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Exercise Psychology Tip #5: How to Deal With Other People's Expectations

Posted Oct 18 2008 4:08pm

Now, normally the title of this post alone is enough to send most people running for cover. ;-) However, this post isn't what you might expect, so get ready for a new spin on a familiar theme. ;-)

First of all, when I say "other people," I'm actually only referring here to the well-meaning people that you or I truly care about.

I'd like to talk about the other side of other people's expectations, specifically, what happens when you haven't yet completed a goal & people are talking about how they know you're going to do so well.

How do you typically respond? Do you dwell on the upside or the downside of this expectation? Do you feel pressured or do you shrug it off?

These are the things I've been pondering ever since I started making such fabulous, "almost magical & seemingly effortless" progress in the weight-loss & fitness arenas. Now, before you get the wrong idea, I'm not going to pontificate & spout nauseating platitudes about the wisdom of my experience. Rather, I'm going to take this back down to earth & get real, really fast.

First of all, the process hasn't been easy. But nor has it been a constant struggle. The reality is somewhere in between. Secondly, the view from the outside is certainly different than if you're the person going through the changes. And thirdly, I am human, like all of the rest of you.

So, the million dollar question is this: When you are doing well & making progress, how do you stay on track?! How do you keep the focus where it's supposed to be?

Well, I could start in on how it's important to lead from the inside out & not from the outside in, but I've already dispensed that advice on Abi's Couch to 5K blog. Of course, all of this advice is valid, but I'd rather discuss concepts other than just external vs. internal focus.

I think the key element to fitness & weight-loss success starts on a mental plane. You lead with your head, & your body will follow. This is not to say that you should just wait for inspiration to strike before you decide to run or eat more healthfully. Actually, it's the exact opposite. You put one foot down after another, & then inspiration will follow. I find I often gain the resolve I need only after taking the first step toward my goal(s). With each step I take towards my goals, I reinforce my belief in myself, & put greater trust my instincts. It is through this reinforcement that I gain increased strength to keep going. In this case, I think it's best to visualize where you want to be, start moving, & analyze/re-assess later." In other words, don't overthink the process or get too bogged down with the planning. Just get out the door & start moving.

The key is to keep your head in the "right" place & focus on solutions, not obstacles. Or, said another way, if you really want to make headway, then get out of your own way. ;-)

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I recently had an eye opening experience regarding this issue that I'd like to share with you:

The other day, the UPS guy came to the door in the morning & since I'd just woken up, I was scrambling to find something decent to throw on to answer the door. And there it was -- the easy solution -- staring me in the face in my closet. It was the baggy, shapeless fleece zip robe I'd worn when I was 16.4 pounds heavier. Its complacence beckoned me like a slovenly siren. I felt myself cringe in abject horror & disgust. I didn't want to put it on, as if the mere wearing of it would send me running to the cookie jar in revulsion over how I'd look in the thing! ;-)

However, since I couldn't find anything else within easy reach in that split second, I reluctantly tossed it on to answer the door. Wearing the thing wasn't the end of the world, but it did get me thinking about how threatening those old reminders of our former selves can be.

Of course, after I got the package & closed the door, I instantly tossed the horrid thing off like it was a diseased pelt & put it in the "giveaway" pile for Goodwill. I couldn't bear to wear it a second longer than necessary!

I decided then & there to get rid of any item of clothing in my closet that made me feel like crap or reminded me of my heavier self. I went through my closet with unbelievable zeal, & felt a hell of a lot better discarding things that didn't signify the "new" me. Now, I didn't just get rid of things that were too big on me; I also got rid of items in my size that just "didn't cut it." I also got rid of other, non-apparel-related reminders too.

Then I noticed something interesting happening. In contrast to my darkest deepest fears, I didn't jump at the cookie jar (come to think of it, I thankfully don't even have a cookie jar & don't keep cookies in the house!), but rather started thinking about ways in which I could purge items associated with not-so-nice memories. (In other words, I took action instead of wallowing in unproductive emotions.)

This is not just about a "thin" self vs. a "heavier" self. It's about a healthy mindset vs. a not-so-healthy mindset. And good headspaces vs. not-so-good ones.

After several days of purging all of the "junk" in my house, I feel incredibly good. I started with my closet, & then moved into other areas of the house. I got rid of those old not-so-nice reminders & the worries that went along with them. I started trashing stuff I'd held on to for one reason or another, as another way of shedding my skin, lightening my load, & rejuvenating my outlook. I gave stuff to charity, consigned some items, & returned various unworn, tagged merchandise back to the stores. Afterwards, I felt light as a feather. The process gave me an amazing clarity, & illuminated how I'd carried around "extra baggage" in more ways than one. I could let go of all of that unnecessary junk, & only keep the essential stuff that had a real purpose.

So, there you go. One way I was able to stay in a good headspace was to let go of things that were no longer "me."

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Also, the other challenge to one's positive headspace can be disguised in the form of genuine compliments or encouragement. This is not to say that the support isn't positive or well-meaning or authentic; rather it's how we personally choose to deal with or react to these comments.

Case in point: My sister recently gave me a very supportive shout-out on her blog. However, I will confess that I did go into a somewhat fear-induced tail-spin after the following positive comment she wrote: "I truly believe she (Corey) will run a marathon."

That stuck with me, long after she wrote it. It kept coming back to me in waves, & echoing in my head. At the time, all I could think was "Oh my goodness, I've committed to running a marathon, & what happens if I don't do it?!" Suddenly the enormity of my goal & the sudden pressure of this statement all hit me like a ton of bricks. I was stunned & temporarily immobilized by these not-so-healthy emotions.

Now of course I know my sister meant what she wrote in the best possible way, & I'd like to thank her for her strong belief in me & my abilities. However, it suddenly brought to light the enormity of what lies ahead for me. Yes, at that particular moment in time, I, all of a sudden, felt one hell of a weight drop onto my shoulders, like I "must" complete this marathon or I'll disappoint my entire family, etc., etc. Of course, I can see now that this is completely ridiculous, but nonetheless, I just thought I should point out that I have my moments where I forget my focus or regress back to "old habits" when it comes to thought processes.

Having said all of the above, I should also send out a big thank you to Abby, my lovely sister (a.k.a., "Missladybug" of the fabulous & hilarious blog, Ladybug & Co ), for all of the recent kudos & support regarding my exercise efforts, & for highlighting my blogs on her own blog/websites. So Abby, please ignore the previous paragraph, as it has nothing to do with you, & everything to do with my momentary lapse of reason. ;-)

So in summation, it's important to keep track of your mental progressions, gently noting them while at the same time not allowing them to get the best of you. As shown in the previous example, I went through the emotions of fear & doubt like most other normal human beings & still came out on the other side just fine, because, while I allowed myself to feel the emotions, I let them pass over me like water. I didn't hold onto them or let them get the best of me. I let them have their moment & then "pinched myself" back to reality. The rational side of me just laughed at this silliness and then moved on.

Half of the battle is mental. Once you make up your mind to do something, and take the first step, the rest is just a matter of practice.

Running & getting into shape really isn't hard. It's just literally & figuratively putting one foot in front of the other. You don't have to be the best runner in the world. In order to move ahead, you just need to do it. Like many others, I'm living proof that it's possible.
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