Hope to Con Yourself to Better Fitness
We all want to be fit and healthy. Unfortunately, the rigors of life often conspire to make that difficult, due to work and family and other factors leading to the constant search for more time.
Motivation helps. If you’re a professional athlete, your income and career longevity can be drastically affected by your physical fitness. But most of us are not professional athletes. Same is true for models, and for actors hired for their looks. I am none of the above, alas.
I’ve known several women who were motivated by an upcoming wedding day, where they wanted to look their absolute best. I don’t know if it is sexism, or me just not paying attention, but I’ve not seen that happen with men. I do remember the honor of being invited to a couple of weddings that featured young women I had taught and coached about ten years earlier. Both of them had been attractive young women, but on their wedding day – oh my. They were both absolutely stunning.
The problem with a motivation like that is that it is targeted to a specific event. As life continues, that motivation recedes.
However, it is possible to “con” yourself into better fitness that lasts for a much longer time. My personal goal is not to become the next movie idol, or even to look like a god, unless it is Bacchus. I merely want to feel and look better and be able to enjoy everything I want to do for as long as possible. I have used this self-con technique twice with good results, and my most recent con might be of use to you.
Any good con, even for nefarious purposes, needs to be mostly true to be effective. You can lie to yourself for noble reasons, but the lies need to be mere shadings of the truth, not utter whoppers
My first con came in 2000, when I transitioned from 31 years of teaching and coaching to a new position in the motorcycle business, a job I pretty much invented and pitched successfully to Jim Boltz, the owner of Cycle Barn. He was one of the very few I met in the motorcycle business who enjoyed thinking “outside the box,” and some of his ideas that I heard about later were really out there. Wiser heads on his staff talked him out of some of them, and they probably tried to talk him out of hiring me as well. Keith and Ann Thye at Ride West were also able to look beyond the edge of the dealership pavement.
In any case, I knew I’d be riding a lot of different motorcycles in my new career. Sometimes several a day. At times I would be asked, often with little warning, to clamber on to a motorcycle I had never ridden previously and motor off to take part in a club event with others who had ridden that make and model for years. I was supposed to look competent doing it, or at least not be embarrassing to the dealership.
The con consisted of convincing myself that I needed to be in better shape to do this, which was more or less true. And it worked, for fourteen years. I rode more than 500 motorcycles in that time at speeds from a parking lot lap to don’t ask don’t tell, and crashed none of them. Not crashing is a measure of job security when riding company motorcycles.
Along the way I picked up a secondary motivation. Cycle Barn ordered for me a totally custom set of Vanson leathers. I remember there were 47 different measurements taken. Now I feared gaining any weight, as it would be so embarrassing if I could no longer fit into the black leather pants.
Ironically, in 2018 a divorce I did not see coming and did not want caused me to lose so much weight on what a friend called the “divorce diet” (where you pretty much do not eat food for months), that eventually I could not wear the pants because I was too thin! Fortunately, I guess, that is no longer the case, and those pants, now 20 years old, still fit.
My motivation has also been affected by age, which is never a con. I will be 74 in 5 weeks. I ride a motorcycle that weighs 700 pounds. I have a truly wonderful woman in my life who loves to put in seat time as my passenger. All up in our gear, there is a need to control over 1100 pounds of a two-wheeled vehicle that offers 165 hp and 163 foot-pounds of torque. So, stay in shape, find a new joy in life, or face the consequences. That is strong motivation.
Now for my most recent con, the one that you might find useful, and that you have slogged through everything above to get to. Thank you for your patience!
Like many but not all people my age, I am not that interested in technology, and slow as molasses to adopt new stuff. I held on to my treasured flip phone until life circumstances taught me that I needed a “smart” phone with Internet access. That was over four years ago.
Recently, I was idly playing with the apps, because that is what you do when you are virus-bored, and I meandered through the “Health” app. Your phone probably has one, and you probably know that. I noticed that my phone tracks how many steps I walk each day, and can also show the data in miles, per day, per week, and per year. Hmmmmmm.
Scrolling further, I managed to see what my average walk length was for the previous days, weeks, months, and year. The number was too embarrassing to reveal, but let us describe it as appalling.
An obvious goal was to improve, so I decided a 10% improvement was a reasonable goal. No reason to get carried away.
This reminded me of the last 15 years or so of my teaching career, where we were always asked to put down a goal for the school year. I always chose one that looked really impressive but that I would accomplish easily. A frequent flier was the goal of developing an entirely new curriculum for a course I would teach that was not offered by anyone else. I developed one new curriculum pretty much every year, so that took care of itself.
Anyway, the goal of increasing your average daily walk distance by 10% is a brilliant con. Why? Because I did not realize that I was setting myself up to compete with – myself. Very soon I was not concerned with my health or fitness, but with beating my previous efforts. Who wants to lose to him or herself?
Now my phone is a silent coach, urging me to do more, and more often. Rather than an increase of 10%, I am at about 40% for this month!
For this con to work for you, it helps a great deal if you are retired, virus-activity impaired, and lack other life factors that could get in the way. You also need to be skilled at self-criticism.
It is also true that as the virus is defeated, life returns to more or less normal, and the weather improves, I’ll have to make choices. For example, given a sunny day, do I walk or go for a motorcycle ride? Well, duh! With my riding gear on I am comfy over about a 60-degree range, but motorcycle gear and boots are not designed to be great for walking.
Still, a massive gain so far, and even more than that compared to a year ago. Check your phone. Examine the data. Want to con yourself into better fitness by competing with yourself?
PS: Do you have any self-cons that help you maintain or increase fitness? Please leave a comment and I will add it to this essay, with or without your name as you request. After my walk…
PPS: Probably obvious, but I do not mean to imply that merely increasing the time you spend walking will make you fit! You need other things as well.
Ride Safe, Ride Fast, and Ride Often. And walk more!
Copyright 2021 David Preston