September 15, 2009

The Cranky Fitness Guide to Shakespeare

Um... isn't this a blog about health and fitness and whining? Shakespeare isn't covered under any of those, unless you're a student with a paper due. So what gives?

Actually, this post is Crabby's fault. It started off as a post about getting back on the exercise wagon and try try trying again, and somehow morphed into a post about Shakespeare. Clearly, Crabby is to blame.

I mean, she said to me, "Merry, write whatever you want -- no matter how weird."

Now, how could I pass up an offer like that? Could you?

The Cranky Fitness Guide to Shakespeare, or Getting going again when you're stuck on a plateau

Hey, anything you try rarely comes out perfect the first time. Look at Shakespeare. According to scholars,* his Romeo and Juliet was originally written as a baseball drama:

Romeo: But soft! Whose ball through yonder window breaks?
Juliet: It is that beast, little Timmy's the one!
Romeo: Kid, what part of 'soft' don't you understand? [Exit, pursued by Yogi Berra]

Then the story morphed into something that students had to be forced to watch.

See, if Shakespeare could start with something like that and end up with a story so well known that it's been turned into a movie with Leonardo di Caprio and a hip, cool soundtrack, and even into manga, then there's hope for you even if you seem totally stuck in something that's not working.

The trouble with the slogan 'try, try, try again' is that it sounds like you're supposed to keep doing the same damn thing over and over again until it finally works. To quote my six-year-old niece, "I don't think so."

Think and Grow Fit

Napoleon Hill wrote a best-selling book called Think and Grow Rich. Haven't read it? I'll summarize the book for you:

1. Make a plan to get rich.
2. Try the plan out.
3. See if the plan is working.
4. If the plan is not working, figure out what you're doing wrong.
5. Revise the plan to correct the mistake.
6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until you're rolling in dough.

See? Saved you a whole lot of reading right there.

Oh all right, there was a bit more.

[Warning: Crabby, don't read this part. There's some Positive Thinking ahead.]

He wanted you to visualize yourself achieving your goal, and -- this is the clincher -- to concentrate on feeling, infusing the visualization with an emotional tone. According to Hill, the brain isn't activated by rote memorization, but by deeply felt images. You're not going to achieve unless you believe to the point that you feel the belief.

[Crabby, it's okay, you can read the rest.]

Whether Hill was right about the emotional aspect or not, the rest of his steps are so obvious that it's amazing someone put them into a book and made tons of money with them. Yes, if you're on a plateau, maybe something's not working. Analyze what you're doing and figure out if you need to change your routine or need to give your body time to work through an issue (e.g. building muscle rather than shedding pounds).

If you're stuck on a plateau, I don't think it would hurt to try visualizing and adding emotion to the image. It's what athletes do all the time. Seems to me that people who are stuck on a long-term plateau stop when they reach step #4.

They tried something, it didn't work, they stopped trying.

And lo, when you stop trying, you start gaining.

I figure if you're stuck on a plateau and nothing seems to be working, you might as well try something different. Like searching through the works of Shakespeare for inspiration or infusing your mantras with emotion.

Do you have any good tips for getting motivated and getting going again? How do you get off a plateau -- or do you? Maybe I should stop reading so much Shakespeare and start practicing patience instead. Naaaah...

*All right, one scholar. Merry's Disreputable Guide to Shakespeare, Cranky Fitness Press 2009, p. 47

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  1. Oh Merry, this was grand! If we're talkin' Shakespeare and plateaus, we might as well remember what Polonious says in Hamlet, "To thine own self be true." Just cause it worked for someone else, doesn't mean it will work for you, etc., and the alternate is true as well. You gotta figure out what works for YOU. ...and...if all of life is a stage, then be the actress who is capable of playing many roles. Flexibility is key in health too! (Ok, Merry, I could really go on with this forever being an English major and all, but i will cut this crap now seeing as it's 12:30 a.m. and I gotta get up at 5. Please link me to some post about sleep being fundamental to weight loss and i'll certainly shut up next time...)

  2. Romeo, Romeo... where is thy catcher's mitt?

    Fun post!

  3. Very fun post! And oh so true about hitting that funk too.

    Your post brought me right back to my days at university studying Shakespeare.

  4. I mean, you've never looked around the gym and thought, "Hell is empty and all its devils are here"?

  5. English Lit major here :)

    although I only recall TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE from the piece of cinematic wonderment which was Renaissance Man staring Danny Devito (MizTer Rhea Perlman to me :)).

    youre so freakin creative and yes TO LIFT OR NOT TO LIFT----THERE IS NO QUESTION.

  6. Another English lit major who sees a connection.

    After all, Hamlet is Shakespeare's proof that if you pretend to be something long enough, you become what you are playing at being. (I aced several term papers with that theory, Hamlet plays insane until he actually makes himself insane.) If you visualize and behave yourself as an exerciser/healthy eater/fill in the goal here long enough, you will get there.

  7. Oh my goodness, what's going on at this blog??!?

    Helpful metaphors, erudite discussions about literature, inspirational visualizations?

    And not one LOLcat or grumpy tirade in sight!

    Merry, you're not trying to turn this into a blog people would want actually to read, are you?

    I think one of the hardest things about trying to do things differently is dropping strategies that were SUPPOSED to help. With it comes the fear that by ignoring previous rules in favor of new ones, it could end up being a backwards step. I always have to remember that there's nothing wrong with experimenting, because you can always resume the old ways if the new ways don't help.

    Good luck getting back on your wagon!

  8. I'm not saying the visualize/pretend until it actually becomes real bit won't work... but isn't the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome? :)

    clearly not an english major here.. just a photo major!

  9. I think that part of the problem is that if we get a bunch of results doing x, and then hit a plateau for a while, we're initially not sure if we just need to do x harder or whatever, then we're scared that if we exchange x for y, all the progress we made doing X will be lost.

  10. When I manage to make it off my plateau I'll let you know what did it...until then I just keep plugging away and whining the whole time.

  11. Sometimes to keep me motivated I mix up my workout routine. Boredom is my biggest workout killer. If I'm bored I'm going to plateau in achieving my fitness goals...

  12. Ah, the nuances of language!

    I believe a plastic surgeon would have the same answer to whether to lift or not to lift :-)

  13. GREAT POST! For mw, it is constant re-evaluation. I keep my workouts changing so that is good in and of itself. Change is good for the bod. But, we do hit plateaus & we do have hormones & age that effect the bod & make the need for change more important.

    I stop, evaluate my workout AND FOOD & makes changes in one or both. As I have aged, changing the food program has been crucial but also the need to challenge myself even more in my workouts has helped too.

    Step back, look at the whole pic & see what you can do both food & exercise wise. Make changes one at a time so you can see & know what is actually working for you. If you do too much at once, you will not know which changes helped you or which worked best for you.

  14. Out, out, damn spot (I named my t-mill Spot)! Oh yes, the plateau - am still sort of there but might actually breaking out of it once I embraced that well-worn definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Only your words were much more interesting and inspiring (even if the positive vibes give Crabby the yips).

  15. For me the challenge is: "to sleep perchance to dream...Aye there's the rub".

    Sleep is mine enemy. I only have time to workout in the mornings...and in the fall when the sun rises later it's really hard to get up and workout...

    I am at the plateau point at the moment...I need to find the "fun" in things again to get me going in the AM.

  16. Ah, Geosomin, gather ye workouts while ye may... no wait, wrong poet.

    I love that there are some many English majors out there! :)

  17. No english major here (masters in engineering actually), but I did once play the Queen in a Hamlet farce called "Is That A Crown on Your Head or Have You Been Eating Imperial Margarine Again".

    I'm bookmarking this post for November. Once the kid arrives I'm going to need all the motivation to get moving I can get...

  18. great post! i was stuck on a plateau for six months before i actually tried to do something about it (duh!) yes it took me that long to figure out that what i was doing wasn't working.

    so i tweaked my workouts and my eating and eventually something stuck.

    a month later people are telling me how drastically different i look. crazy, right? should've done it sooner.

  19. Christie, I'm glad you kept tweaking things until you found something that worked!

    Bdaiss, if the rest of the play lives up to the title, that sounds like it must have been a mighty interesting play. Or very different, at least :)

  20. "Exit pursued by Yogi Berra..."

    I used to perform and teach at a Shakespeare company. IMHO, he understood the human condition more than most other playwrights. Especially the fact that we can be a bit, um, inconsistent. (After all, Hamlet's dad's ghost has to keep showing up to remind Hammie of his job. It takes 4 hours, uncut, for him to kill his uncle!)
    So if we hit a plateau, or we get bored with our workouts, or just plain feel uninspired, we can remind ourselves that it's ok, we're only human, and it could be worse. At least we're not the prince of Denmark, whose uncle killed his father, married his mom, and now has Pop's ghost hangin' around trying to get him to off the uncle!

    es 4 freakin' hours, uncut, for they guy to kill his uncle!)

  21. Merry,

    Awesome post.

    2 things:

    #1: Be nice to yourself. Exercise should not be punishment, and sometimes taking a break is exactly what you need to rekindle your motivation.

    #2: Most inspiring sonnet by the Bard, IMO (sorry, don't remember title/sonnet #), but I always think of this sonnet when I need a lift):

    When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
    I all alone beweep my outcast state
    And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
    And look upon myself and curse my fate.

    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope
    Featured like him, like him with friend's possessed,
    Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
    With what I most enjoy, contented least.

    Yet, in these thoughts, myself almost despising,
    Haply I think on thee, and then my state
    Like to the lark at break of day arising
    From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.

    For thy sweet love remembered, such wealth brings,
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

    I wish I had written that! Thanks for the Shakespeare--it brightened my day!

  22. Thank you, Ruth! Quoting a whole sonnet definitely adds a bit of class to the place :)

    Azusmom, have you seen Branagh's version of Hamlet -- all four uncut hours of it???

  23. I don't think I've ever snorted out loud before while reading a blog, but I definitely did when I read your synopsis of Think and Grow Rich.



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