Why am I up at 5am three times a week to go to the gym? Why do I stop myself from ordering take out when it would be the easiest thing to do? Why do I automate a chunk of my paycheque to go into savings every month? Why have I disabled almost all social media and cut my screen time by around 50%
On the surface it would seem like these are all very easy questions to answer, but in truth a quick sentence would be no more than a superficial answer regurgitated from every other article I read about motivations. I was recently encouraged to take a deep dive into my answers, because if I don’t actually know why I do all these things, will I continue to do them? And if I continue to do them without knowing why, will I enjoy the process?
The Gym and Food Choices
October 22, 2019. That was the exact date when I started to figure shit out. I had been exercising for years, mainly walks and running on the treadmill, and never felt satisfied with it. As a child I had been, for lack of a better word, sturdy. I was by no means thin, and by no means fat, but I was bigger than a lot of other children in my class. I could also outrun them, out strength them, and out dodgeball them, so no one was particularly worried about my health.
But of course the teenage years strike, and along with them crippling self-image issues. Not a day went by that I didn’t look in the mirror and hate what I saw, finding flaws in every single area of my body. Never mind that it could still outperform a lot of my school mates in gym class- my body was my arch-nemesis, a villain to be conquered. That being said, I never actually changed anything, apart from one memorable few weeks where I pledged to do 1000 crunches every day (good old magazine articles strike again). My weight instead increased steadily, settling into a spare tire underneath my bellybutton that I could hide from with high-waisted pants.
In my 20s I was truly lost. I walked a lot, ran a lot, and ate and drank A LOT. After meeting my husband in Scotland we embarked on a multi-year binge fest of junk food and binge drinking. Neither of us was particularly happy with our appearances, but boy did we love Tuesdays when pizzas were two-for-one. At this point I was hovering around 195 pounds, and in some ways I had a bit of a mental block: if I stayed under 200 I was fine. No problems. We moved back to Canada in 2017, and I still remember my Dad’s face when he came to get us from the airport; happy to see us, and a bit startled at our appearance. My sturdiness had changed over the decade into puffiness, and I knew it without wanting to accept responsibility.
About two years ago I stepped on the scale and it read 202. Now, I know that I shouldn’t only rely on scales, and that there are other factors to consider, but this one hurt me very deeply. I spiralled down into a funk that lasted several days. For years I had been reading articles about health and I always thought I needed a little bit more information before I made a drastic change. I realized then that I had only been putting it off, and making it harder to love myself and treat my body with the respect it deserves.
In the summer of 2019 I started lifting weights. To say it was transformative would not be an exaggeration. I felt better, and walked a little taller. But there were still issues. Then, October 22, 2019, I woke up, and decided to take a harder look at what I ate. From October to January I ate only whole foods that I prepared myself. The weight dropped off of my body so fast it was unbelievable. Now I am around 170, and continuing to weight train and eat right (most of the time).
So why do I do it? Because my life depends on it, physically and mentally. Because it makes me happy and proud of myself. Because every time I do something better I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Because I am telling my teenage self that it’s okay to not follow what the magazines say. Because I am taking responsibility for my health for the rest of my life – and damn it, I want to be a strong, badass granny who can still be seen in the gym in her eighties.
Confession time: for a very long time I did not automate my savings at all. And I mean this is up until very recently, as in about two months ago. The reason is that I did not want to incur bank fees – my chequing account would only allow for eight transactions per month, otherwise I would be charged a fee. (How stupid is that?! Thankfully, I have given that bank a hearty middle finger and have found one that it much more suitable.) So instead of automating my savings I would look at what I had at the end of the month and move some over in bulk. That certainly did allow me to save a chunk of my money, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as automatic deposits.
The automatic deposits have been set on a weekly basis for my RRSP, TFSA and general savings. My goal this year is to max out my TFSA first, then my RRSP (I have a pension, so my contribution room is very small) and then build up savings for emergencies, travel, etc. The power of automation comes from no longer having to rely on my willpower to move big chunks of money. In my head I would always justify keeping a little bit more in my chequing so that I could spend a little bit more on my credit card. Now I am forced to keep my spending fairly low because otherwise I would not be able to pay the credit card bill. It’s a little bit of trickery that is helping me save a lot more of my hard-earned moolah.
So why do I automate my savings? Because I want to be comfortable with my financial situation. Because I love knowing that things could go wrong and I would be fine for several months (building on longer). Because I don’t want to be teaching when I am in my sixties. Because I want to build a life for my husband and any future kids that doesn’t revolve around making money. Because I want to be FI by 45 so that we can make some different decisions. Because I now have peace of mind knowing that my money is working for me at all times.
Social Media – or, I Don’t Give a Shit What You Had For Dinner
MSN was addictive to me. I could have spent hours on my family’s computer, waiting for my crush to sign in so that I could sign out and sign in again, letting him know I was there. The number of arguments I had with my mother about it was astounding. In my first year of university Facebook came out (at the time only available to those with a university e-mail address) and boy, did I embrace it! I was obsessed with collecting as many “friends” as I could, and had little internal competitions with my true friends, hoping I would have the most online connections. Thank goodness I stopped it after that. Twitter didn’t really appeal, I had Instagram but hated the ads that I saw, and until my students told me about it I thought TikTok was a YouTube video.
Social media began to give me shudders when I noticed that really young kids were getting involved in it. I understand how fun it is to get all the likes from people, and how important it makes you feel. But I also know how deep that rejection can go if you don’t get all the validation you want, or if one person in particular doesn’t “like” it. Teenage girls in particular are very susceptible to this, and I know that if I had grown up in this age my self-esteem would have been even lower than it was.
But I can’t control what others do, only what I do. So now I give myself permission to check some social media while I’m watching a TV show, and that’s it. My TV viewing has plummeted as well, meaning that my screen time has dropped significantly. Scrolling through while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, I realize that most of what I’m seeing is ads, and the rest is pretty inauthentic representations of people I’ve had no real connection with in years. So what’s the point? I don’t care about what you had for dinner, I don’t care about another selfie, I don’t care about the thousandth baby photo of kids I don’t know.
So why did I disable most of my social media and hobble my screen time? Because it doesn’t add anything to my life. Because sometimes it makes me feel bad about myself (mainly because I’ve wasted so much time looking at it). Because I don’t think it makes me a better, more enjoyable person to be around. Because I want to cultivate the real friendships that I do have, not the superficial ones online. Because I have rediscovered my love of books, and I’d much rather use my time with those. Because I’m beginning to value my time more.
Monster article, but very fun to write. What are your why’s?