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Starting Small = Big Results on a Whole Life Overhaul

The last blog post apparently raised a LOT of questions.

The summary of the post was basically – you gotta know why you are pursuing certain goals or the fire won’t stay lit–it won’t be enough to keep going.  [My coach called me out on this a few weeks ago. Sometimes I think I exist simply to pass on his brilliant knowledge.]

Many people wrote me after the post: “Got it. I know WHY I do the things I do. I know why I race. Why I swim, bike, run, knit, read, and more. I have it figured out. My WHY is solid. Thanks for reminding me that I am on the right path.”

Great. Box checked – go forth and prosper, you badasses! #YouGotThis

But I will say that I received far more “my WHY is a mess” or “I don’t know what my WHY is” messages.

Same reason you might ask WHY are you posting a picture of your bum in the air? Because this is what my burpees look like in mid-burp. I am proud of this! xoxo

The WHY head-scratching? I really expected that. I think many of us are struggling with the WHY of SO many things… not just training or exercise or health. [WHY is a scary question.]

One email was: “I just don’t care about anything. How do I start giving a shit again?”

And that one struck me. Because I have a story about that. (As you might have suspected.) I have been working on parts of this story for my next book, but I figured why not share it here… seems timely.

* * *

THREE YEARS AGO

Regardless of any post-race or rut, I have always been the wife and mom who had my act together–on the outside–even when I drank two bottles of wine, a martini and ate a large pizza (after dinner).

I never said I felt wonderful, but I would get my stuff done—even though I felt miserable, was struggling with depression, and wearing pants that were way too tight from all the bad junk I fed my body. Still, no matter how destructive the night before, I would spring out bed with the sun, throw on my workout clothes, announce that it was time for school, and I would drag my hungover, swollen arse to the bus stop with the kids and a death-grip on my coffee cup.

 

I would think to myself, “I got this. I can do this.” I was a big proponent of “I can” self-talk even before I started reading that “I can” was a cool thing to do. Really, I talked to myself because no one else could stand talking to me during this time.

One particular morning, however, a shift happened. And not in a good way. I had drunk a lot the night before, stayed up too late listening to Tori Amos and wondering what happened to my Pretty Good Year. When the alarm went off in the morning—on a school day—I did something unprecedented: I turned off my alarm, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I didn’t get dressed for the gym. I didn’t get the kids ready. I did nothing. Maybe this does not seem like a big deal, but it was—hell had frozen over. I did none of my duties. Like I said, I had my act together, even when I didn’t. I managed to get my kids to school. I managed to show up to my job. I did things, not matter what.

On this day, I said, “No.”

I said “no” to life, to my kids. I said “no” to my job, my workout, my husband, my responsibilities, the teachers at the school, and everyone. Literally, if Oprah had called me, I would have said “No” to her too. I pulled my puffy middle finger out from under the covers, shot a massive bird into the air and said, “Not today, life. Not today.”

And I meant it.

A few hours later, I pulled my heavy body out of bed and slugged downstairs.

The desire and need for any workout had vanished. The kids were gone, so I assumed they made it to school (or were missing)—at that moment, I shrugged at the outcome of either. I saw a note on the sticky counter. The paper was strategically placed next to two (empty) bottles of unoaked chardonnay, a pint of ice cream (also empty), and (one of the many) overdue credit card bills.

The note contained one line. One sentence, in my husband’s bitter, scientific handwriting:

You need to get your shit together.

I blinked. I read. I re-read. (For a moment, I looked around and thought, Is this for me?)

I pulled out my phone from the dirty back pocket of the sweatpants I had been wearing for a few days. I began texting the tirade of anger that righteously flies from the fingers of a wronged, amazing wife and mother. One who couldn’t get her tail out of bed to do something simple like make lunches and walk to the bus. I wanted to send him a screen-shot of my resume. Look at me! I am amazing on paper, you douche-bag! On paper, I am rocking this life! I take “off” one day! ONE D-A-Y, and this is what you say to me? I am a lawyer! I am a triathlete! I am a successful business owner! I am doing ALL the things!

I composed the longest, angriest text—as punctuated by the only appropriate emoji—the death skull. I almost pressed send. But something caught the corner of my eye. It wasn’t the downed wine bottles or empty ice cream container. It wasn’t the blasted note.

It was a wrinkly, kid-stained poster board, with purple and black marker scrawled across it: a first-grade project that I promised to help complete that morning. I had not only failed to help our daughter finish her project, but I didn’t even get out of bed to get her to school and fake a reason why I couldn’t help her. I didn’t show up. Worse than that, I didn’t care.

My sour stomach turned on me. The realization and reality of where I was hit me. I backspaced the text message. I called in sick to work (as if that was even necessary at 9:30), and I began to clean the kitchen.

Something had to change. I knew it. And that something was me.

As I began to peel back the layers of what  “my” issues–and what I needed to change, I knew that I needed a complete life overhaul.

But the life-overhaul had been what I had been trying to accomplish for so long–and the whole health and life overhaul was precisely why I was failing. It was too much.

My list for a full-life overhaul was too long:

  • Health issue
  • Food addiction
  • Depression
  • Relationship issues
  • Job issues
  • Debt
  • Failure to pursue things that made me happy
  • An ever-increasing drinking problem

If I were to start with that list and try and “fix” all those things at once?

Well, that’s precisely what so many of us are doing. The list is too long. That recipe is just too much.

So I responded to the email that read “I don’t give a shit about anything” with this:

Maybe pick ONE thing to give a shit about? Just one… even if it’s small.  Like “I give a shit about having a healthy dinner every night for 1 week” or “I will give a shit about moving my body for 15 minutes every day even if it’s jumping jacks” …or something like that?

I think STARTING SMALL that is key. We try and overhaul our whole entire lives and beings overnight.. and that’s a path for destruction. It’s just too much.

In this Year of No Nonsense, it’s all we can do.

I would add to that email, now that I am writing this post, a few more things:

Trying to do a whole-live and whole-health overhaul is ideal, but who can really execute on that, and do it well?

Super human freaks, that’s who–or fake freaks. The ones who claim mastery over their perfect worlds.

Starting small can mean small, sure: like the movement, the meals.  But starting small can also mean tackling ONE big roadblock in your life.

For me, I chose the most obvious one for me: stopping drinking in 2015.  While quitting the bottle was “big” – quitting was also small.

Because it was simply:  do not drink today.  On repeat. Forever.  I did not have to do anything. I just had to not do one thing.

It was simple, but also was the hardest place to start. Why? Well, because wine and martinis were a big part of me. Booze was my friend, my comfort, my habit and more… but I knew that  quitting that one small thing would have a ripple effect:  on my health, my food intake, my sleep, relationship and more…

Turns out, I was right.

So if you are going to try and overhaul your whole life, I say: YES, totally. Let’s overhaul!

But: start small, pick one that will pay big dividends, keep the big goals and picture in mind, be gentle with yourself, and just keep moving forward, and keep your head up.

9 Comments

  • MJ

    January 9, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    This is inspiring….as I read this I thought, this is me…that list is my list…I always try to tackle it all at once because I feel like I should be “perfect” and when I mess up on one part of the list, is causes me to spiral out of control and give up on everything. It’s amazing how complete strangers can show you a better path! Thanks for all you do, even if you don’t realize you are doing it!

    Reply
  • Marie N Tilden

    January 10, 2018 at 1:23 am

    You are so right on! Like MJ, this is the story of my life. Set impossible, big huge (perfect) goals, then give up on the whole enchilada when I can’t keep it going. So, I have a new mantra: One imperfect step at a time. Instead of deciding I have to do it all at once, I’m moving forward with action, imperfect action, but action nonetheless! Thank you, Meredith, for being who you are!

    Reply
  • Kristen

    January 10, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Needed that bad! Been struggling with my motivation for six months after falsely believing I’d figured it out. Starting from square one is sucky and scary. But I’m gonna make some small goals.

    Reply

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