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Is the work worth it if you don't get results you want?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I was trying to write a quick supportive note to a spark buddy who has been doing her exercise and several healthy habits, has gotten quite good at them, but still isn't seeing much in the way of weight loss. A lot of people would get discouraged in working hard, doing things right but still not seeing the results they want. That's understandable, I mean, we do this for a reason, and if that reason isn't happening then what's the point, right?

Or is that right? Then it occurred to me that weight loss as a goal can trick us into thinking the results are what matter, and those results equate to only one important thing-- pounds off, the numbers on a scale falling.

But many of life's struggles don't have concrete and visible results. Even when they do, what happens to motivation when you achieve it and then lose that feedback? I am facing that now, when I get on the scale each day and it's the same-- I have to remind myself, I'm not trying to LOSE weight. But I got hooked on very visceral cues and rewards for all my work-- my old clothes started falling off, people complimented me, more men started calling, jobs started being more interested..z but what happens goals that aren't so concrete? Where the rewards are more abstract? How do you even know then if you're ON the right path?

There's a deeper courage, a more admirable strength in the person who keeps on working, struggles onward, and keeps acting toward their goals in spite of the feeling they aren't making much progress, or not making the progress they desire. The person who doesn't quit even when they aren't getting a visual or emotional reward is a person who perseveres. They persist. Maybe they don't get where they thought they wanted to go, or maybe they do...but is that really the whole point?

I like this quote by Henry Ward Beecher; "The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't. "

Is it really wasted and worthless if you have gone from a couch potato to someone who exercises 5x a week even if you haven't lost 20 lbs?

Sometimes the journey is like that; it's as though we're struggling and pushing, but we don't seem to get anywhere for a long time. While I wonder if most of life's bigger dreams aren't really like that, requiring a great deal of input for a very long, long time without really giving back much in the way of tangible rewards, is the pursuit of them wasted effort?
If they pay off in some other way we didn't originally intend, or heaven forbid, they don't pay off at all was it all wasted? And why isn't the work itself of value?
Can hard work and sweat-equity really be considered wasted work when it's all moving toward making your life fuller, richer and more within your own power, aligned with your own dreams?

What about those times where you don't see gradual, incremental changes, thus giving the appearance of no change, but suddenly one day you wake up and the whole world is different? It has changed, and you never even noticed the change occurring because you were too busy doing the steps and the work you could do, and not worrying so much about what wasn't happening. Is that a lesson to consider?

For instance with me it's like practicing the guitar. For the first year and a half, I just couldn't get my fingers to do barred chords-- no matter what finger exercises, no matter what scales or flexibility things I tried-- they just wouldn't make that shift and do it crisply so that the chord sounded good. It all came out mud. After awhile, I got frustrated, then I got mad, then I pushed harder and refused to do much else-- and I grew to hate practicing my guitar. Then despair set in. So I quit playing that stupid guitar. That lasted a good month or two, you'll have to ask my mentor, he was the one who had to gently nudge me back to it. :)

Even then, I only came back cause I had to, for a band that needed me to do rhythm, but I figured barred chords and I weren't meant to be. I told the other musicians that and I only worked on music I could work my way around having to play them. For all intents and purposes, I guess I considered myself a quitter. I wasn't happy.

Then in the playing something magical happened-- I began to focus on playing music I loved, simple songs, yes, but simple songs I loved-- anything without barred chords. I just put those fancy jazz songs out of my head and enjoyed the heck out of learning to memorize and do different playing styles on folk tunes, ballads, anything else.

Then I started learning the fretboard like I knew a piano, and trying to play melodies, not just rhythm chords. I performed, I learned how to keep playing when my hands were shaking with fear in front of an audience. I learned more intricate songs, with more chord changes and more interesting progressions, I did everything but those barred chords. I stopped thinking about my failure and started enjoying where I succeeded. I was in my joy and I kept going and I just didn't think about what I gave up very often, and then only to accept that I'd probably never be a jazz guitarist or a true soloist. But I would do what I did as good as anybody!

Then on day, a few months back, I was jamming with some guys an learning new music for some shows and someone asked me to show him the B chord, which of course, is barred and I can't play. But I thought, "why not? what you got to lose" and I tried to show it to him. Lo and behold, my fingers moved on their own, I strummed and surprise, a clear B Major chord. No MUD AT ALL! And it wasn't a fluke, I could repeat it! @ho knew that all that time playing would make my fingers limber enough, would develop in them an intimacy with the feel of my guitar, that suddenly, out of the blue, barred chords would not be impossible anymore? I didn't.

Now, of course I'm gonna need some practice time perfecting the technique because doing a barred chord alone in a stress free environment is a different creature than executing one, in tempo, on stage when you're performing and singing. I know that. It doesn't all happen by magic.

But the thing is, I never quit the guitar, even when I erroneously believed that what I truly wanted was out of my reach forever. I did quit driving myself into a wall trying to achieve it. I stopped punishing myself and started enjoying it. But some part of me never really gave up on the barred chords. I just wasn't there yet. I didn't know I wasn't there, but I had to keep on that journey until I got there.

Thanks as always for reading me, we're in this healthy journey together and I'm glad we are!

I'd like to hear your thoughts-- when is the work worth it just for the doing?
What results do you really require in order to keep going?
When is it time to stop, see what you're doing isn't working for you and change things or when is it honorable and healthier to let go?
You know where the comments section is. :)


Copyright ©2010 Cassandra Kelly. All Rights Reserved
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Wonderful blog. Thank you!
    3988 days ago
    This is an inspirational story and I love all the comments which show what a diverse set of SP we are, yet so much a community.

    You have me wondering as I've tried to learn piano, and not persevered, ditto guitar, drawing, French ....This is a bit like the Malcolm Gladwell thing where you need 10000 hours of repititions, he believes, in order to acquire a new skill set.

    I've been practising to become healthier every day for nearly 14 months on SP. I don't think that yet equals Gladwell's 10,000 hours. He states that the greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians and scientists emerge only after spending at least three hours a day for a decade mastering their chosen field!

    Those of us who have been getting it wrong have often spent at least 10000 hours doing so!

    Ok, so in 8 or so years I should have really got healthy living although I feel it's already a big part of my life. perhaps it will become automatic?

    Anyway, thanks for blog which has obviously set me thinking!
    3992 days ago
    Letting go, loving what we get out of our hard work... not pretending I'll be an 18 year old hottie again, but just loving being a 55 year old fit, flexible, happy, less meds, able to take care of me woman---- yeah, like that.
    Course- I do miss being an 18 year old hottie... sigh. That was FUN!
    3993 days ago
    Wow, I love the interaction of the comments and ideas from everyone-- every single time, each one of you helps me to see my own ideas from new vantage points and with new depth. And then you toss in totally new insights to boot!

    I'm finally internalizing the strength and power that lies in 'community' as it applies to long term life goals. We Americans want to be such fierce individuals, standing on our own two feet, completely self-reliant, and while that is and can be an attribute it does not mean that it's twin sister- community & mutual support should be left to starve. We need a tribe to survive and prosper. Thank you all for being part of my Spark-tribe and all the wonder and insight you share. :)
    3994 days ago
    I've been nearly to goal, and it wasn't everything I'd hoped. Since then I've gained back about 10 lbs.

    I'm not happy about that and I know the physical reasons why (night eating) and seem to have lost a bit of my mojo. Life just hurts, sometimes. Period. And now I know I can't really pin all those hopes onto just attaining goal. Because things just don't work that way.

    I'm still struggling, though. I am not going to give up. I may have been losing battles lately, but until I surrender, this war is still on. And I'm not going to surrender. Ever. Again.
    3994 days ago
    I agree with DDOORN, it is important to measure your state by as many means as possible. That means weight but also body fat percentage, measurements, and also capabilities. For example work on the hundred pushups, two hundred situps, two hundred squats, twenty-five pullups programs. It can be important to change up exercise routines to continue their efficacy, and also taking a week or two off dieting to eat at maintenance can help the diet continue to work. So it's important to be determined yet a little flexible as well. And it's important to stay a little objective and not let weight loss / diet / exercise define you, rather to let it enhance your life. And note that I did not say "measure your progress" because it's important to keep measuring regardless which way it goes. One thing that helps in that vein is to remember that when you make measurements, it is just where you are now. That's all! Don't read too much into it, don't make it some major failure; just assess, plan, execute... and live.

    I don't necessarily buy the "work builds character" argument, though at some level it does. But I do think that diet & fitness needs to be a long-term (lifelong) effort. One cannot expect to do it for a while and then stop. With that in mind, when plateauing it's a good time not only to stand back, reassess the plan, or take a break, but it can be a good time to consider it "maintenance training". At some point one will need to be used to keeping weight stable and not stressing out about it but just continuing to apply the knowledge and skills one has gained. A break from weight reduction is as good a time as any to get used to that idea.

    In fact, I'm more or less in that mode right now myself. I was losing fairly effectively, plateaued, and decided to try to just stay roughly the same weight for a while, get used to what it takes to maintain, and adjust my plan to eventually get me where I intend to go. It's not as amazing/refreshing as seeing the weight slide off, but I know I'm still making fitness strides, and I have actually put a period of constant weight into my plan which allows me to nonetheless see myself as succeeding.

    3994 days ago
    As always, you have some great insight to help me on my way. This time, we are on the same page. I haven't lost much in the past month or two but have stayed the same. Do I want to quit? Yes and NO. I don't want to lose the new attitude of who I really am. I don't want to go back and be that person who thought she wasn't good enough.
    I feel empowered now, I am doing things that I never thought I could do. Putting this event together is something I would have quit before I even began but I know with my new concentration and one thing at a time things that I have learned with Spark people, I know it will come to pass and nicely.

    The rewards of being responsible for me, my eating, my moving, (aka: exercise) has not only produced weight loss but life gained. I Live now, I was just waiting to die before...

    Yes I will keep on Keeping on. There is no other option.
    Barbara emoticon
    3994 days ago
    Boy! This is a tough one. I KNOW that I will never reach my goals. I started too late and have some severe health problems. But at this time last year, I was in a wheelchair full time. Now I walk about 8,000 steps a day and do a lot of strength training. But when my autoimmune disease kicks up, the only things they can do for me is shoot me full of steroids which really pack on the pounds. So I have to start all over again. And I can't begin to tell you how frustrating that is, but just about the time I give up, they will find a cure for this and then I will say, "if only ....
    3994 days ago
    This is why it is SOOOO important to measure our progress by as many means as possible. I was able to keep myself going on a long, long plateau because HECK I'd lost so much weight already that I was able to enjoy things I NEVER could have done all bogged down with my extra weight! So thoughts of reverting to bad old ways were quickly stomped out by thoughts of "WHAT?!?! And lose all of these PERKS?!?!" :-)

    Hey, another guitarist! Unfortunately my playing has taken a MAJOR hit by my new SPARK lifestyle...must dust 'er off sometime and see what I can remember! I was one of the fortunate ones who took to barring like a duck to water. Barring helped me to make sense of music and organize it better too.

    Great blog! Thx for sharing!

    3994 days ago
  • no profile photo CD6296091
    You are right, there are other rewards than the one we aim for. It is great when we realize all that we have achieved on this journey. So we keep on going and the rewards just keep coming. We should never stop.
    3994 days ago
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