As a highly trained medic in Special Operations you get exposed to some of the best instruction that the medical field has to offer without actually going to medical school. As I have said before, I got to deliver babies, help perform major surgeries, and intubate people in emergency situations. I spent lots of time learning from experienced Doctors, Physician’s Assistants, and Nurses. For a time I was really interested and I thought that I might go to medical school once my time in the military came to an end. However, the more I got exposed to the healthcare profession through my military training, the more I saw people being treated for pathologies that were onset because of poor lifestyle choices. Much of the patient mindset was centered around the idea that the Doctor can “fix” them. I listened often, as Doctors would elicit information about pain or sickness from their patients. The patients would give vague and sometimes incoherent responses and be frustrated that the Doctor didn’t have immediate answers. Some would say things like, “Just fix me!”
Many times people would be prescribed and given all the medication they would need and they simply wouldn’t follow through with taking the regimine. Everybody wants a pill to fix things these days and here it is, these people got it. They still wouldn’t do their part. “I lost them.” “I forgot.” “Somebody stole them.” Yes, sometimes people can’t afford to get prescriptions refilled but by and large that was not the case. I saw well off, clear thinking adults simply not follow through on a simple task. Not even to save their own lives in some cases. As I watched these scenarios unfold it began to dawn on me that medicine was not for me. It was too frustrating to watch people be the primary perpetrators in their own demise. Our healthcare system is not oriented to preventative strategies. I would argue that our whole society is not oriented towards prevention when it comes to health (among other things). Everything is reactive. People seem not to care until their body confronts them head on. It’s the ‘frog in the kettle problem’. Our bodies are so resilient and they can take abuse for so long without the individual having to pay a major penalty for it. By the time we start showing signs it can often be too late. The diabetes is full blown. The artery is fully blocked. The joints are completely worn out. I once heard a physical therapist say that pain is a lagging indicator in the body. Basically, you can move like trash for years and musculoskeletal pain won’t show up, sometimes, until the ligament is about to tear or the disk is about to rupture. Sometimes we’re boiling alive and we don’t realize it.
With this realization about prevention being the answer, I thought working in fitness would be my way of combating the problem. Getting people to move better and eat better would solve tons of health issues, right? The answer is, yes, if you can get them to do it. Remember, the pain can go away for the patient, all they have to do is take their medication on schedule. It’s simple, but they have to do it. The doctor can’t do it for them. Same thing in the gym. I can give you the most well designed exercise program that fits all of your specific needs. I can put together a diet in the same fashion, but at the end of the day, you have to follow through on the instructions. You must take ownership of the process. It’s your body and I can only be a guide. I once had a client sign up to do personal training with me. When I was doing my initial screening with this client, I asked them how long they expected to work with me. The client responded, “Forever!” That shocked me. One of the faulty assumptions I made when I began working as a trainer was the idea that people were coming to me for a finite period of time as a guide to habit change. I had a ‘Teach a man to fish mentality’ but my clients were expecting a ‘Give a man a fish approach’. No ownership. This client in particular wanted me to give them a fish a day, for as long as possible. The client didn’t expect to put their own workouts together, ever. They wanted to outsource total responsibility to me. This was something I began to see in most clients over time. It was incredibly deflating. What unsettled me the most about this particular situation was the fact that this individual was a family medicine doctor. Their whole job is centered around getting people to make and sustain healthy habit adjustments. This person wasn’t taking their own medicine, so to speak. Cart-before-the-Horse.
There are a couple interesting facts about managing health that emerged from my time as a trainer:
- Health is a simple task for the most part, Eat real Food. Move Often. Limit Stress.
- If you need a program to get started with, there’s this thing called the internet that’s full of free and useful information on the subject.
It’s not hard to understand, but it is clearly massively difficult for many people to execute. Even the healthcare professional that should be the example to others is struggling to master these things in their own lives. So if it’s simple to understand, yet so hard for people to do, what do we do?
My response has been what you are reading right now. I think it revolves heavily around character weaknesses that must be confronted when engaging habit change. Yes, you can’t put down the bag of chips because you just got home from a stressful job that you hate. And yes, you just had another fight over the phone with your significant other who you snap at because you’re constantly on the edge because work sucks. Something has to feel good when life is miserable. Why not food, or sex, or alcohol, or hard drugs, or binge watching etc? Pick a vice and drown your sorrows in it. The challenge with habit change is the fact that we have to let go of the vice. The vice covers up the things we are hiding from. No, you don’t want to leave the job because then you’ll have to give up many of your material possessions. Your ‘stuff’ is what makes you feel like your life is valuable. Maybe, in particular, it’s the way people treat you because you have certain ‘stuff’ that causes you to hold on to the ‘stuff’. Nevermind if you are in debt up to your eyeballs and that financial stress is shredding all of your relationships to pieces. You gotta put on so people will like you and think you’re somebody. The biggest hurdle to getting someone’s finances in order is not their understanding of math. It’s breaking down their desire to receive external validation from people. I realized in the gym that people don’t need more exercise/diet routines. They need some HEART!
They need to ability and courage to be frank with themselves and say, “I haven’t exercised in years and I have used my family as an excuse. I blame my children and our lifestyle for my unwillingness to do the critical thinking and heavy lifting required to change my health and, ultimately, my life. I fear facing the reality that my job may be killing me and I don’t know if my spouse will respond well to me wanting to quit my job. The fear of the conversation is paralyzing me! Travis, just tell me what to do! I don’t want to think about it!”
My friend, from the bottom of my heart, if there was a pill that could instantly address your health (or your life), I would just give it to you. I wouldn’t charge you a dime. If I could make my exercising and healthy eating count for yours, I would. If I could make my confronting my own shortcomings and inconsistencies, count for you confronting your own, I would. I can’t and no one will ever be able to do that for you. The only thing I can do is keep pointing you towards the mountain that you must climb, give you some practical tools to help you along the way, and encourage you to keep climbing when it gets hard, because it will get hard.
I wish you nothing but the best on your journey.