Carolyn is a columnist for Columbia Home Magazine. This is her column from the June 2014 issue.
A personal challenge becomes the key to positivity with one life-altering change.
As a coach, clients come to me to realize their potential. I have an arsenal of strategies to help them. But a few months ago, I started on a journey of my own — one that’s changing my life and work. In the process, I’ve discovered there’s a strategy for unleashing our personal power that’s as effective as anything I’ve ever recommended. And it’s been at our fingertips the whole time: exercise.
In the fall of 2013, I set out to shrink my saddlebags and found a reward far greater than any number on the scale. I had heard about Project LOLA, A Health and Fitness Project for 40-plus-year-old lesbians interested in getting healthier. To be eligible, I couldn’t be at my peak health (check!) and had to commit to a 16-week program: a program for out-of-shape, middle-aged women like me.
The truth is I hadn’t worked out in 12 years and was afraid to get moving. But last year, as the discomfort from the rising number on my scale matched the increasing discomfort from the tightness of my pants, my inactivity became too physically painful to ignore. Although I lay awake at night hoping my fitness fairy would swoop down and magically transform me to my youthful figure, it wasn’t going to happen.
After months of emotional work, I joined Project LOLA. Supported by a small group of inspiring Columbia women and a personal trainer I see once a week, I’m slowly but surely improving. And as I’ve gotten moving again, miraculous things have started to happen. My mood has improved, my energy has increased, and my stress level has dropped. I’m having fun, and I’ve become noticeably happier. I feel better about myself and, in turn, am taking better care of myself. This queen of the frozen dinner has made more meals for herself in the past 12 weeks than in the past 12 years.
Most surprising for me, though, has been the journey of my self-esteem. Each time I lift a heavier weight or run more minutes, I set a new bar for what I can accomplish. As the bar moves higher, I realize the depth of my untapped potential for anything I set my mind to.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body, which improves your self-esteem. Exercise also gives you regular opportunities to set and achieve goals. This process builds awareness of your personal capacity, personal pride and a sense of accomplishment, all of which increase your self-esteem.
Don’t get me wrong, the progress hasn’t been easy or linear, but if this 54-year-old couch potato could get started, I know you can. So this month, step into the gym for a workout, out onto the street for a walk or onto the trails for a hike. Each step is a step into the power of increased self-esteem and a more positive view of yourself. I promise you won’t regret the journey and won’t believe the results.
1. Confront your fear.
Ask yourself: What am I really afraid of? What would happen if my greatest fear came true? What would be the worst possible outcome? Answering questions such as these helps to put your fear into perspective by seeing where it isn’t supported by facts.
2. Get off the fence.
If you’re ambivalent about change, evaluate the pros and cons of waiting. As you do, refrain from any shame about the past, and love yourself into a decision that’s best for you and your future.
3. Focus on the positive.
Research shows we see more possibilities in our life when we’re experiencing more positive emotions. So refrain from focusing on the fact that your workout clothes are outdated (mine were circa 1990s) and all the other reasons now isn’t the right time. Focus instead on the amazing opportunity you have to change your view of yourself and the world around you.
4. Reward yourself.
Whatever journey you embark on, it’s important to recognize and reward your progress. Bought new sneakers? Hurray! Walked the dog? Woo hoo! You deserve a treat for large and small successes alike.