A few months ago, I did a Powerlifting Competition.
Not because I have aspirations to be a competitive lifter; moreso to give myself a goal, work consistently towards it and achieve something new. It was awesome having a focus at the gym and slowly making incremental gains towards that every week.
When I was training, I felt like the most powerful version of myself. Like a fucking lioness coming out of a cave, ready to take whats rightfully hers. There was nothing and no one who could stop me from what I wanted in life. I felt unstoppable.
So, the day after the Comp, I thought I’d take a day off and sleep off the weight. Then, after that, I thought 'I’ll take a few days off'. And the next week, I did exactly the same.
And so it went for the next three months. I didn’t go to the gym at all.
After months of training consistently and eating pretty much the same thing everyday for six months, all of a sudden I didn’t have a goal to work towards anymore. I had all this time back in my schedule. My clothes were getting tighter for sure, but I just bought new ones and rotated the outfits that worked.
After a few expensive shopping trips, I looped back with my trainer at the gym.
My strength had split in half, and I could barely last a 45 minute session without yawning (I’d train a 2 hour session a few times a week in lead up to competition).
Experience had taught me prior if you take time off training, you can’t dip back into it straight away and expect to be in peak performance, so it was a bit depressing, but nothing I hadn’t anticipated. Plus, I’d just come back from a three week tour around Australia; my family had been in town. I was mentally tired.
'You’ve lost a lot of your strength', my trainer told me, looking disappointed. ‘No shit’, I laughed.
'Like, quite a lot of your strength', he repeated. 'More than I was expecting.'
'I skipped the gym for a few months', I shrugged. 'It’s going to take time to get back to where I was. Also - how good are Magnums.'
Returning to somewhere where I used to slay and then feeling rusty was a bit of a downer, though.
It’s like when you leave a job where you are slaying and then you start a new one and all of a sudden you need to learn all these new systems. You feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and all of a sudden you start to doubt whether you should have gotten this new fancy job in the first place. You feel unqualified and unproductive.
Despite me routinely telling myself it would take time, using logic not emotion to get back into lifting, there were a number of times I felt like giving up because it felt like I wasn’t good at it.
But to be good at something shouldn’t be the reason you do it (although it is a lovely side effect to doing something consistently). As Lani Pauli commented on Instagram, leaning into an uncomfortable yoga pose actually paves the way for you next time. Feeling uncomfortable tells you you're improving in new ways.
It’s taken me six weeks to slowly build back up the mental strength, motivation and physical mojo for lifting heavy weights again. And I certainly haven't bounced back into my old shape just because I’m doing slightly more exercise, either.
I didn't enjoy it for many sessions - until just this week. Something 'clicked' and I felt like 'I've got this. This is the old me coming back.' I felt like while the last few weeks at the gym were 'meh', it was worth it as I was getting stronger.
'Finally', my trainer and I both said to each other.
Experts say the definition of happiness is being productive.
Ultimately productivity, for me, is developing, without dependency on reward.
What that looks like to me is working towards something that helps me be the best version of myself and enjoy the ride, regardless of what that looks like to other people. Creating workshops that help others ace their work, regardless of how many people turn up on the night. Eating the best darned Magnum I can find in my quest for the Ultimate Dessert without counting calories anymore. Writing this blog post without the hopes X amount of people read it or sharing an update on social media without caring if no one comments or likes the pic.
Not being bummed out when I can’t lift the same weights in the gym.
Crucially, not associating ‘success' with reward.
So my challenge to you is this:
How will you define what makes you feel productive?