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July 22nd, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log 12: Failure by a Thousand Cuts

   Last Wednesday, I was left feeling ambivalent by the results of my regimen and mystified by my reaction. I’d undergone my fourth fitness assessment at the gym, which marked a little over three months of my new direction in health and conditioning.

     The overall results included millimetres lost from all different angles, and a drop of 2% body fat, putting me at 25%. That’s down from my original 36%. Mentally, I was hoping for 24%, which would have put me at below (or healthier than) the average. Then, I discovered that I’d also lost 1.8 pounds of muscle.

     That robbed my sails of wind. A month ago, my trainer warned me that I was entering a phase where I’d be fighting to retain my muscle mass. We’d changed the program to increase the fat burning, but that muscle loss represented two-thirds of the previous month’s hard training.

     “People would kill for your results,” Matt, my trainer, said as a consolation. Yet, I still couldn’t shirk the feeling that I’d somehow failed. And then, Matt hit me with the next bombshell… a drop of forty grams of carbs from my diet (but an additional protein-exclusive meal), increased cardio and the warning that this was going to fatigue me. It was the end of the honeymoon period in my relationship with the diet, he warned, as we would ride this new program to my target weight.

     “Great,” I thought. All the feelings of energy and wellness, the muscle growth, were going to vanish. Instead, I’d be more tired and I’d be trying to squeeze in a 7th meal each day into a diet that was already disrupting my schedule.

Mentally, I’d started setting myself up for unhappiness and grousing about it. Worse, I started vocalizing those complaints, and a strange thing happens when we bitch about things… we get ourselves worked into a greater frenzy over something, often, without dealing with the problem itself.

     Over the last few years, I’ve realized that it is within my nature that when faced with an obstacle or obligation, I complain or manufacture excuses ahead of the problem to feel less guilty about backing down. I pre-justify failure and do so in the use of language. Someone invites me to a party, and I say “I’ll try” to avoid making a commitment. “Let me think about it,” “Maybe, we’ll see,” “I’m not sure,” are all a part of my vocabulary to offset responsibility and they are words I want eliminated when used to avoid commitment.

When I complain, I also set myself up to be the victim. “I am a casualty of circumstance,” or so I’d like to believe, because it’s a way to bow out from under the weight of accountability. And I get pity, which is a terrible attention getter and a lousy way to score in bars.

     I realized my approach to the loss of muscle mass and the news of a change in my routine was enough to trigger a need to seed my language and approach with escape clauses. And while they might seem like inconsequential things, every avalanche is a culmination of billions of tiny snowflakes. A process of failure through a thousand small cuts.

     When I’m faced with these situations, when the challenge is frightening and the effort to surmount it is taxing (even if just in anticipation), I remember something from The Last Lecture’s Randy Pausch:

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!  

     Some folks may consider it an unfair adage, but the fact is, I know which side of the brick wall I want to be on, and complaining about it or establishing a pattern of defeatist language to protect my ego isn’t going to get me there. That’s not to say it won’t be hard going, or that I don’t miss pizza and snacking casually on junk food… and chocolate. I miss eating tomatoes and I miss sweets and I miss cheeses and butter. But I don’t need them. What I need more is to prove I can do this. My health demands it, and so does my ego.

     And frankly, I’m looking forward to the inevitable: “You lost how much?!? How did you do it?”


     Because I can’t wait to tell them: “Through hard work.” I deserve to be on the other side of that brick wall and I’m willing to put in the effort to prove it.

One Response to “Muscle-Bound Log 12: Failure by a Thousand Cuts”

  1. Rob Donoghue says:

    Hell. Yes.

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