Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Desire and Ability

So, it's been about two and a half weeks since I started going to the gym.  During that time, I have not failed to go there on a day that I planned to go even once.  When I go, I ride my bike so I'm not getting any help getting there or back.  And even though I have a personal trainer, I've arranged to meet with her only very rarely since it can get pretty expensive.  So I'm pretty much doing all of that without much hand-holding or prodding by other people.

Now, as anyone who works out knows, getting yourself to go do it is the really hard part.  Once you get started on a workout it actually feels good, and especially afterward there's that glorious sense of accomplishment, but actually getting started is what kills you.  One advantage I have is that my schedule is so flexible - I'm not getting up at 5:30am so I can get there before work.  If I find myself lingering in bed much of the morning, that does not prevent me from getting to the gym that day.  Given how hot it's been getting in the middle of the day lately that does make the idea of saying 'can't go: it'll be too hot on the ride home if I do' rather tempting, but given how short it is I know that's just an excuse.  But then, there's always going to be excuses for not working out, no matter what your situation is.  So how am I doing it?

When I first signed up for personal training, I met a man named Mike who I gather is in charge of all the personal training at the gym.  He's the one who paired me with Melanie, which seems to be a very good match since she seems to understand my fitness needs.  Mike himself, however, definitely does not understand me.  To help him figure out who to pair me with, he asked me what kind of personality would be best for me to work with.  The best answer I could give him is 'the opposite of a drill sergeant'.  Because there are two types of people: those who respond to pressure by working harder, and those who respond to pressure by becoming stressed - and the latter usually end up working slower because they're trying to relax themselves.

I'm very extremely the second type, and Melanie is a good match for me because rather than ordering me around she simply provides direction and encouragement.  I get the feeling that if I showed up to a meeting with her and said that I hadn't done a thing since the last one, she would go 'Oh, well what do we need to change?' or something like that instead of getting angry.  If I'd been paired off with someone who applied a lot of pressure, on the other hand, I'd probably quit and never go back to the gym again due to the stress.  In fact, my mom commented on that point while I was talking to Mike.

But Mike, like I said, does not seem to understand.  The day I applied for a personal trainer, I remember that when we talked about what personal trainers do for you he mentioned that one of their jobs is to motivate you.  My immediate thought was 'people do not motivate me'.  Which isn't fully true: the thought of disappointing Melanie, my mom, and everyone else rooting for me if I fail does help motivate me, but at best that motivation accounts for approximately 10% of the reason why I drag myself to the gym, combined.  Definitely nowhere near enough to get me there.  I am also not really that afraid of wasting all the money I spent on this.  So motivation is not really to be found in anything external to myself.

No, the reason why I get to the gym is because I want to.  If I didn't, it would not happen.  And that's the case with pretty much anything hard that I've done for quite a while now.  I do recall that there was a time when I would do hard things that other people wanted me to do if they prodded me along hard enough, especially my mom.  At the time I knew that they wanted what was best for me and therefore I wanted to please them.  However, though I think this is how I accomplished a few good things like making it through high school, I also found that it made me extremely dissatisfied with my life.  The thing about trying to please other people is that it's impossible, except in the extremely temporary sense.

So I learned to stop caring about what other people want me to do, in a way.  When someone tells me they want me to do something, I listen but I also decide if it's something that I want to do too.  If I don't, I don't do it.  That's not to say that I don't do things for other people anymore - in fact, sometimes simply knowing that someone wants me to do something is enough to make me want to do it - but that means that I often refuse to do things outright if what someone else wants does not match what I want.  And since I started following that rule, my personal happiness skyrocketed.  Now that I'm doing everything for myself, even if I'm doing it for someone else too, I don't feel miserable if I fail to please someone because at least I'll please me.  I feel a much greater sense of pride and accomplishment since, even if I was inspired by someone else, I'm the one who made the decision to actually do it and I'm the one who got it done.  I own what I do now - it's wonderful!

And one of the best rewards of this is that all of the hard things that I've been tackling are made easier by the fact that I'm extremely self-motivated.  I want to go to the gym because I know it's good for me, I enjoy pushing myself, I love that feeling of accomplishment after every workout, I enjoy the extra energy I seem to have to do other things, I like the comments people make about it, I know that it's incredibly good for me to be getting out of my apartment on my own most days a week, it improves my mood, and does many other awesome things for me.  And knowing all this, not just in an academic sense but through experience, means that keeping motivated to continue doing it is not a problem.

Of course, I've known all of this for many years and yet have not gone to the gym before.  That's because having the desire to do something is only a piece to getting something done.  The other piece that fell into place more recently is that the combination of moving somewhere that was a bit closer to the gym and my recent growth as a person made the whole idea a lot less daunting.  There came a point when I looked at a map and saw how far away the gym was and said to myself 'this is something I can do'.  Similarly, when I had the opportunity in both high school and college to attend a weight-lifting class I did so, since it was easy enough to take a PE class alongside other courses.

You can have all the desire in the world, but if the other logistics of the situation are more than you can handle then you won't get it done.  Before I moved, my mom would often comment that she could give me rides to places where I could work out, but it was too much for me to handle the idea of having to coordinate things with her.  I also had the option of a longer bike ride, riding the bus somewhere, or even working out at home doing calisthenics or using the treadmill.  However, all of those options seemed too hard to me for one reason or another, especially since I'm very aware of how regular you have to be with exercise in order to get good results.  We might have possibly worked out a solution if we'd tried to problem-solve the situation, but that's why it didn't happen.

Now, I don't know how much of any of the above is pretty standard for everyone on the planet, how much of it is my Asperger's traits, how much of it is anxiety, and how much of it is my own personality, but that's how and why I'm personally motivated to do what I've been doing lately and why if I'm not doing something it's often not a matter of motivation.  But I do think that the real essence of it applies to everyone: accomplishing anything is a matter of desire and ability.  Where I'm different is that, largely due to the Asperger's part of me, I can be a lot more clueless than a neurotypical person about why I should want to do something sometimes.  In those cases I benefit most from someone sitting me down and explaining in detail to me why I should want it, though in cases where I understand but simply disagree there's just no hope for it.  On the other hand, the anxiety can make my ability to do something I want to do appear to be too difficult even when your average person would think that it's doable.  In those cases the best thing is to carefully analyze why it seems so difficult and try to fix or work around the problems until it's cut down to size, perhaps starting with taking a small step in that direction rather than going all the way, though in some cases it can simply be that I'm not ready to do that thing yet.

However, using the wrong method to help someone who isn't doing something is intensely frustrating to the other person, and so is continuing to use what would be the right method in situations where what you want is just not going to happen.  If the problem is that I don't want to do what someone wants me to do, whether the problem is that they haven't convinced me yet or I'm not going to be convinced, it's the same feeling anyone gets when a salesman comes to the door offering something you don't want to buy: not interested, leave me alone.  If the problem is that I want it but it seems too hard, someone trying to explain why I should want it or trying to help me do something I'm not ready for merely makes me that much more saddened by the fact that it seems too hard to get.  And sometimes the problem is that I'm lacking both the desire and the ability at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I'm generally self-aware enough to figure out which of these problems is present for any given thing that I'm not doing, whether or not I'm possibly close to doing it, and even the specific details of what's standing in my way when I don't already know but do a little pondering on the question.  But even though it's not usually the case, I sometimes do have mental blind-spots when it comes to a particular problem so I still have to figure it all out the hard way every once in awhile.  But if it's important, the reward of doing so is usually well worth the effort.

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