Friday, April 9, 2010

Turns out (as usual) I was trying too hard

I am the sort of person who tries too hard, and for many years this has been undermining my health and happiness.

When I cook, I strive for the perfect meal. When I write, I want the ultimate piece of prose. When I speak a foreign language, I seek flawless pronunciation. And when I exercise, I expect high performance and constant improvement.

See how I set myself up for failure?  Because, being human, I often don't meet my objectives. And so when I burn the cabbage-and-carrot stir fry, as I did last night, write a less-than-riveting blog post or mispronounce a word in French, I feel bad and put myself under pressure to do better next time.

A case in point is exercise. For many years I have made sporadic attempts to get fit. Since jogging seemed a cheap and universally popular form of exercise, I made several attempts at learning to like it. I would don my running shoes and pound some pavement, but invariably, within 10 minutes or so, I would start to suffer stitches, aching joints and pant like an exhausted greyhound.

Immediately I would be assailed by negative messages from deep down inside: “You’re hopelessly out of shape, you’re weak-willed and at this rate you’ll never get fit, slim and healthy!” I would limp home dejected and eat a butter croissant to make myself feel better. It would take at least a week before I could muster the courage to try exercise again, this time choosing a “safer” option like swimming or cycling (avoiding all elevations).

Now that I have vowed to exercise daily as part of the Anti-Cancer Challenge, and in fresh air when the weather permits, jogging once again has become an obvious choice; but as I contemplated my running route this morning, I felt the familiar dread of not being up to the task. So I decided to take a new approach to jogging by using my heart beat monitor for guidance.

Bearing in mind that my target range for “vigorous exercise” is 130 to 140 heartbeats per minute (bpm), I decided to keep within those parameters. Amazingly, it was one of the most enjoyable workouts I have ever had! Want to know why? It’s simple: all these years I had been running too fast and pushing myself too hard!

When I left the house, the heart rate monitor indicated about 85 bpm. A few minutes’ brisk walking raised it to 120 bpm, and after a few minutes of steady, comfortable shuffling, I was at 145 bpm – and it felt perfectly comfortable!

Granted, the fact that a modest exertion pushed my heart rate to 145 bpm suggests I’m not terribly fit. But the point is, running any faster would have pushed my heart rate well above my target zone, i.e. well above my comfort (and possibly safety) level!

So looking back, I realize I had always been jogging too fast, which had the undesired effect of making me feel more exhausted and demoralized than if I had just stuck to a realistic performance target and actually enjoyed myself!  For – who would have thought! – this morning’s run was such a positive experience, it left me wanting more!

How do my heart monitor’s teachings translate into the other domains of my life? Perhaps it’s telling me I should aim for more realistic results, rendering me less vulnerable to disappointment and allowing me to derive more joy from cooking, writing and speaking French. Sometimes, less is more.


  1. Excellent post!! Thanks for the inspiration. BTW--just "discovered" Dr. Richard Beliveau--& see he's on your blog list--wish I could read French. Have ordered his book through interlibrary loan.
    My best to you. Love your blog.

  2. This might offer some added inspiration: Last weekend I went for a couple of bike rides with a friend. We had only an hour each time, so it was less of a production (one excuse gone) that eats up half the day (another excuse gone). Instead we started at 7:30 am or 8 am and I was done by the time the resident sleepyhead was just getting out of bed. I'll run some errands on my bike today, but hopefully tomorrow we'll meet for another ride.