The Intense Pleasure of Accomplishment

I have never been a person who has a lot of upper body strength.

For most of my life, the various exercises I’ve engaged in focused more on cardio and lower body strength. Spin class. Running (this was when I was much younger. I actually ran a marathon for charity in medical school.). Tae Bo (what a throwback!!).

A year ago, when I decided to take control of my weight and my health once and for all, I did a little research on what type of exercise might be the best for me.

I was looking for something where I’d get great results with little time investment. I also didn’t want to be hurting all the time.

My body just naturally likes to move toward the fetal position and get tight and inflamed. I’ve had patellofemoral syndrome since the 6th grade. I ran my marathon with terrible shin splints and bilateral knee effusions. I developed such bad pelvic instability and sciatic pain with my pregnancies that I was told if I didn’t get that all straightened out and fixed, I’d have lifelong problems with it.

So I knew I needed a program that would help my body function as human bodies are meant to function. I needed to get more flexible in some areas and stronger in most areas. And I knew my 40-year-old body would not tolerate a lot of pounding and abuse.

I read about heavy weight lifting and high intensity interval training. Like so many women, I was convinced that I would become too muscular and look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But I was reassured that wouldn’t happen. And I couldn’t come up with any other exercise program that offered the same benefits for the small time commitment. So I decided to give it a try.

At first, my goals were just to get my body moving the way it’s supposed to. I worked on that for about 6 months. Then I had a reassessment with my trainer and he asked me what my goals were for the coming 6 months.

I hadn’t really thought of any ahead of time, so I randomly tossed out, “I’d like to be able to do 10 real push-ups, on the floor, all in a row.”

This was a pipe dream, as far as I was concerned. When I did my initial assessment at this gym, I could only do 4 push-ups on a bar that was quite elevated. I figured this would take a long time to achieve.

Well, my trainer put together my programs, and I kept showing up (twice a week) and doing what was on the program, whether I wanted to or not.

And then something amazing happened.

I started to notice progress.

The bar where I did the push-ups got lower and lower. Then, about a month ago, my new program called for me to do 3 sets of 8 push-ups, starting with as many as I could do on the floor and finishing up on the bar.

The first week, I eeked out 2 push-ups on the floor, with 6 on the bar. The next week, I could do 4 push-ups on the floor twice, then 3 on the floor on the third set.

Last week, I surprised myself by being able to do 2 sets of 8 on the floor and 6 on the floor for the final set.

This week is the last week of this program and it called for me doing 3 sets of 10 push-ups on the floor. I figured I’d give it my all and see if I was really strong enough yet.

Monday¬†morning, I pounded out 3 sets of 10 push-ups on the floor. I couldn’t believe it! It was hard but it felt awesome.

The feeling of accomplishment is one of the best natural forms of pleasure that humans can experience. It has no downside like unhealthy or too much food does.

And it lasts. For a while!

I’m still on a bit of a high from knowing that I reached that goal. I mean, me, ME, doing 10 push-ups in a row. And then 3 times?!? I still can barely believe it.

Think back to when you got your first acceptance letter to medical school. Wasn’t that sense of accomplishment amazing? I know I had a smile on my face for about a week.

There’s a difference between a natural pleasure like accomplishment and a false pleasure like eating sugar. To accomplish something, you generally need to work hard, go through some discomfort, and mentally push yourself before you get to the pleasure part. But once you get there, it keeps on going. Nobody can take the pleasure away from you.

When we decide to experience a false pleasure like by eating sugar, the initial pleasure comes quickly and intensely, without having to work for it. But that pleasure is very short-lived. Within 20 minutes, the food has been eaten, the sugar-high starts to fade, and then the downside begins. The thoughts about how that probably wasn’t a good idea, how we have no self-control, or how we should have eaten less. These thoughts lead to feelings of defeat, hopelessness, and guilt. And then there’s the possible downside of weight gain.

Other forms of natural pleasure are eating fuel foods, getting enough rest, connecting with others, exercising, cleanliness (think how good a shower feels!), sex, and adventure.

Other forms of false pleasure are eating flour/processed foods, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, over-spending, gambling, watching pornography, and playing video games.

The false pleasures are concentrated forms of the natural pleasures but all have a downside if experienced too often. And how much is too much varies from person to person.

I want to challenge you to think about where you are choosing false pleasure in your life.

I also want to challenge you to set some goals for yourself and start the work toward accomplishing them.

It will feel so good when you do!

P.S. My new goal is 1 real chin-up and 1 real pull-up. I’ll let you know when I get there.

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