My family has a running joke at my expense. We like to vacation at the ocean, but the beaches here in the northeast aren’t exactly known for their mild water temperatures. This presents a problem for me because I don’t like cold. As a result, it takes me nearly an entire week’s vacation before I have courage enough to completely immerse myself in the waves. Until then, as I timidly tiptoe into the water about one centimeter farther each day, my family teases me mercilessly. And justifiably.
By the end of the week I’m out there with the rest, swimming, floating, rising and falling with the undulating waves, having a great old time. What in the name of all that is wet and sandy took me so long? All the time I spent shivering in the ankle-deeps, I could have been body surfing.
It was that first hurdle of the frigid blast that feels as if it’s going to crush my body in its ice cold vice grip.
Isn’t that the case with so many things that are good for us? We look at that imposing wall of resistance to get started and we back off. Looking ahead, we think there’s no way we could ever do whatever-it-is so we never even begin to scale or crash through that wall. If we do take that chance, we berate ourselves for doubting ourselves and taking so long.
I thought of this recently talking to a friend who had the same experience with acting. It was torture getting up in front of people, but once he took that first step, it was a breeze.
No need to look far to find examples of the difficulty of overcoming that initial wall of resistance. It happens to me – and if you’re honest, it probably happens to you – just about every morning. There I am, lying in bed. As we say in Boston, it’s wicked comfy: The pillow is soft and the sheets are cool. The air in the non-bed world is either too hot or too cold to face. To make matters worse, my body aches, my eyes are hazy, and my brain is fuzzy. The world is a crazy place. Do I really want to fight that battle again today?
Eventually, you have to do it. You get out of bed and face the onslaught of the day, for which you feel ill-prepared.
Yet you usually survive.
Those of us bearing the additional burden of facing the world with MS have other demotivators working against us. For some, it’s that much harder to emerge from bed only to face a wheelchair (or scooter, or cane, or walker) and an unending battle with gravity. Some of us take an injectable medication. The act of giving oneself a shot for the first time is like facing a wall of insurmountable height.
The Big One for many people is exercise. Few of us want to exercise. We know we need to keep moving, even if it’s just some stretching or walking, but that first step is the killer. Once it’s behind you, though, the second step is decidedly easier. With each succeeding step, momentum shifts from not doing it to doing more of it.
You just have to take that first step, which, as Lao Tzu informed us, is the beginning of a journey of a thousand miles. Thanks, Lao, but we’ll settle for making it through the day.
I don’t always feel like getting all dressed up and hopping on my bike, especially when the weather is less than cooperative, but once I’m moving, once the landscape is sweeping by and the wind is in my face, I’m glad I made the effort. Now I’m feeling the long-term benefits of the consistent exercise. The wall is a thing of the past. It’s more of a speed bump. I can handle that.
MS propagates its miseries. When MS fatigue has you beat, you just want to lie there. And when you just lie there, you lie there some more. Welcome to the death cycle.
Fortunately, exercise works the same way. In the words of Chaka Khan (who’s at least as credible as Lao Tzu), “Once you get started, oh it’s hard to stop.” It gets easier each time. The human body is designed to make the process of exercise more enticing, almost addictive, the more we do it. But we must first face and surmount the initial barrier known as inertia.
This isn’t a new problem. St. Paul complained to his friends in Rome about his failure to do the things he knew were right. He writes:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
So we’re in good company. But just as Paul found a way to do what was best, so can we. The Power Paul relied on is available to us as well.
Knowing there’s Help, and with the promise of improved quality of life, fun in the waves, or an audience’s applause, what will you do with the walls in your life?