you do, but then again, maybe you don’t. If you’re in your 30s with a family and a career, it’s tougher because you’re focused on taking care of everyone else. You may be telling yourself that you’ll take better care of yourself “soon”–whenever that is– but time is quickly passing. If you’re in your 40s, you may already be daydreaming about retirement and how you’re going to live out the rest of your life in leisure or carefree adventure, without basing these beliefs in reality. If you’re in your 50s, the fact of how you’ve lived your life up to now is sinking in, and you might be really scared about what the future holds. During the day, you may continue to rationalize away the damage you’ve done, but even if those thoughts only creep in at 0200 when you are staring at the ceiling unable to sleep, they’re still big and they’re very real.
A life full of rationalizations is a wasted life. If making excuses for your conduct is your default, then your behavior will never improve. If you never face your fears, you can never defeat them. When you blame others for everything that goes wrong in your life, you can never accurately appreciate your role in your life’s successes either.
You will have ups and downs in life, but make them your ups and down. Admit when you are wrong, disappointed, frustrated, or unhappy. Put that knowledge and understanding to good use, and become a better and stronger person.
By accepting responsibility for all that happens in your life, you may revel in your successes as well. You know that you worked hard for them and they are yours. When you see that, you may easily share this reality with those around you and once again you may inspire them to greatness as well.
Rest assured, it’s never too late to make a change. It might seem daunting right now to put a lifetime of rationalizing behavior behind you. But by accepting that you control your thoughts, beliefs, actions, and reactions, you will take control and then the life you build will truly be YOUR life.
Yesterday is gone and there is no promise of tomorrow. All you have is today …
…so make the most of it.
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.