Lesson 2: The Power of Gratitude

I always try to run with thoughts of gratitude, but I choose to run the half marathon as my “race of gratitude”.   Pondering all of the things that I have to be thankful for carries me forward and I ride the wave of gratitude to the finish line.

Anyone that runs knows that breathing plays a big role.  As I run, I try to imagine inhaling a thought of gratitude and exhaling the word “thank you”.  It probably sounds silly, but it works!  It takes my focus off the external mechanics of running and refocuses my energy internally, creating a more profound mind-body connection.  I enjoy my run more and it becomes a more fulfilling experience.

So during the half marathon, I chose to run with gratitude.  I ran with gratitude for…

The opportunity to participate in the race.  I am blessed to have the time, support, and resources to train and race.

My health.  Although I am not perfect, I am strong and healthy.  I am thankful for this body that carries me through 13.1 miles.

The world around me.  I drink in the fresh air, embrace the wind on my face, and admire in awe the beauty of fall in the Northeast.

My community.  All around me are examples of my community coming together for common cause.  From the race personnel and course volunteers working hard to keep me safe and hydrated, to the thousands of spectators on route cheering and waving signs, I am grateful for each and every one.

My running partners.  As I run, I acknowledge that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my running partners (both human and canine).  They were with me through months of training.  From early morning runs before the sun came up, to finishing the last few miles of a long run in the dark, they were with me every step of the way.  They pushed me forward, encouraged me onward, and kept me laughing the whole time.

My family and friends.  Most of all I am profoundly grateful for my family and friends.  Their support means the world to me.

“Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.” 

– Stephen Richards

This attitude of gratitude powered me through the first 9 miles, but when I hit “the wall” and the overwhelming fatigue set in, it became harder and harder to focus on being grateful. By mile 10, all I could think about was the pain in my foot, the leaden sensation in my legs, and my escalating anxiety and self-doubt.  My physical and emotional discomfort distracted me until the only thing that I was grateful for was that it would be over soon.

When finally crossed the finish line, my feelings of gratitude had evaporated.  I was exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed.

This race taught me that I had more to be grateful for than I imagined.  I made it.  I struggled through the pain, the fatigue, and the panic.  It was awful, but I made it.  I finished safely and at the finish line, despite my feelings of failure, I was rewarded with nothing but love and support.

Finally finished, surrounded by family and friends, I took a long, deep breath.  I inhaled in the power of gratitude.

Jennifer Hobbs Signature

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Lesson  3:  The Power of Acceptance

Lesson 1: The Power of Discomfort

I was never a runner. I have always been active, always in motion but was never a runner. As I look back on my childhood, every memory I have of running ends poorly.

I remember running the obligatory 1 mile in gym class as a child. By ¼ mile in, I inevitably had to stop, heaving and gasping for breath. The remaining ¾ miles was an embarrassing combination of running/walking/stumbling until I finally finished, usually minutes after the rest of my peers.

I also remember playing soccer. I loved soccer. I loved the dribbling, the kicking, the scoring. I hated the running. They tried me first at midfield, position that involved the most running. Let’s just say, that didn’t last long. I moved on next to play forward (a little less running) and finally back to a position on defense (the least running, except for goalie which was already taken) and still was panting and miserable before we hit halftime. By high school, I threw in the towel, quit soccer forever, and moved on to volleyball. At that point, I was convinced I was not meant to run – ever.

“If you want to choose the pleasure of growth, prepare yourself for some pain.”

– Ritu Ghatourey

Fast forward 30 years later and here I am, a runner. I have now run 5 half-marathons and more 5k and 10k races than I can remember and you know what? It still sucks. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and it never gets easy. My experience this past weekend only served to carve that truth even that deeper in stone. Yet, I still run. Of course the obvious question, and one that I get asked over and over by friends, family, and strangers alike is “WHY?”

Why in the world would I choose to do something that is so downright painful? Well, the reality is that one of the reasons I run is because it is uncomfortable.

People often talk about the value of going “outside your comfort zone”. That sounds like tipping your toe in the water. I would argue that for true growth, you not only need to venture outside of your comfort zone, but reach out and embrace discomfort.

3 Types of Discomfort: Physical, Social, and Emotional

For me, there are 3 types of discomfort when I am in a race: physical, social, and emotional. Now, this perspective on discomfort is based solely on my experiences. I am sure if you read the scientific literature, it is a gross oversimplification of the concept. However, for me, I can neatly divide up my discomfort into each of these 3 buckets.

Physical

The first type of discomfort is what I call “true” physical discomfort. As a runner, you get to experience plenty of this type of discomfort. Your muscles hurt, your lungs burn, you feel overwhelming fatigue, and on and on.  Some days it feels like with every mile you log, you also log a new ache or pain.

Social

The second type of discomfort is social. This is the discomfort felt when you have to engage and interact with other people. Now for some, this doesn’t qualify as a source of discomfort at all. Actually, for many people, social interactions are a source of great pleasure. For me, however, this is definitely an area where I struggle.

Running, by nature, is an individual activity and can be a great fit for individuals like myself that battle with social anxiety. However, on race day, running definitely becomes a community event. Hundreds of people packed in at the start line, hundreds of spectators lining the course, and hundreds more race volunteers and staff. Just thinking about that many people raises my anxiety level into the red zone.

Emotional

The third type of discomfort is emotional. As an individual with anxiety and panic disorder, I find that most of my emotional discomfort has its roots in fear. Irrational fears play on a continuous loop in my head as I run. Will I disappoint my friends and family if I miss my goal time? How will I cope with the embarrassment if I don’t finish? What if I have a panic attack in front of all of these people? These fears of judgment, inadequacy, and embarrassment all vie to overwhelm me as I race.

Discomfort: Perception vs. Reality

I experienced all 3 three types of discomfort during the half marathon. Looking back on the race, I can start to put my feelings of discomfort in better perspective. Let’s explore my perception of discomfort, or fear, versus the reality.

Fear: This is really going to hurt.

Reality: It really did hurt, but only for the last 5 miles.

In the half marathon this past weekend, I experienced plenty of physical pain. By mile 8, my right foot was throbbing due to a very unfortunate crack it took to bookshelf a few weeks before. Good news, the bookshelf was fine. Bad news, my foot… not so much.

As the miles past, the pain layered on, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the finish.

Fear: I am not going to be able to deal with all of the people.

Reality: It wasn’t as bad as I thought.

I always struggle at the start line when everyone is packed together. In a race, runners line up according to their predicted pace, the fastest in the front of the pack and the slowest in the back. I am neither particularly fast nor slow, so I usually line up right in the middle. Perfect for me from a racing perspective, horrible for me from an anxiety perspective. So this time, I tried a new strategy, I started in the back. No crowd in the back of the line. I felt good and relaxed at the start. I probably added a minute or so to my time starting behind the slower runners, but it was worth it.

Fear: I am not going to hit my goal time and I will disappoint my friends and family.

Reality: I didn’t hit my goal time and nobody cared.

I am very fortunate to have wonderful and supportive friends and family. As I crossed the finish line, I had a 10-person cheering section getting me through those final few steps. I was greeted in the finish area with hugs and high-fives. The rest of the day was peppered with texts from friends congratulating me on the race. If anyone cared in the least that I didn’t hit my goal, they certainly didn’t show it.

Fear: I am going to have a panic attack and embarrass myself in front of all of these people.

Reality: I had to stop running for several minutes at mile 10 because I felt a panic attack coming on, but I got through it. I don’t think anyone even noticed.

When I “hit the wall” around mile 9, my anxiety began to skyrocket. I knew my hopes for a personal best were gone and I worried I would not be able to finish the race. My anxiety started to build upon itself as my fears played through my head. By mile 10, I felt the telltale signs of a panic attack coming on – dizziness, nausea, and cold sweats. I knew I needed to stop the escalation of my anxiety. I stopped running, breathed deeply, and thought positive thoughts. Two minutes later, I was feeling better and started back with a slow jog, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

Why Discomfort is a Powerful Tool

I don’t think anyone would argue that experiencing discomfort is not a pleasant experience. At the time, it feels downright awful. But when it’s over it is truly liberating. So, what happens when you allow yourself to be uncomfortable?

You Learn Patience

Discomfort is a temporary state.

You Gain Perspective

Discomfort allows you to reframe catastrophic thinking. Whatever your fear, things usually it isn’t as bad as you think.

You Learn to Cope

Discomfort is unpleasant. As human beings, we are designed to want feel pleasure to minimize unpleasant sensations. When we are uncomfortable, we develop new strategies to deal with the discomfort.

You Grow as a Person

Embracing discomfort gives us freedom to try new things, meet new people, and expand our horizons.

Next time you feel uncomfortable, don’t run from the feeling – reach out and grab it. I promise, you will be happy you did!

Jennifer's Signature

Next Up…

Lesson 2: The Power of Gratitude

Finding Your Personal “Whys”

Congratulations!  You’ve started the journey to better health.  You are working hard to eat healthier and exercise more.  You may even be starting to see results in terms of weight loss.  You are riding a wave of adrenaline, determined to persevere this time around.  Then it starts to happen…the weeks pass, the initial excitement begins to wear off, and it gets harder and harder to stay motivated.  What can you do to keep your momentum and maintain it for the long-term?  The answer lies in finding your personal “Whys”.

What are your personal “Whys”?

Ask yourself the following question – “Why do I want to be healthier?”  Most people respond to that question with something like the following:

“I want to lose weight.” or “I want to get fit.”  Those are all reasonable objectives, but they don’t answer the question of “Why?”.  Losing weight, getting fitter, building muscle may be the outcome of adopting a healthy lifestyle, but they don’t address the underlying reasons that motivate you to get and stay healthy.  Your personal “Whys” are the true reasons that you want to be healthier.

Some examples of personal “Whys” include:

  • I want to sit in an airplane seat without using a seat belt extender.
  • I want to get my diabetes under control without medication.
  • I want to carry my groceries into the house without assistance.
  • I want to ride a bicycle with my children.
  • I want to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded.

Why is knowing your personal “Whys” important?

Research shows that individuals that identify the things that they want to do/have/experience when they are healthy are more successful in achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.   When times get tough and motivation begins to wane, focusing on your personal “Whys” can give you the push you need to achieve your goals.

Woman ThinkingHow do I find my personal “Whys”?

A good way to determine your personal “Whys” is simply sitting down and by making a list.  Brainstorm all of the things that you want to do/have/experience when you are healthy.   Once you have your list, post it somewhere you can see it everyday.  Keeping these “Whys” in the forefront of mind keeps you focused on the things that are truly important to you and sustain you in the long run.

Logging Food & Exercise – Is it Worth the Effort?

If you have ever tried keeping a food and exercise log you probably realized very quickly that logging not an easy task. It takes a lot of time, commitment, and guts to (truthfully) write down every bite and every bit of activity, but I promise you it is worth it!

Here are some of the common questions that people ask about logging and the reasons why it pays to stick with it.

Is there something else I should be getting out of my logging besides a daily countdown to my goal? 

The benefits of logging go far beyond the obvious – knowing the number of net calories you consumed in a day to stay within your daily budget. Of course, this is a very important function of logging, but only a small piece.  Additionally, logging provides a…

Baseline or Starting Point

In order to get to your ultimate goal, it is important to understand where you are today. It is very hard to set goals and develop an effective plan to reach those goals when you don’t know your starting point

Reality Check 

People tend to underestimate the number of calories consumed and overestimate the number of calories burned during exercise. Logging provides a “reality check” to help understand how much you are really eating and how many calories you are really burning during exercise. Measuring out food provides a reality check for portion sizes. Once you have a better understanding of your true caloric intake and output, you can set or reset your expectations to better meet your goals.

Basis for Identifying Problem Areas and Stumbling Blocks

Logging increases your awareness of your eating and exercise habits. By analyzing your log, you can:

  • Identify current issues and lapses.
  • Pinpoint habits that are impeding your progress.
  • Notice patterns in your eating and better plan for dealing with obstacles.

Once you understand where your problem areas are, you can develop strategies to address them.

Will I have to do this forever? 

The short answer is no. Over time, as you continue to log, you will begin to develop an internal sense of your calories in versus calories out. Look at the logging process as a training period. You need to learn the skills necessary to be able to accurately estimate your nutrition needs. This takes time, patience, and lots of practice. The more you log, the better you get at being able to look at a meal and roughly guess the portion sizes, calories, and other nutritional values without having to look it up. The same goes for exercise. As your estimating skills get better, the less you need to log.

How do I make sure that I am getting the most from logging?

Here are a few tips that can help you get the most out off logging.

  • Be Honest – record everything you eat and all exercise.
  • Be Accurate – measure out portions, read labels, and make sure to include everything including condiments and “extras” (e.g. butter)
  • Be Consistent – log every meal, every day.
  • Review Often – frequently analyze your log to see where you can improve.

Logging can at times seem like an exercise in futility, but the benefits of keeping an accurate log far outweigh the time and effort required to do it.  If you want to make long-term changes to your health and fitness, keep on logging!

 

6 Practical Tips for Starting an Exercise Program and Sticking to It

Beginning an exercise program can be the start of an amazing transformation in your physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. Studies show that regular moderate physical activity has numerous benefits including:

  • Achieving and/or maintaining a healthy weight and body composition.
  • Reducing the risk of diseases such as stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, depression, and arthritis.
  • Improving mood by stimulating brain chemicals that make you feeling happier and more relaxed.
  • Increasing energy levels.
  • Improving the quantity and quality of sleep.

With all of these benefits, it is hard to make an argument not to include exercise in your daily routine. However, once you make the commitment to begin an exercise program, it is important to have a plan and adhere to some basic advice when getting started. Even with the best intentions, exercise can quickly become a painful and frustrating experience if you jump in too quickly without having the proper tools for success. Here are some practical tips to make the transition to regular physical activity as pleasurable and pain-free as possible.

#1 Start Low and Slow

The easiest and quickest way to fall off the exercise bandwagon is to begin to fast and push too hard. Start off slowly, work at a low intensity, and build up gradually. It takes time for your body to adapt to exercise so be kind to yourself and give your body time the time it needs to adjust. Trying to do too much too soon will inevitably result in frustration, fatigue, and injury.

#2 Take a Load Off

If you are new to exercise, particularly if you are significantly overweight, stick to exercises that are low impact. Low impact exercises are activities that are either non-weight bearing or minimally weight bearing. Low impact activities are easier on the joints and are generally more comfortable for overweight individuals. Examples of low impact exercises include cycling, swimming, water aerobics, and rowing. You may also include moderate impact activities such as walking or using an elliptical machine, in your exercise program as long as you do not experience discomfort or pain. Once you have developed a good foundation of fitness, you can begin to slowly incorporate short bouts of high impact activities such as running and plyometrics (jumping) into your routine.

#3 Dress for Success

Having the proper shoes and clothing is a must when beginning an exercise program. Purchasing high-quality clothing and footwear that is appropriate for the activities you are performing may be pricey up front, but I promise you it is worth the investment in the long run.

Shoes should fit well and provide good support. If possible, have a professional measure and fit you for shoes, particularly if you plan to engage in a lot of weight bearing activities like walking or running. Many running stores offer free fitting services. Having properly fitted shoes is critical in reducing the risk of painful conditions such as blisters, shin splints, and injuries to the joints.

Clothing should fit well and be made of high-performance synthetic fabrics that wick sweat away from the body. Fabrics such as cotton absorb sweat and interfere with the body’s natural heat regulation processes and can promote chafing.

Chafing is a common (and very uncomfortable!) side effect of starting an exercise program. Chafing most frequently occurs as a result of exercise that consists of repetitive motion of the limbs, such as walking, running, and cycling. When the skin continually rubs against clothing or other skin, friction builds and the skin becomes irritated. The most typical sites of chafing are the thighs, underarms, and groin.

The best way to deal with chafing is to prevent it in the first place. There are a number of options for minimizing chafing from exercise. The first step, as mentioned above, is to make sure that you are wearing synthetic fabrics that wick sweat away. Second, wearing compression garments can significantly reduce friction during movement and therefore chafing. Athletic apparel companies, such as Under Armour, have extensive lines of compression clothing designed specifically for exercise. Finally, several anti-chafing balms (e.g. Body Glide) and creams are available to reduce chafing. These products are applied directly to the skin and provide a protective layer that helps to minimize friction during movement.

#4 Get Fueled Up

In order to get the most from your exercise program, it is critical to make sure that your body is properly fueled by plenty of water and nutritious foods. In order to function efficiently, burn fat, and build muscle, the body needs the macronutrients, vitamins and minerals found in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy and whole grains.

Minimize empty calories by reducing added sugar and salt in your diet. Processed and packaged foods are the most common sources of added sugar and salt. Reducing or eliminating processed foods and replacing them with a balanced diet of whole foods will ensure that your body is appropriately fueled for exercise and has the building blocks necessary to build muscle and burn fat.

Eating real, whole foods is the best way to fuel your body for exercise. Using supplements is a tempting way to easily get vitamins and minerals; however, the body generally does not absorb and use vitamins and minerals from supplements as effectively and efficiently as it does from food. Also, unlike other drugs, supplements are not regulated by the government and therefore do not have any controls on contents or the quality of the product. Companies making and marketing these supplements are not required to verify the ingredients in the product, prove any claims of health benefits, or disclose potential dangers or side effects. Unless you have a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency that your doctor has prescribed a supplement to treat, it is always better to save your money, skip the supplements and choose healthy, whole foods.

Finally, if one of your goals is to lose weight, do not replace the calories you burn during exercise! It is easy to justify eating more by telling yourself that your body needs the extra calories because you worked out. However, this is rarely the case. Unless you exercise for over an hour at a moderate to high intensity (e.g. running 6 miles in an hour) you do not need to replace any of the calories your burned.

#5 Have a Backup Plan (or 2 or 3!)

Starting an exercise plan is the easy part – sticking with it in the long run is the hard part! One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for long-term success is to plan ahead. I suggest sitting down at the start of each week and creating a weekly plan that answers each of the following questions.

  • When will I exercise this week?  What days?  What times?
  • What exercise(s) will I do?
  • Where will I exercise?
  • How long will each exercise session last?
  • Who will I exercise with?

By making a detailed plan for the week, you have blocked off the appropriate time on your schedule to exercise. It also allows you to identify and deal with any obstacles that may prevent you from exercising. Inevitably, life happens and unexpected events occur that can potentially sidetrack us from our exercise plan. Brainstorm all of the possible reasons you can come up with that would prevent you from meeting your exercise goals and then determine what you can do to bust those excuses. Have a list of exercise options you can do inside, outside, in a small space, with little or no equipment, etc. Be prepared and don’t let the unexpected sneak up on you and get in the way of meeting your exercise goals.

#6 Get in Touch

Pay attention to how their body feels during and after exercising. At first, even minimal amounts of exercise can feel uncomfortable and unpleasant if you are new to exercise. However, as you continue to exercise consistently, you will begin to notice a change in how you feel both during and after exercise. Your breathing will become less labored; you can work longer and go farther with less fatigue, and you will begin to savor the feeling of accomplishment when you finish your workout. You will also begin to notice subtle changes in your everyday life. You may find you are less stiff when you get out of bed in the morning, you have more energy, walking a flight of stairs is no longer a challenge, and overall you are feeling happier and healthier. Pay attention to these feelings! When you are feeling down or tired and want to skip a workout, remember how exercise makes you feel and focus on the positive effects that it has had on your life. This will give you the motivation to stay focused and keep on moving!