This is your wake-up call. (No it’s not.) Oh yes it is.

My first wake-up call to better health was in 2006. I saw a photo of myself and realized, “I don’t look like myself anymore.” My response: Weight Watchers, an exercise regimen, weight training, massage. It worked. My weight went down. I got fitter and more active. I felt bad-ass.

Ten years later, a little fatter again, and a little more (but not totally) slothful, I find myself waiting for another big wake-up call. But I’m getting lots of little ones instead. All these little consciousness-raisings don’t add up to the cattle prod I’d been expecting. They don’t motivate me the way the first one did, and I’ve been wondering why — and how to make them inspire me to action again.

What about a wake-up call makes it so effective? There are three basic elements:

1) A catalyst — an event, person, thing, or change, often a shocking or dramatic one, that causes….

2) A realization — a change in awareness, alertness, or understanding. A greater depth of understanding is implied; enlightenment about…

3) A problem — a danger, need, unsatisfactory situation or difficulty, often an urgent one.

If any one of these three elements doesn’t meet a certain threshold of severity, the motivating power of the “wake-up call” isn’t triggered. Here’s what I realized about why my wake-up calls aren’t getting the attention they deserve, and what I can do about it to inspire myself to stronger fitness efforts.

The catalyst isn’t shocking or dramatic enough (attention-getting)

It is easy to find people’s stories of health scares and fitness epiphanies on websites and blogs. Someone has a dramatic “wake-up call,” makes a “radical change” in their life, then celebrates a “success story.”

  • “My doctor told me if I didn’t lose weight I WOULD DIE.”
  • “I walked into the room and MY OWN SISTER DIDN’T RECOGNIZE ME.”
  • “I zipped up my pants and THEY FELL OFF MY BODY.”
Lots of little wake-up calls.

But for this introvert, my catalysts are quiet moments of dread, angst, and clarity in the middle of the daily grind.

  • “Holy cow, I’m actually using that little-old-lady grab bar to get up off the toilet.”
  • “I can’t fit into my thermals but I want to recreate outdoors in winter.”
  • “I’m not going to be able to keep up with that hiking group yet.”

I need to raise my awareness of the subtle changes in my body and life, and how I feel about them. How else can I know when an acceptable situation turns unacceptable? And I must acknowledge how many of these catalysts happen. Even if an individual one only ranks 2 on a scale of 1 to 10…they add up.

The realization isn’t full enough (not grasping all the implications)

Denial, ignorance, procrastination, and overwhelm might all narrow the mental window that shines light on the full extent of the problem.

I need to educate myself about the consequences of both action and inaction. I must raise my awareness of my internal self-talk. And I need to try to be aware of when I’m shutting something out of my consciousness, and why, and when I need to ask for help.

The problem doesn’t seem bad enough, or urgent enough.

I tend to think that if I’m basically able to do what I want to in life, that I’m okay. But it’s hard to admit that I can’t always do what I want to do. And I know I’ve lowered my expectations of myself. Without the dramatic emphasis, I can easily persuade myself that a problem is smaller than it is. I tell myself things like,

  • “I can still fit into my size 16 pants.”
  • “My doctor is okay with my numbers.”
  • “I’m not even pre-diabetic.”
  • “I’m only 40 pounds overweight.”

I already know I’m minimizing problems and making excuses. Perhaps a size 16 is better than a size 18…but I should still be wearing a size 12. Being 40 pounds overweight is better than being 75 pounds overweight…but it’s still overweight. I can give myself credit for what I’ve accomplished…but I can’t ignore how far I still have to go. No, I really don’t have plenty of time to steer around that iceberg!

I think I’m already taking enough action, even though I’m not.

Alas, this is where I am at today. I’m not trying as hard as I did ten years ago. While it’s true I’m older — and accommodating sports injuries — I’m also wiser, and I have more free time. I could be exercising smarter, and more. Yet I find myself saying thing like,

  • “I’ve already cleaned up my diet.” (but not as much as I could have)
  • “I’m active five days a week.” (but not all of those 5 days are cardio, and I’m not back in the weight room yet)
  • “I’ve already lost 15 pounds.” (true but I need to lose 40 more)

If I can quit downgrading reasons to change that are already subtle and hard to spot; if I can open my eyes to what I’m really doing, and open my heart to how I’m really feeling; if I can identify — and quit — my own negative self-talk, then the full impact of this herd of little wake-up calls can finally be felt.

I don’t want to wait around for that one big wake-up call. No, I don’t. Not even if it makes a better story than this one.

This post is adapted from Fit, Fudge, Fine, my nonfiction work in progress about working around the challenges of getting fit at midlife. Learn more at my author website, and follow my Medium publication Fit, Fudge, Fifty for more in this series.

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