For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be strong. Physically strong. Muscular.
I workout daily.
A few years ago I started to learn how to weight-lift “for real,” graduating from machines at the gym to barbells and heavier weights. I started doing CrossFit a few months ago. I train with a weightlifting coach.
I can deadlift 235 pounds.
When people hear all of this, they create a picture in their minds of what I might look like and how I might move.
When they meet me in person, they are often surprised.
Despite all of these activities, all of the effort I have invested to train my body, I am still often awkward and uncoordinated.
Although I’m no longer “skin and bones,” I’m still not “muscular.”
Even in the sports and practices I’ve been doing for decades, I often struggle to execute my skills.
The Cycle of Shame
This inevitably leads to a cycle of frustration, self-berating, and pain — both physical and emotional.
I’ll struggle to execute a skill on trampoline or trapeze that I know I can do, and I’ll get frustrated — at myself, at my body, and sometimes at my coaches.
Frustration is anger. And anger triggers inflammation and makes the body more rigid. So my body responds by increasing the sensations I call “pain.”
In response to the pain I either back off and prevent myself from progressing, or I double down on training and go too hard.
Neither approach helps.
The cycle continues. Frustration increases. Anger intensifies. Eventually, I become defeated, convinced that my efforts are wasted, that I am hopeless and helpless.
This leads me into a shame cycle, which leads me to hide and isolate.
Beneath this cycle, before the frustration, before the anger, before the pain, at the very inception of it, is a little voice with a big story:
It’s not working.
Whatever “it” is:
My training. My efforts.
The logic seems sound: I’m not gaining strength. I’m not muscular. If I’m not seeing result, then it’s clear that what I’m doing isn’t working.
Or is it?
What’s the Evidence?
When I pause to step back from my cycle of anger and frustration, I can evaluate the situation from a more objective lens.
The lawyer in me likes to ask:
What evidence do I have that my efforts aren’t working?
In favor of the defense, I might point out that many factors impact strength and mobility, including the timing in hormonal cycles, emotions, external stressors, weather, and environment.
Every day we get a different body.
And then there’s the issue of the metrics.
Realistically, it’s going to be incredibly difficult — if not impossible — for me to have the appearance of a bodybuilder, unless I start taking a lot of supplements. My long, lean frame isn’t built to “bulk up.”
When I’m so focused on the external appearance, I forget that some results aren’t visible.
One of the most crucial reasons for women to lift heavy is that lifting helps increase bone density, providing a good defense against osteoporosis and other degenerative issues that occur as we age.
Bone density isn’t visible on the surface.
Viewed from this frame, the story that the little voice is telling me loses a lot of its power. Not always all of it, to be sure. But enough to lead to a different verdict at the “trial.”
A different story under the surface can change my experience in the gym and out of the gym. It can change the entire trajectory of my day.
The story doesn’t change overnight. It doesn’t change in a weekend workshop.
It takes a daily practice of awareness, of pausing to observe sensations, be in the emotions, and listen to the stories that are coming through.
This is the work of Pisces season — the work of going beneath the waves to find the stillness of the ocean, where the truth is found.
The truth is rarely visible in what we see at the surface.