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Spark to Wildfire

Friday, December 03, 2010

We hear a lot here about "spreading the Spark," but what does that really mean?

When I first got instructions from SparkPeople.com to "spread the Spark" it reminded me a lot of the theory of witnessing in Christianity. Whatever your beliefs, I found serious problems with witnessing to strangers, even to friends. God, or religion in general, isn't necessarily the most PC topic of conversation. You hear all the time "no politics or religion" when it comes to social situations, but it wasn't my need to be PC that made it so difficult, it was the hostility I often got from even approaching the subject. So when I tried to spread the Spark, I was nervous, but I tried. And guess what I got? Yep. Excuses and hostility.

I hear it all the time from other Sparkies who have tried to help people around them. Their coworker, sister, boss, or friend says, "You're doing great! I really need to lose weight too..." and the Sparkie takes that opportunity to tell them about Spark, about their successes here, about the wonderful support group and tools. And then they get shot down.

So how do you really spread the Spark?

When I started out on Spark, I didn't tell anyone outside of this little corner of the world what I was doing. I was nervous. I didn't want to own up to trying to lose weight if it was going to be just another failure in my weight loss attempts. "Just another diet..." I could hear them saying. I could almost see their eyes roll. I wasn't sure what Spark would mean to my life, I didn't know if it was the key, the answer, or just another fad-thing I was going to try. And I wasn't about to open my big mouth until I was sure it was legit....until I was sure *I* was legit.

A few months ago, though, I started opening up. Everyone was noticing my weight loss, and I was proud...I felt the need to spread my successes with friends and family. Soon, I started adding Sparkies as friends on FB, the ones I felt I'd really gotten to know on a deeper level and felt we could branch out as friends beyond the bond we all share here in our weight loss efforts. I started posting pictures of myself and my son at the gym. I'd rejoice about a great workout, a good Zumba class, or a race I completed. I didn't really think much about it, my weight loss attempt was just starting to become part of my actual life. My life, the new life I was building with the help of Spark, was becoming such a huge part of my everyday life that to hide that part from my friends, family, and coworkers seemed like hiding the largest part of myself.

But even though I wasn't thinking too much about it, apparently other people were. I've gotten countless comments from friends and family. Thumbs up on my workout reports. "You're an inspiration!"-type comments. It felt good, and, for a long while, it felt like it was all about me. Guess what? It wasn't.

What I've discovered in the past few weeks is the easiest path of least resistance in spreading the Spark is to simply make yourself an example. Share your joys and triumphs with friends and family and, all of a sudden, they realize that if YOU can do it, THEY can. It's funny, you don't even have to say those words (which always induce eye rolls) but they can hear them in their heads.

Last week, when I started Couch 2 5k, I finally allowed by C25k iPhone app sync with my FB account. Finally. I was ready to share. After each run, I posted an update to my account, and let my outside world know what I was up to. Here's what's happened in the past couple weeks:

* I've gotten some great real-life challenges from Sparkies, that spur me on even when I can't log onto Spark.

* A friend who moved away in July asked me how much weight I had lost, and when I told her 80 pounds, she said WOW! and then told me, "I'm using you as my inspiration to go back to the gym!"

* A family member commented on my run post (finishing week 2 of C25k) today that she had downloaded the mp3 podcasts of C25k and had just completed day 1 of week 1, all because I had shown her it was possible, and working.

And those are just the highlights.

Maybe the Spark Gods will be angry at me for saying this, but Spark, the real idea behind "The Spark" is far greater than this site or a book. The Spark is the fire I felt when I realized that this isn't just another try at losing weight. The Spark was the feeling in me that said, "This is different. This is your NEW life." In a world where we struggle constantly with depression, childhood obesity, diabetes, and other such illnesses, this Spark can be the start of a new life. (I'm not saying depression can be cured with diet and exercise, but there is proof that it can be better managed with it...at least from what I've read.) Therefore, spreading the Spark can be the equivalent of saving a life.

So my Spark, that started with such a cover of doubt that hid any small smoke signals of any sort, is now flaming bright. And once others started to see the light, they started catching fire themselves. They caught the Spark...and it grew into a wildfire. Even at Thanksgiving lunch, we spent more time bonding over running and workout stories than we did recipes and the food on the table. We're all burning bright. And I can't take all the credit for that, but my sharing my story with friends, my opening up, has certainly allowed that fire to grow bigger.

So, here it is, Sparkies, my challenge to you. Figure out how YOU are going to spread the Spark in your life. And remember it doesn't have to be a big gesture or long talk. Sometimes, in most fires, the smallest ember sparks a tree nearby, and an ember from the fire that grows there, sparks another.

While the destruction caused by wildfires seems a rather depressing thought in terms of what we're speaking of, think of that fire as burning out the negative effects that years of McDonald's and Starbucks addictions have built in us. Think of it as burning out the bad habits we learned as children, in college, through pregnancy, or whenever. And think of the new green life, new healthy trees, that can grow in land fertilized by the nutrients fed to our body through whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, clean foods. You're building the best compost pile in which to establish new growth...healthier growth, bigger and stronger trees.

And once you have those fires burning, you can let them in on the almost magical nature that is the combined tools of SparkPeople.com. What the people who started this have built is a comprehensive system that isn't tied to fad diets or quick fixes. It's the same old "D & G" (diet & gym) we've been hearing all our lives. And we all knew it was the one thing that truly worked in losing and/or managing weight (even if we didn't want to admit it). They've taken what seemed like a lofty idea, a very difficult goal, and broke it down into manageable steps. And they provided tools to make those steps easier. Research articles. Exercise routines you can do anywhere and at any fitness level. Simple input calorie counters to track calorie intake. Fitness minute trackers. And the most important part of all -- an online community of support persons who understand your struggles, have been where you've been, and know where you can go if you just keep trying. In my honest opinion, SparkPeople.com is just the right mix of user-friendly tools to build yourself a better life the right way, the lasting way. So once you have your fires burning, let them know that there is a place they can go to keep it stoked. Lead them here. Spread the sparkpeople.com AFTER you've already spread the Spark.

Are you hiding your Spark? I think it might be time to let it out. You never know what might grow from it...
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Fantastic blog! I think you are absolutely right!
    3801 days ago
    That's funny that you were afraid of getting the eye-roll when you told people about your new healthier habits. I usually get it AFTER I tell people it's the same old "D & G" combined with a totally new attitude about my health and wellness. Folks just want the quick fix, I guess. But I am so glad that you are here pushing us and keeping us motivated as well!
    3805 days ago
    you are SUCH A great example and I love your theory of 'spreading the spark.'
    so glad that you're able to share your experiences not just here, but in real life, too :)
    3805 days ago
  • no profile photo CD7428910
    I think this has been your best blog yet, and that's saying something.

    You're totally right about being an example. I was thinking the same thing this week when another Spark member met me for lunch at work. When she tried to tell a co-worker of mine about Spark, the other lady resistantly said that she likes being round and brushed off my Sparkfriend. On the other hand, I can't count how many people have asked me what I'm doing and commented about my own Spark.

    We all know what we need to do, as you say, the D&G. This community makes a real difference.
    3807 days ago
    I agree 100%. It is not what you say...also because PC issues are not fun to discuss in mixed company...it is what you do! Letting others look through the window at what you are doing and the changes you are making may be all it takes for them to take positive steps to change their lives also. I loved this blog. If I could have "extra liked" it, I would have!
    3807 days ago
    Perfectly said! This is slowly happening in my life, opening up just a little bit more and more. For once, it feels real this time. You just inspired me right now!
    emoticon emoticon
    3807 days ago
    I could not agree with you more. Being an example is the essence of spreading the spark.
    3807 days ago
    Nicely put!

    The one time I have successfully spread the spark, it was talking about phone apps, of all things. :-)

    You're so wise!
    3807 days ago
  • KARVY09
    Loved this. It's so true. All you can really do is live your life well and hope you inspire others.
    3807 days ago
    I love this blog. It comes right to the top of my favourites. Thank you for posting it, it's an important message - spreading hope with action, rather than spouting the words "you should look at SparkPeople". We lead by example, and people around us see us succeeding with our goals, day after day, one foot in front of the other and they see much how much we grow as an individual as well as losing weight.

    I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to reference your blog today in my own ... a base from which to explore how Spark and depression can work together to open up a path for the future! :)
    3807 days ago
    GREAT WRITING, great blog. I am inspiring - even if not everyone sees it....some have and that makes me feel good. emoticon
    3807 days ago
  • no profile photo CD8301081
    I totally agree. I've seen little fires spread from my tiny spark. emoticon
    3807 days ago
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    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.