Baseline Normal

A few months ago, I decided to conquer a challenging goal: 30 minutes on the elliptical machine at resistance level 10.

The first day, I did 10 minutes at a resistance of 7. I was sweating, a little nauseous, and ready to give up after minute 5. But I pushed through.

The next day, I went for 15 minutes. After a few more days, 20 minutes. Resistance 8. Then 25 minutes. Resistance 9. Then 30 minutes. I made it.

In those three or four weeks, I decided to rest some days without exercise. Some days, I didn’t decide, but impulsively refused to do more after only a few minutes on the machine.

The key was to get back up the next day (the next minute) and try again. With the goal in mind.

After a month, I had a new normal. I knew I could go to the exercise room and push through those 30 minutes. It felt good to know that, and I even started to challenge myself at resistance level 11, then 12.

I no longer felt dread at my self-imposed regimen. It was never easy, but it was easy enough that I was comfortable with the routine.

Then, I went on a road trip. I sat in my car for more than 60 hours driving thousands of miles during the trip. And although I walked and stretched a bit, I did zero exercise during this trip.

I ate fast food, knowing that I was healthy. My cardiovascular system was strong! I could do 30 minutes if I wanted…

Yesterday, I returned home and slept for a long time. Today, I went to the exercise room and got on the elliptical.

It was hard to even get started at resistance level 1. I warmed up for three minutes, just going through the basic motions. Then I ratcheted the thing up to level 10. I barely made it to the 15 minute mark.

My heart was pounding, I felt sick, and everything screamed for me to stop and rest. I needed more water. I needed to stretch. I couldn’t do any more. So I got off, and I tried a couple feeble pushups.

Then I stood there and wasted the rest of my allocated exercise time, thinking.

One person’s normal might be zero exercise. It’s easy to do nothing. It’s a challenge to step into the exercise room. So that’s the appropriate task for the day. Me right now.

Another person’s normal might be a solid 30 minutes of exercise. It’s easy to do the same as yesterday. It’s a challenge to ratchet up to the next level. So that’s the appropriate task. Me three weeks ago.

Even though I’m starting over again, it’s nice to know I can do it. A month from now, I’ll be fit as a fiddle! But it’s also pretty sad that I let my hard work slip away through complacency. Lesson learned.

Normal is a myth. You get to choose your baseline every day. Moving it one way is hard (work). Moving it the other way is easy (neglect).

Choose work. If you don’t, you may regret it. You won’t love your choice today, but you will appreciate it tomorrow.

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