Every Day is a Chance to Start Again, Every Day is a Chance to Do Better
I don’t know how to ride a bike. Not on the street, at least.
So I do quite a bit of conditioning in my basement, on an old road bike hooked up to a trainer. To get myself through 20, 30 or 40 minutes of sheer boredom, I listen to a podcast called The Moth Radio Hour. The series is comprised of recordings of people telling their real-life stories, live and on-stage.
I recently a listened to a story by Sharon Salzburg, a meditation teacher who brought the discipline to the United States in the early 1970s, long before yoga, meditation or Buddhism were part of our cultural fabric. I was struck by three things she learned in her early days of practicing meditation, because they are completely applicable to the discipline of making changes in your health, through exercise and nutrition. Aptly, the story is titled “You Can Do Anything You Want to Do.”
One of the first things Salzburg learns is that meditation is about resiliency—the return, the starting again each time her mind wanders and she loses track of her breath. She had to learn to let go of each failure, and try again. She is a teacher of meditation techniques, and her mind wanders. Succeeding at meditation does not mean you effortlessly sail off into not-thinking for hours at a time. Success means cultivating the willingness to start again, over and over, come what may.
- Kindness to your self.
A second aspect of the willingness to start again is the need to treat yourself with compassion instead of beating yourself up about perceived failures. The concept of “loving-kindness” is one of the central tenets of Buddhism (a belief system that emphasizes meditation), wherein you endeavor to gain insight into and understanding of your faults and failings instead of loathing and punishing yourself for being imperfect. If you nurture compassion for yourself, you will also more easily extend that grace to others.
- There is suffering in everyone’s life.
Everyone struggles. It’s normal. Salzburg had a very challenging childhood, and through her meditation practice came to see her experience as a way to connect with others through the universal human experience and be a better teacher. With exercise and nutrition, we often judge ourselves as failures if we struggle to stick to the plan, and hide our suffering, when in fact everyone wrestles with emotional sinkholes and some feelings of ambivalence about their own objectives. Being open about your struggles, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, is another is part of developing compassion for yourself and connecting to people around you.
In regard to physical health and wellness, we often think we have to start making a change and then be perfectly, steadfastly perfect. No wandering, no ups and downs, no doubts, no struggle. We compare ourselves to other people on social media or in magazines who appear to effortlessly glide along their path of extreme physical perfection, and when we want to skip workouts or eat junk food, the voice in our head says “You’re just lazy, and weak, and worthless.” The truth is we are simply human beings who have strengths, weaknesses, patterns, dreams, good days, bad days, and everything in between. When you start your path towards better health, don’t expect to be faultless, but promise yourself you’ll be resilient; you will start again after each bump in the road, you will do a little better next time, and you will treat every day as a chance to do something good.
Maura J. Zimmer, NSCA-CPT, CSCS is a strength and conditioning coach at Olympia Fitness + Performance in Cranston, RI. She specializes in helping people progress from physical therapy back to fully enjoying the activities they love.