Back to Fitness: Being Vulnerable

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John Andersen

I listen to a lot of Pandora radio in my car and in the house. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pandora, it’s a music streaming app that essentially plays a mix of music all related to an artist or song that you start out with.  

There are times when the Pandora play list seems to be streaming straight from your soul. Every song seems just perfect for the exact mood you seem to be in. Other times, it’s all wrong and you keep skipping songs until you run out of skips, and then you shut it off.  

I was recently pondering this phenomenon, and I think that there are times when we are just open to music. Something about our mood, energy, or personality at that moment seems to be welcoming some external input. And so, every song is great! I think that at these times we are also more open to art, nature, thinking, and conversation. And then there are times where we just need a bit more silence, a bit less “input.” And that’s okay, too.

This brings me to a recent podcast I listened to. The guest was Breen Brown, an author and researcher on human connection. In this talk, she kept referencing vulnerability as a hugely important key to human connection and human experience. On one hand, we often have a negative view of being vulnerable: this is how we get hurt, how we experience shame. On the other hand, and this is where Brown preaches, vulnerability is also where growth and creativity and connection live. It’s a simple concept. It stuck. I think I was in an “every song is great” mindset at the time, and this concept stayed with me and inspired this month’s column.

As someone who has traveled the journey from a smoker and non-exerciser to an endurance athlete, I can definitely attest to the fact that you have to be vulnerable in order to grow in your fitness and change your life. To highlight this as it pertains to many people’s fitness journey, I’m going to give six examples below of common story lines that I often hear as roadblocks to change. Get ready for some serious vulnerability!

1)  Convincing your spouse or best friend that you want to change.  For those of us lucky enough to be married or to have a very best friend, you know what it is like to have that one true confidant. This is the person you can tell anything to, but at the same time, aren’t there some goals and dreams that we are afraid to tell our spouse or best friend because we’re afraid they may think less of us? Sharing that you are starting a new fitness plan is scary. “But they know who I am, they know this isn’t me. They’ll probably think this is another stupid idea. I shouldn’t bother.”  Whatever your relationship is, you need to share your fitness goals with someone. The bigger the need for a health change, the bigger the need to share it with someone. Yes, you’re going to be vulnerable to some questioning and second-guessing and criticism, and that really is okay. You can counter that by going out and doing it.

2)  Convincing yourself that you want to change. This is of course THE obstacle. If we are thinking about “getting in shape,” then we must admit to ourselves that we are out of shape. Do we quickly translate this over to, “I’m not good enough?” Or, “I’m not worth it?”  Or, “I’ll never be like him/her?” We need to be vulnerable to this idea that we are indeed in need of some work, but also remember that “needing work” does not equal “has less worth.”

3)  Learning new things. I can remember the first time I tried mountain biking. I was such a noob,  and I looked the part. I can remember trying to learn how to run with better technique. I looked awkward! If I go to a pool and try to swim, I can just feel all those experienced swimmers staring at me because my technique is so bad (even though they are most likely not staring at me and thinking this). It’s hard to be new at something. You are most likely not going to look cool. But this is everybody’s story when starting something new. Let it go and let yourself be vulnerable. Who cares if you suck at running–you’re doing it! The only way to not be a noob is to keep it up.

4)  Wearing new clothes/new gear. This is a huge area of vulnerability for a lot of folks. What if I don’t have the right shoes? Do people really bike in these tight shorts? I have never worn a tank top in public. As you begin to do new things physically, you’ll find that jeans and a sweatshirt aren’t the best options for everything. You don’t have to look like the pros, but you do want to be comfortable and functional. Who cares if you think you look like dork–you’re doing it!

5)  Sharing goals. Let’s say you’ve run a few 5ks. Now you’ve decided you want to try the Charlottesville 10 miler. At some point, you are likely to share that specific goal. Maybe with your training partner. Maybe to a family member or someone at work. Now you are vulnerable to wondering if they think you can do it, as well as pondering whether you will let them down. If you are really going to grow your fitness, you need to choose some goals that you simply cannot accomplish now, but that you can work toward. That is a scary thing to say aloud, but in this vulnerability lies true change.

6)  Improving. When you are first starting a new fitness routine, the early improvements are usually huge and addictive. Over time, however, as you become more fit, it takes a lot more work to improve by a smaller amount. To continue to improve, you’re going to have to be very vulnerable to the fact that you may fail, and this may lead you to believe that you have reached your peak. And this may even be true! I am currently struggling with this as a 44-year old. Do I want to even try for another Jarmans PR? What if I fail? Does that mean I’m getting old and slow? See where this leads? No vulnerability, no growth. And growth doesn’t always have to be about speed or actual fitness. When we are growing in fitness, we learn so much more that translates to the rest of our life.  

Take a chance on yourself. In vulnerability lies growth. 

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