I have been thinking a lot about grit. I don’t mean that fabled southern (American) food that looks a bit like porridge; I mean the personality trait where you are willing to put interest and effort into something in order to achieve a long term goal. My husband (who is an absolute brainiac) is working on some research using Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale and when I watched her talking about Grit, I was intrigued. In truth because when I really look at my own personality, for much of my life I have not been a very ‘gritty’ person. I passed my driving test first time and have never driven, not even once, since. I qualified as a teacher and never taught. I wrote a book and it is hidden away where nobody can read it. I am a non completer. That is definitely something I’m working on and is what Crossfit is all about. You don’t get instant results; it is a long, slow, challenging process to get where you want to be. There is no magic secret to success, just many, many hours of hard work and perseverance. One of the most important guidelines in Crossfit is to train your weakness. That means not just going to the box and taking the easy option (whatever that may be for you) but specifically working on what you find the most difficult. That is true grit: deliberate practice of something that is difficult and challenging in order to improve. In my case there is a long list, the first item on which is pull ups!
When I was a kid I was absolutely convinced that I was rubbish at all sport. I’m very short, I have big boobs (as discussed here) and for a large majority of my life I have been overweight. So that was it. Sport wasn’t for me. End of story. But guess what was for me? Smoking, eating, drinking, partying! I had found something I was good at! For nearly 15 years I treated my body with absolutely no respect and wondered why I had no body confidence or self esteem.
At several points I reached what I thought was rock bottom and signed up to a weekly diet club (you know the ones). I bought into the multi million pound, evil, manipulative diet industry and paid my weekly subscription to weigh in, quite often forking out substantial amounts of extra cash to buy their own brand diet bars. I distinctly remember one such diet club where the consultant (alarm bells should have rung; as well intentioned as she was, she was almost as tubby as me) told us all that exercise, or ‘body magic’ as they called it, was optional and not necessary for weight loss on the programme. Unsurprisingly I did not show grit and determination, I failed. Time after time I lost weight only to put it all back on again. Weeks or months of deprivation were followed by equally long periods of absolute bingeing and if I had a pound for every time I told myself ‘I will start again on Monday’ I would be a very rich lady.
It wasn’t just the diet clubs that took the money I willingly, gratefully offered them. There were also the gym memberships. Full of good intentions I would trot down to the local globo gym and gleefully sign up an 18 month contract because that would inspire me to go regularly, wouldn’t it? Studying the class timetable I would feel a mixture of fear and intrigue at all they had to offer but the few times I forced myself to go I would spend the entire time lost and confused, not knowing the moves and feeling out of place amongst the gym bunnies with their tiny little butts who obviously all knew each other. So back I would trudge to the exercise bike or the treadmill where I would plod on, whilst scanning the pages of Heat magazine. Soon my good intentions would once again fall by the wayside and I was paying considerable sums of money for a gym that I never went to. I think my record was a whole year of monthly payments where I didn’t go once. Not smart, but I wasn’t alone.
When I saw this photo I could have cried. This was when I was at my heaviest – 12st 4 pounds (79 kilos)
I am happy to take my part of the responsibility for this wasted opportunity but I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what weights I should be using or how to work the machines. I had thousands of pounds worth of equipment available to me and no idea how to use it. And as for the free weights, there was absolutely no way I was going to enter the testosterone filled man zone where pumped up guys bicep curled whilst gazing adoringly at their own reflection in the mirror. I was scared and I couldn’t do it alone.
The first big, real, change was in 2009 when I moved to Ecuador for a year with my husband. We started watching The Biggest Loser and I joined a gym. This time it was different. Instead of just aimlessly plodding I went every day and did Jillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred there at the gym (I had written down all of the movements). The faces of those Ecuadorians as they saw this chubby little white girl doing star jumps and butt kicks was priceless, but it worked! It wasn’t just the exercise, it was my diet too. My husband and I became vegan, which didn’t last long to be honest, but it was the first time I began to really consider that food should be real and not a concoction of chemicals.
A few months later my husband entered the Quito Marathon and I decided to do the half marathon. We did it, we were slow and it hurt, but we did it! For the first time in my life I had shown grit and determination and had successfully trained for and completed something using my body. I wish I could say to you that I lived happily ever after but I didn’t. When we came back to England life got in the way and despite good intentions I lost sight of my long term goal, replacing it with short term pleasures. But this time there was one difference: I now knew what it felt like to be fit. I understood what my body wanted and needed. I had shown grit and determination. I was capable of succeeding. It may have taken me a while to get back on track but now that I have found Crossfit I know that I am not alone. If I don’t know how to do something there are always coaches and other Crossfitters there to help me. If I feel like giving up there are people there to cheer me on. If I stop going my coaches will notice and want to know what’s wrong.
If you are anything like me then the answer to health and fitness doesn’t lie in trudging away on separate treadmills, watching TV or reading a magazine, it isn’t about paying to go to a diet club and bingeing after weigh in. When you find something that is fun, exciting and challenging having grit, determination and perseverance is not so hard after all.