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Secrets of Beginnings

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Disclaimer: Graphic medical images and procedures are presented in this blog post.

There’s a particular kind of beauty in a blank page or an empty canvas and a head full of possibility. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this beautiful potential and the risk of creating in her book Big Magic. Yet, even when intense calculation and the greatest minds are involved, starting doesn’t always go as planned. Weather delays rocket launches and babies don’t usually arrive on “due dates.”

Personalization is one of the things that make Bullet Journals special to me.
Bullet Journal

I am fond of making birthday resolutions and gathering up all the excitement and potential of what another lap around the sun could look like, getting excited about the progress I could make and the contrast of one year to the next. I look forward to potentially gained tools, tallied experiences, and growth potential, and the question has always remained: How do I keep the momentum going?

Last week, I had my 43rd birthday and started my 44th lap, which I dubbed The Year of My Body. I made plans to run races, reach rock climbing goals I’ve never touched, and as a historically rigid person with ornery joints I wanted to become my most flexible. My decision to move away from social media was largely influenced by the extra time and energy I wanted to dedicate to my body. I felt the impulse to sprint out of the gate and spend a lot of time and energy in the gym, on the trails, and with my yoga mat.

Mental Challenges

According to David Goggins (who holds world records in long distance running, and physical endurance) the mental game is what he’s training for when he takes himself on grueling 30 mile runs. He runs with the anticipation that he will meet those tough edges so that he can train his body and mind for what it will feel like to want to quit and give up. It didn’t take long for challenges to appear and excuses to emerge for postponing my efforts and energy. The reality is, any endeavor of creativity or massive change has far less to do with physical capability, and so much more to do with the mental game. I don’t think that it’s an accident that my first hurdle was a huge mental challenge.

So when I found myself jonesing to get started on physical transformation, it was my body that reminded me that my mind and resolve needed to be warmed up, first.

Sebaceous Cyst Draining
"Sebastion" The Sebaceous Cyst

For years, I’ve had a sebaceous cyst where my shoulder begins to curve into my neck. Throughout it's appearance, "Sebastian" has been about the size of a grape, and has been vaguely annoying at its worst. I almost never noticed it unless I was wearing a backpack, until, like a dormant volcano, it decided it had something to say. It proceeded to swell up to the size of a clementine orange and become so painful to the touch that very few activities, including sleeping, were comfortable. That was just the beginning as the tension on the immediate muscles and nerves created headaches and a nauseating feeling similar to motion sickness. Most of my internal dialogue complained at the pain and what this was preventing me from doing. “Of course this is happening now.” bounced around my head.

Experiencing the pain of infection and the uncertainty of when I would be able to get treatment and ultimately have the cyst removed proved more challenging than I thought. Not knowing if it would be weeks or months was extremely frustrating as I eagerly wanted to start running and going to the gym. Knowing that there would be a recovery period felt like a dam of emotions building up. Like standing in a concert line to a favorite band but not knowing when the concert was actually going to happen. The day for the procedure came much faster than I thought, due to the severity and persistence in me calling the VA hospital. I felt like Andy Dufresne when he finally got that first batch of books and sundries and a $200 check. Finally some persistence is paying off.

Cyst Removal

The second, softer question the experience begged was, “What can I learn from this situation.” Perhaps it’s my experience with Andy Frisella’s 75 Hard last year that has paid more dividends here. I remember having to restart seven times before finally gaining the traction, discipline, and habits necessary to complete that challenge. I remember learning why water was so difficult for me to consume, and it genuinely exposed some of my bad habits in follow through and commitment.

The phrase, “The obstacle is the way” has come up frequently.

Just because I’m experiencing some painful physical experiences, and feeling the onset of demoralization on a constant basis, doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for the building of some strong foundational mindset habits.

Here’s some of the things I’m noticing and learning:

My physical limitations have helped me dissolve my complacency.

There were times that I didn’t do physical activity because I just didn’t feel like it or felt too tired. Now that there’s so many physical activities I can’t do, it has exploded the idea of can’t vs. won’t. Clarifying why I’m not doing something is a big deal. It’s taken it out of physical capability and has really challenged my mind. This recognition on what aspect of me is truly behind procrastination of opting out of something has so much benefit. In coaching, I call the mind the CEO, and the body is the blue collar factory worker. In this scenario, the CEO can blame the workers for being on strike, but the CEO can’t blame the workers for the motivation (or lack thereof) when the workers are all showing up ready to work. The CEO gets to take some accountability there.

Showing up is the first mental hurdle

I remember an inspiring story I once heard where a man who weighed over 300 pounds was trying to return to the gym to improve his health. The first month of going to the gym, he woke up at 5:30, went to the gym, sat at one apparatus and did a exactly one set of exercises, at about 10 reps, and then left. Obviously this wasn’t going to make much impact on his physique or create a calorie deficiency. It seems largely pointless to show up to the gym in that way. For 30 days, this man was not working out his body. He was working out his mind. Establishing the habit of waking up at 5:30, getting dressed, turning on the car, and touching the gym entrance was this man’s first obstacle.

In my case, I decided to meet myself where I was. If I couldn’t run, I was going to walk. If I couldn’t rock climb, could I do some light stretching in my lower body. The truth is I couldn’t do all that I wanted to to the fullest extent, and I also wasn’t completely limited from doing anything. So I decided to consistently do what I could. I established three foundational habits instead of running or going to the gym. I could show up on my yoga mat and do something every day, even for 15 minutes. I could read consistently. I could commit to playing the guitar every day. I could do a time audit to see where I was spending my time, or I could track my calories to see what my typical input has been.

Therein lies the secret to starting for me: Just because I can’t do everything I am envisioning, doesn’t excuse me from doing something.

Starting something new always involves a barrier to entry, a cost.

I remember when rock climbing brought sore hands and fear as the barrier to entry.

Playing the guitar brought sore finger tips and frustration over fingers not responding the way my mind wanted.

Meditation brought frustration at not being able to focus “correctly.”

Relationships bring triggers, fears, and pushing against vulnerabilities.

No longer people pleasing came the erratic behavior of overstating and understating boundaries, and feedback.

And the greatest of human capabilities is our ability to adapt, IF we stay at something long enough, we figure it out. The question is, why did I want to embark on the Year of My Body, and was I willing to go through some of the growing pains to do it. Was I willing to recognize what the obstacle was teaching me.

Zone 2 & 80 percent

The last lesson and perhaps best golden nugget David Goggins teaches in his book Never Finished is how important it is for him to do all 80 percent of his training in what he calls Zone 2. This is the zone that David can do that exercise all day long. For him, that might be running at a 10-minute mile pace. For me, right now, that might be walking. But the key is that I find Zone 2 for myself, and continue to show up and operate in Zone 2. Over time, the threshold of Zone 2 will shift as endurance takes place. It’s also a zone that doesn’t involve over-exertion which leads to burn out and injury.

For me, right now, Zone 2 looks like doing a few activities every day with zero compromise: Reading, playing my guitar, showing up on my yoga mat, and doing exercises in my Bullet Journal, and writing a weekly blog post. Eventually these will shift, and things will be added as my capacity increases. Just like small amounts of oil and dead skin deposited over time under the skin can create the room for a cyst, and an abscess; and just like adding a penny, nickel, or dime to a coin jar will fill that jar up over time; so does the addition of small, consistent habits change the landscape of one’s body and soul.


David Goggins Never Finished

Andy Frisella 75 Hard

Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic

The Shawshank Redemption

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Sep 11, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I really like this format. I don't remember it being in your other blog posts. I always enjoy reading everything you write (it might be the mother in me). I like subtitles breaking up thoughts (it might be the distractor in me).

I did have to block the images while I was reading. Gross.

I'm happy to know you'll be doing a blog post every week.

Keep the movie references coming. Especially ones when I can hear Morgan Freeman's voice as I read.

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