A few weeks ago, in my blog post “Fitness Honesty in Fernandina Beach” I talk about the first step in beginning a fitness journey is honesty. As I was contemplating what it means to be honest, I realized it’s actually pretty difficult to be honest with yourself. On top of that, even once you are honest, it’s hard not to be angry and disappointed with yourself. There are a lot of people who can take that anger and let it motivate them to reach their goals.  But from experience, most people don’t. They take those feelings and wallow in the bad feelings and/or food.

The million dollar question is: Why?

Why can’t we stop feeling bad and start doing something to move us in the right direction? Well, if I had that answer I would be a lot richer than I am now. What I do know is that a majority of people set themselves up for failure because they are so interested in reaching their goal RIGHT NOW, that they will do anything to achieve it. They are so disgusted with themselves and angry they’ve gotten to this point they will do ANYTHING.

Toxin Cleanse? Sure.

Only eat grapefruit for a week? Absolutely.

Completely cut out major food groups? Why not.

If you ask me, they have it all wrong. They are looking for outward solutions to a problem than lays inward. These people completely lack compassion for themselves and gloss over the fact that their overweight, tired, inflexible selves got that way for a reason. They need to look at themselves the same way they would look at a friend or a loved one — with empathy. Empathy for how they have lived life up that point in time. They need to uncover the why behind the bad habits and negative feelings.

Empathy [em-puh-thee] noun

1. The psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Empathy starts developing during childhood and is something that continues to evolve over time — in most people. My first introduction to empathetic behavior happened 32 years ago via a tall brunette woman wearing scrubs who obviously worked in the wrong career field. Interestingly, her name was also Anne. Let’s call her Mean Anne. You’ll figure out why.

When I was 7 years old, I was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor, a childhood cancer of the kidney. It’s a pretty rare cancer with only 500 cases of it being diagnosed in the United States each year. Thankfully, I lived right outside of Boston and was able to have access to some of the best medical care in the world. After surgery to remove the softball size tumor, my right kidney, and my appendix — no reason to keep it while they were in there — I got the pleasure of having about 8 to 9 months of chemotherapy.

The chemo regimen I was on was an alternating schedule of two drugs, actinomycin D and vincristine. As a kid, all I knew them as was “the good week” and “the bad week.” I still don’t know which was good or bad.

The good week was a breeze — I went into Boston, played with the nice people in the activity room, got called back to be hooked up to the chemo drip, and a few hours later went home. I could do everything a 7 year old wants to — play, run, fight with her sister.

The bad week was a completely different story. I started to panic even before we left the house. The ride there and wait time before I received the drug was horrible. I was angry, anxious. The aftermath of that treatment was almost immediate. I had to lay down in the back seat the entire ride home trying not to puke on my poor sister. The nausea and vomiting lasted days.

The prescribed “fix” for this was Benadryl. I was given it before the chemo to “help me not throw up.”  I grew to hate Benadryl more than the chemo itself. I gagged taking it, despised it. And it did nothing to help.

It was during one of these bad weeks that I first encountered what it meant to have empathy — by witnessing, first hand, someone who did not.

I was about to go back to the “chemo room” when I was stopped by Mean Anne.

Mean Anne: Here, you need to take this.
Little Anne: Ok…
Mean Anne: Go ahead and drink it. Hurry up.
My 7 year old mind started spinning, why the heck do they make me take this? I hate it. It doesn’t do anything.
Little Anne: Nope, I’m not taking it.
Mean Anne: What did you say? You had better drink this NOW. (Her voice getting louder.)
Little Anne: I’m NOT taking it! (My voice matching the volume of hers.)
Mean Anne: Too bad, you are! (As she shoved the dose of Benadryl towards my face.)
Little Anne: NOOOOOO! IT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING! I STILL PUKE ALL THE TIME! (Screaming so loud that everyone in the area stopped and stared.)

With that, another nurse rescued me from Mean Anne and told me not to worry about it. I didn’t HAVE to take it, especially if it didn’t help.

Had Mean Anne put herself in my shoes for just a minute she wouldn’t have acted the way she did. But honestly, I’m glad she didn’t. I got my first glimpse (although I didn’t realize it then) into what having a little empathy can do for a situation. Had she thought for a few seconds how this bald, skinny, pale kid was feeling, she might have thought twice about screaming at her to take the medicine that wasn’t even important.

Mean Anne taught me a valuable lesson that day in the pediatric oncology unit — A little empathy goes a long way.

Over the years, I have made a concerted effort to empathize with my clients who have obstacles in the way of their fitness goals or came from a long time of abusing their bodies. Whether it’s an elderly person with bad knees, a stressed out single Mom, or an overweight client, I’ve tried my best to put myself in their shoes, see what it’s like to live a day in their lives. I try and take a look into their past to see what has happened and how it’s made them feel. I can’t say it’s always easy. It takes a lot of work to understand how people are feeling and why they are behaving a certain way, but almost always, it results in a solution to their roadblock, a path around whatever was in their way.

Empathy is really the only way you or a trainer can uncover the true reasons you are acting the way you are.

Losing weight, improving your fitness level, increasing strength, and improving your flexibility are goals that we can all achieve if we want them. But after honesty, empathy is the next skill needed on your path to success. If you can’t look at your own situation and have a little empathy and understanding of HOW you got in the situation you are in, you will continually take two steps forward but end up three steps back.

Stop feeling guilty and angry with yourself that you are 50 pounds overweight. Take the time you normally spend feeling bad and think about WHY you got there. Have some understanding that you are human and people make mistakes.

Be nice to yourself. Be understanding. Be empathetic.

You’d do it for someone else — Why not do it for you?

I’m not saying that you should do nothing about your weight or lack of strength or fatigue, what I’m saying is that you need to be honest, drop the anger, understand the why, and start an action plan. Empathy allows you to start figuring out where you went wrong and what you need to do to not let it happen again.

Let the lesson I learned from Mean Anne make you a little kinder to yourself so you can start on the next step: Developing an action plan.

If you need help developing YOUR action plan, check out the programs I offer!