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Monkeys on my back

Saturday, March 15, 2014

For a while (from about June 2013 to Feb 2014) I was the number one "stepper" on FitBit for New Hampshire and also at or near the top for the NH Spark Group in both points and fitness minutes. I also had some pretty impressive Spark streaks going.

That was then, this was now.

A couple of monkey wrenches came my way. Or maybe some monkeys on my back would be a better image. The first was that I got sucked into caring about whether I was number one in steps or not. I got a lot of positive feedback for turning in those numbers. Earlier this year I was averaging about 30,000-35,000 steps a day. People frequently told me how much I was inspiring them.

I really liked that what I was doing was helping others by inspiring them. I believe that we are community here on Spark and I certainly have drawn lots of inspiration from all of you. I seriously mean that, and so I was glad to be able to return the favor in some small way.

However, I was losing sight of the fact that I came here to make permanent healthy changes in my eating, in my exercise, in the way I deal with stress and other areas. I didn't come here to be an inspiration. And at some point, through nobody's fault except my own (I want to be clear about that point) I let getting the step numbers become an end in itself.

It is basically an all-day-everyday-task for me to post around 35,000 steps a day. That burns a lot of calories but I know that fitness is more than burning lots of calories. I knew that I was in trouble when I starting having internal conversations with myself like the following:

Me 1: I haven't done strength training in a while. I should go to the gym and lift some weights.

Me 2: But if you lift weights for an hour you won't hit your step goal.

Me 1 (reluctantly): oh yeah. I guess your right.

There are all kinds of things that I do that are important healthy practices that don't give me a lot of steps. Things such as Tai Chi (it's in my name for goodness sake!), yoga, and lifting weights. When I felt reluctant to do those, I knew things were getting out of control.

I also began to feel that I was spending way too much time on SparkPeople. There is a paradox here: I know from past bitter experience that if I leave SparkPeople for a while, then sooner or later I will slip back into my old evil ways. I've even seen it happen to people who were "official Spark success stories." So I'm committed to being a "lifer" on this site. I need the reminders to keep on keeping on, and the mutual support.

However, that being said, I found that I was doing something similar here that I was doing with my step count. Each day, I did all the things that you can do here: reading, checking, commenting, clicking, and so on. And each day I got the maximum points that I could get for that day (subject to whims of the spins). But I was also spending more than an hour a day - sometimes much more than an hour a day - to do so and that was simply too much time on the computer. I have a wife, a job, friends, and other obligations ... not to mention all those steps.

Things that started out to be really good for me had turned into monkeys on my back.

My escape began a few weeks ago when my wife and I went to NYC to see our niece in a gymnastics competition. Because of travel and other reasons, I was away from both SparkPeople and what I'll call mega-stepping.

When I got back, I was no longer #1 in NH in steps. And I was happy about it. And I learned that I have made permanent changes in my activity and I'll never go back to the way I was: when I got my first pedometer I was shocked that I was doing only 3-4,000 steps a day. But I'm fine with anything over 10,000 and I think a daily goal for me is 20,000. That's what I aim for now, but I'm okay about days when I don't make that.

And I'm still here too. I can't stay away completely, 'cause I care about some of you a lot and because this site also helps me stay on course. But I'm less visible now, because I only come in for a few minutes each day. I still want to maintain the friendships I've started here (and some of us have walks/hikes/cups of coffee) planned for our futures. So I'm not going anywhere.

But all things in moderation is my motto these days. Steps, diet, weights, yoga, tai chi, dance and just staring at my wife wondering how I got to be so lucky.

That's how I got the monkeys off my back.

~ Tai Chi Dancer

P.S. Some of you saw my earlier update. My wife's aunt - who raised her from the time she was 8 until her teens - is dying. So my wife is hopping on a plane to Russia soon for a couple of weeks. Because of my teaching and the difficulty of getting a visa to Russia, I will be staying here. Some of you have sent little notes expressing your sympathy and my wife wanted to let you know that we are grateful.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Great blog. I agree wit all you wrote. We have to get out and enjoy and live our life.
    Sometimes we get too involved and this should be an aid for us and not a job.
    Have a great time!!
    1263 days ago
    I feel like I could have written this entry and I have pulled back some myself to keep the focus on why I am here in the first place. You inspire me still to keep on walking. If I get back to round 20,000 steps in a day that will be something but I want to do my walking and have time to do other exercise like my yoga, elliptical and strength training. Its about the balance like you are alluding to.

    You are right its nice to be an inspiration but taking the pressure off ourselves is stress reduction in my view~
    1347 days ago
    Happy for you ~ you've discovered many things about yourself on your way to becoming a healthier person. Glad you've found a way to keep your priorities in a balanced check! Sorry to hear about your wife's aunt. Give her a hug for me and let her know I just sent up a prayer for her strength and happiness in her memories of their time together as she misses her aunt.
    1348 days ago
    Great blog! It is really difficult to accomplish all we want to and really easy to focus on one solitary goal...like getting in steps. I love my fitbit but hae never made it over 12,000 steps in a day. Lately I am around 4,000. I guess that is better than the 2,000 I was doing before I began counting. Kudos to you for seeking a balance. Never give up...especially the YOGA & Tai Chi and thanks for remaining a Spark friend!
    1360 days ago
    Wow, what an interesting blog! It just goes to show you that SP is a tool to help you focus on making positive changes, but like any tool it can be used improperly. I love how thoughtful your blogs are!
    1370 days ago
    And you continue to be an inspiration!
    You showed what was possible with the steps. You were top of the charts, others admired that and wanted to copy that. Now, you have stepped back top allow them to take the lead, allow them to see what #1 feels like, allow them to enjoy the benefits. When they decide to back off and let someone else have that spot, they will be inspired by how you went from an extreme, to a more balanced approach to your well being. Mind, body and spirit, all equally important, not cardio over strength, or fit body over sound mind.

    You haven't slacked off, you have found the next step on this journey! Congrats!
    1371 days ago
    I can relate to this blog and the feeling of getting too caught up in those numbers, for me I sometimes let the scale weight get to me, so I'll take a break on that. It's so easy to focus on one thing to the detriment of all else...so it's nice that you can see that, and take a step (or 10,000 steps) back and find a new balance.

    For what it's worth you have inspired me to aim for 10,000 steps a day, and I have been hitting that most day for the past couple of weeks, so thanks for that!
    1371 days ago
  • NOMIS1
    This is a wonderful blog and also an inspiration.

    Very sorry to hear about your wife's aunt.
    1371 days ago
    Oh my friend, You just can't escape inspiring people...here you go again!!! I am so grateful that you wrote this blog because I have been worried, worried, worried! Thrilled that you have made changes that work for you and so glad to know that you are still on that healthy journey! Spring is coming! Looking forward to a good hike in the Whites w/you and your gorgeous wife!
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1371 days ago
    We all go through cycles -- pushing ourselves to reach our immediate goals. Too often, this gives us a blurred vision of our long-term objective. You've given us all a powerful message to help us refocus outside the "here and now."

    Thanks for a wonderful blog.

    1371 days ago
    You are an amazing person! I also make the leader board occasionally, and love the feeling. I will watch out for those monkeys. They also ride my back occasionally.
    1371 days ago
  • 68ANNE
    All things considered you are smart and figured it out so that it works for you.
    Sorry about your wife's aunt
    1371 days ago
    Yes balance in all things is important. I have been and am dealing with some of those same things and need to cut back in some things. It is not easy and it is also so easy to get all caught up in things too.
    I am so sorry to hear about your wifes aunt. Hope she has a safe trip,

    Take care and keep being an inspiration to YOURSELF and then others.

    1371 days ago
    Good for you my Spark friend! I have done the same thing a couple of weeks ago and now that I'm spending less time checking in with Spark and running teams I've started to lose weight again. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the process. You are still inspiring and I applaud you for doing what is best for you!

    1372 days ago
    I get those same types of comment from walking 20,000 daily steps. Yes, it is uplifting that I can inspire people just based on the amount of walking but - yes again, that means you have to keep it up. Some days it gets tiring and when I don't get 20,000 I feel like I've let people down. You hit the nail on the head, thank you.
    1372 days ago
    Good, deep insights, my friend. Remembering the deeper why of all of this is so incredibly important.

    I look forward to our coffee! I went for a walk in the park today (I have a normal course that takes me through that park) and I imagined taking you and your wife on the course some day. :)
    1372 days ago
    I love this blog! I hope the Friend Feed changes help you with your Spark Time like they've helped me (there are less updates to read because they took off commenting on blogs--so I'm so grateful to be your friend now before they did that, because how else would I find you? But I digress)...

    You are even more of an inspiration for being able to look introspectively and at your motivations and see they aren't working for you any more. And 20,000 steps a day is still way inspiring, man. I like the image of you coming back from NY and looking with relief at your Fitbit numbers.

    And hey, in a few months, I'm going to start looking for jobs back in the DC Metro Area and hopefully going home, so next time you're in town, we CAN meet for a walk, or a beer (I don't do coffee-but I love beer!). Have I invited you to trivia yet? You and your bride and family should TOTALLY join our team when you're in town and I'm home!

    I'm sorry about your wife's aunt and happy your wife can go be with her during this time.
    1372 days ago
    Brilliant blog. Brave and good moves to put life and goals and activity -- even Sparking here on great ole SP - in proper perspective. Thanks. I needed that! So, ironically, you are still inspiring people, namely me!! -Marsha
    1372 days ago
    emoticon Some people ask me how I cannot watch TV - My answer to that is I don't want to watch other people living their life - I want to live mine. Glad you figured it all out because you sound like a stellar guy!
    emoticon Cheers
    1372 days ago
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