By Michael Krueger
Anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airliner has heard the talk about “… in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask on first and then assist others.” This “help yourself first” advice applies not only to in-flight emergencies but to keeping yourself healthy and fit as well.
When it comes to beginning and maintaining an exercise program, you must focus on you and your immediate needs; otherwise, it is going to be a struggle you may very well lose.
Fitness is one area where it pays to be selfish.
Your fitness is all about you. It’s all too common for friendly, caring people to allow life events and everyone else’s needs to overtake their commitment to their fitness. The demands on your time include family, work, community, friends, hobbies, volunteering, and many other valid and important activities. These are what make up your life, and they are important. Unfortunately, because they can completely monopolize every hour of every day, they can also take a toll on your fitness, nutrition, and sleep schedule. It’s natural to want to fully participate in all life has to offer, but if you don’t take time for fitness, you may not be around to partake in much of anything.
Self-centeredness has such a negative connotation. As a child, you were taught that it’s bad to be selfish. This reprimand was generally applied when you were doing something you wanted to do but others wanted you to do something else. Even now, when adults take time for themselves, they seem to be violating some unspoken cultural norm and their motives are suspect. I’d like to refute that and say that it’s not self-centered to take time for yourself, particularly when you use that time to improve your health and fitness.
It’s important to ask yourself if it’s self-centered to bail out early on a party because you want to go home and get eight hours of good sleep even though your friends want to stay and party until the break of dawn. Is it self-centered to want to take the time to prepare and eat a relaxing, healthful meal at home rather than eat something somewhat suspect that’s passed through your car window? Or how about devoting just three or four hours per week to exercising so that you are strong and fit? I don’t think these are the acts of a self-serving individual. In fact, the end result is that you will have much more energy to invest in all aspects of your life if you make good, “self-interested” choices, and take those few hours to attend to your health and fitness needs.
No Extra Time
A common refrain I have heard when interviewing prospective clients is that they are well aware that they need to “make” more time to exercise. I don’t know about you, but I only have the 24 hours I get every day, and I don’t have a clue as how to “make” any more time.
From sunup to sundown, everyone has full day. Even if you’ve spent your time on the couch binge watching TV, you’ve still had a full day–not particularly productive, but full nonetheless. I read about a man who was curious as to how he spent his time. He decided to spend an entire year logging absolutely everything he did. In the end, he found that he had spent most of his time checking the time and writing stuff down. In his defense, he did know precisely how he had spent that entire year and, as it turned out, it wasn’t spent very well. If someone handed you a detailed log of how you spent your time over the past year, how efficient and productive would you have been? How we choose to use our time may, in the moment, seem efficient, but once you have the benefit of hindsight you will find you could’ve done much better.
If you want to exercise, make quality meals, and get enough sleep, you need to take the time to make that happen. This means that you will need to at least curtail, if not eliminate, something else, some other activity. This is much more difficult than you might think. Our time is eaten up by habit, routine, work, family, and the demands of others. Those are some very difficult things to change. To make it even harder, you may be enjoying every person, every demand, and every activity of every minute of every day. Trying to reallocate even an hour to exercise seems to be impossible. This is doubly hard if you don’t like to exercise.
One consolation might be the knowledge that as you get fitter, you will be stronger and more efficient and you might be able to fit back in many of those activities that you had to shelve for a while. You may also find that some of the unproductive time wasters that used to fill your day are no longer attractive to you. You might even be able to participate more fully in some of the activities that were difficult before because of your lack of fitness.
Human beings have the unique ability to project into the future. You know that if you do “X” today the result will be “Y” tomorrow. For some reason, this equation breaks down when it comes to participating in an exercise program. Taking time away from other activities to exercise, even if the activity is just sitting and watching TV, just doesn’t seem like a good trade. I wouldn’t argue that point for even a minute, because habit is a powerful thing. Even once you get past the obvious problem of inertia, it still takes a lot of effort, consistency, patience, and belief to make difficult changes in your life even when you know full well that they are good; necessary; and, in the long run, of huge benefit to you.
Another issue is that others frequently don’t share in the validity of your new priorities. You may still have to deal with well-meaning (albeit confused) people in your life objecting to what they see as your taking time away from them and the activities you used to do together to attend to your fitness. Some of these people will suggest that you are being selfish. People who don’t maintain a healthy body will often disparage those who do. This is a reflection on their life and their choices rather than a commentary on what you are doing; but it can create a lot of friction nonetheless.
This is where you need to double down and be tough. You know that you are on the right path and you need to find a way to show those who are doubters that your commitment to a healthy lifestyle in no way diminishes them or their importance to you. You’ll find that you still have plenty of time to do everything that you need to do. This might be a challenge at first, but it’s one that’s worth the effort.
The Only Reason
Your body is your own. It’s the only one you’ve got, and nothing anyone else believes should affect your relationship with it. No one else can exercise for you, no one else can eat for you or sleep for you, so no one else should be making those decisions for you either. Make a commitment to use the minutes, hours, and days of your life wisely, and the years will take care of themselves. Once you have your priorities straight, everything will work out; but you will need to be persistent and patient.
So, when people ask why you spend time exercising, tell them, “Because this is my life”…
and that’s the only explanation you’ll need.
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.