Martha Beck is one of my favorite writers, and I frequently appropriate her ideas. When my tennis partner drops off her copies of O, The Oprah Magazine, I turn to Martha’s articles first.
I especially enjoyed “Martha Beck’s Anti-Complain Campaign,” a timeless piece that appeared in the magazine a few years ago. Beck advises readers that if they want to make constructive changes, they need to refrain from whining and complaining.
Those behaviors, she explains, function like the whistle vent on a teakettle: As long as we can vent, we have no real need to change the situation. Complaining allows us to maintain the status quo. If we stop complaining, then we will build up frustration and eventually have to address whatever is bugging us.
After reading her article, I decided to undertake a three-day “no-complaining” regimen. Three hours after I made the commitment, I found myself complaining to my husband. And I didn’t do much better over the next three days.
But I also started thinking about how often people ask me for advice on how to lose weight. I’ve learned from experience that a simple response — eat healthfully and exercise regularly — is profoundly disappointing because most people already know that. What they really want are answers to: How do I start? And how do I keep myself on track?
To answer these questions, I prescribe a Martha Beck “no-excuse” regimen. Pick a date to begin, and then go cold turkey. Simply stop telling yourself that you are too old, too out of shape, too short of time, or too anything else to get fit. Repeated often enough, these excuses that we tell ourselves seem to become true when, in fact, they are merely props that hold the current status in place.
Remove the props and the truth starts to emerge. Perhaps you don’t exercise because you don’t like the options you’ve tried. Maybe they were too grim or too hard on your body. Armed with that insight, you will be free to explore new ways to exercise.
Maybe you’ll admit that you overeat in the evening because you have a teenager who is making you tear your hair out. Or maybe you fill your stomach with a bowl of ice cream in front of the television at night because you are bored and lonely.
All kinds of pesky thoughts might surface, and you may uncover issues in your life that need your attention. But I can assure you that you will launch a self-discovery program that can lead to some constructive changes.
I admit that committing to a “no-excuse” fitness policy is daunting. If that seems like too much to tackle, ask a friend to join you for a three-week, no-excuses no-complaints program. Let me know how the two of you do.
Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.