The Perfect Day

My family and I recently visited some of our extended family in the western suburbs of Chicago.  My wife and I took our three children downtown Chicago as a surprise.  Jumping forward to the end of the day, as we were returning to our hotel, I was thinking about our day and the uncanny resemblance it shared with my fitness journey.  If you have your own fitness journey, I bet you can empathize.  If you’ve not yet begun yours (perhaps waiting for the new year, hmm?) I hope this serves as some preparation for what you can expect.

Here’s the long and the short of what my wife and I planned for our day in the city.  We would drive to the Metra (train) station a few short miles from our hotel and catch the train into the city.  We would get off at the Western Avenue stop, walk two blocks to the Pink Line (the elevated train, or “L”), and ride it to our next stop, Millennium Park.

Millennium Park was our destination because we wanted to expose our children to some art and take them ice skating at the outdoor rink.  After the park, we were going to go to Giordano’s for Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza followed by a walk down State Street to look in the windows at Macy’s.  After that, we were going to take in the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza.  We would then return to the Western Avenue Metra station via the “L”.  We would ride the train back “home”, most likely sleeping during the trip (something my wife and I would do when we lived there), thus concluding a perfect day.

Okay, now here’s what really happened.

We arrived at the train station where my five-year-old son preceded to through a fit.  Something about being hungry, bored, and tired.

The excitement of riding the train quickly wore off as both my aforementioned son and daughter began their sibling rivalry.  When we arrived at our destination, Western Avenue, I barely felt comfortable walking the two blocks with my family . . . in daylight.  (Please don’t take offense, Western Avenue, but you need a bath.)

We boarded the “L” where my son preceded to vocalize what I was thinking—how bad the car smelled.  Every stop he asked if we were there yet.  (I know, I know, now I’m just looking for things to complain about.  I mean, what kid doesn’t ask that, right?)

We arrived at our stop and went for lunch.  Here’s the conversation I had with my son:

Son: “Are we going to go back to the hotel after lunch?” 

Me: “No.  Why do you wanna go back to the hotel?”  (Here is what I was thinking, though.  “Yes, son, we traveled by car, train, and “L” to eat at an over-crowded, over-priced Panera Bread on Michigan Avenue only to return immediately to the hotel.  No, we’re not going back to the hotel after lunch!”)  

Son: “I wanna watch [TV].”

Me: “Sorry, but we’re going to the park to skate.” (. . . and you’re gonna like it!)

After lunch, we went to the park, took a few photos, looked at some art, and petted a police horse.  His name was Francis.  We then proceeded to the ice rink.

The wait for ice skating was quite long.  The time from when we got in line to the time skates touched ice was about two hours.  My wife and daughter were the only two to skate.  Understandably, my youngest did not.  He’s ten months old.  And remaining true to the day’s behavior, my eldest son didn’t want to.

After skating, which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed (yeah!), we went for pizza.  Admittedly, I was a little bummed my kids didn’t even wanna try the deep-dish, opting instead for thin crust.  No biggie, though.

My wife and I decided it would be best to head back to the “L”, skipping Macy’s and Daley Plaza.  Macy’s wasn’t too far from the train, so we decided to quickly walk by the windows on our way.

Because we skipped out on ChristKindlmarket, we arrived at the “L” early, which would put us at the Western Avenue Metra station an hour early.  I didn’t feel comfortable on Western Avenue in the daylight, so we pulled an audible.

We decided to walk from the Pink Line to Union Station, which was a long walk we had hoped to avoid when first planning our trip.  We had time, though, and I felt a lot safer with this option.

Meanwhile, because we were on our way back to the hotel, my eldest son’s spirits began to be lifted.  He was under the mistaken impression that he would soon be watching his beloved TV.  We quickly learned that lifted spirits equate to running into traffic, which rightfully led to admonishment and, subsequently, hurt feelings.

After walking a few blocks, and not recognizing street names, I decided to check my map.  I had us walking in the opposite direction of our destination.  We turned around and headed toward the proper cross street . . . which I again went the wrong direction on.

At this point, we’re tired and frustrated.  We just want the day to be over.  The day just hasn’t gone nearly as well as we had planned.  But eventually, we made it to Union Station, caught our train, and returned to our hotel, having created what felt like anything but a perfect day.

The Perfect Plan

I think the timeliness of this post is pretty “perfect”.  Health and fitness goals continue to top the list of New Year’s resolutions.  Millions of people will begin or begin again their quest for improved health, body composition, and performance.  Everyone’s destination and their journey will be unique to them.  No matter what that is, though, each will have a plan—the perfect plan.

Your plan may look something like this:

(Disclaimer: If you know me, you know I like working on one, clearly-defined habit at a time.  But not everyone is so fortunate as to be reading this, so they’ll try to do many, often ambiguous, things all at once.  Please pass this on to someone you care about.)

You first establish your goal to lose x-number of pounds.  You then create a list of the behaviors that will help you lose weight.  (You’re already ahead of most by focusing on behaviors.  Kudos to you!)

  1. Refrain from simple sugar
  2. Sleep 7 hours every night
  3. Eat small, frequent meals
  4. Eat more vegetables
  5. Exercise every day for one hour

You then find the best online weight-loss calculator you can find and calculate that you’ll lose x-number of pounds in a certain number of weeks.

You now have everything you need.  You’ve got a specific, measurable goal.  You’ve got a realistic timeline to accomplish said goal.  You’ve got the behaviors outlined that will get you to your goal.  With your perfect plan in hand you’re excited, amped, stoked, jazzed, geeked, juiced, or whatever word you’d like to use to express your excitement, to begin.

So, begin you do, and you kick butt the first week.  You’re sleeping like a log, eating like a rabbit, and exercising like a horse.  You are killing it!  Then something happens—life.

Work, kids, finances, wife, home, you, all begin to interfere with your perfectly designed plan.  But you know what?  That’s reality. 

The problem is, we don’t think our health and fitness goals fit into reality.  We live in this dream world where everything works according to our schedule and plans—a dream world where we make every workout, ice cream no longer tastes good to us, thus removing any temptation, and progress toward our goal is perfectly linear.  And because we try to live in this dream world, when things go awry, we bale on our plans because they are no longer perfect.

Good news, though.  Things don’t have to be perfect.  Our plan doesn’t have to be, nor should be, perfect.  Perfection leads to all-or-nothing thinking.  Something we’ve all fallen prey to. 

“Dang, I had a Ding Dong.  Well, I might as well have another one.”  (Remember: Two dongs don’t make a right.)

“I don’t have time to get to the gym and work out for an hour, so I’ll skip today and just do it tomorrow when I have more time.”  (Which you won’t.)

“I blew my diet, again!  I’ll start again on Monday.”  (Even though it’s only Tuesday.)

To get to where you’re trying to go, you don’t need perfection, you need consistency.  The thesaurus lists the word incompleteness as being an antonym of perfection.  I’d argue that they’re quite synonymous, though.  If you want to not complete something, try being perfect.

Progress toward health and fitness goals is never linear.  It looks less like a perfectly straight line and more like your charting the stock market . . . or a rollercoaster.  You’ll have ups, downs, and what feels like all-arounds.

Just like my family’s trip to the city, we had a “perfect” plan.  But what happened?  Life.  And although it ended up not being perfect, we stuck with the plan.  We made some wrong turns, we called an audible our two, feelings were hurt, but we did it.  We saw Millennium Park, we ice skated, and we ate pizza.  And ultimately, we made memories—memories that at that time seemed less than perfect.  But just a week removed from our trip our kids spoke about our adventure with fondness.

Likewise, along your journey to improved health, body composition, and performance, you’ll make wrong turns.  But stay the course.  Regardless of how imperfect your journey, you can get to your destination.  And when you do, no matter how difficult it may have been in the moment, you will look back on it with fondness.