The Slow and Steady Pace of Progress

The July Project: Day 29

Bouquet of roses

About a year ago, a business development client and good friend said to me, “I love my job, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, my whole life is perfectly on track except for this one thing: I’m fat, and it makes me miserable.’

My answer was, “Well, I guess we know what to work on next.’

She picked a bad time to get me fired up about a new project—the second week of August. She’s not a big fan of Houston summer heat. But she somehow pushed through her reluctance and let me drag her out to Memorial Park for her first walk in recent memory on Monday, August 17, 2009. She was miserable—hot, tired, flushed, and running with sweat—and she made sure I knew it. About two-thirds of the way around, she asked if we could stop to rest. We parked ourselves on a bench for a few minutes.

It became a weekly routine. I never pushed her to establish a specific day or time, and in return, she usually spared me the excuses when I knew she had an evening free and I’d call to ask, “Up for a walk?’ She made it through the brutal August and September heat to the payoff of a long, lovely fall. We started working in an extra day every once in a while. She scaled back the whining. I don’t think she was significantly less miserable, but she’d come to realize that the complaining wouldn’t do any good with me as her trainer.

When I started walking two laps around the park in the atypical cold last December, we modified our routine. I’d walk the first lap, then she’d meet me at the stretching area and join in on the second one. I tried always to acknowledge the effort it took her to get out there after nightfall in the cold and damp. By the time we’d extended her at-least-once-a-week streak into the spring of 2010, she’d quit needing a rest stop.

Now she’s coming up on the anniversary of the program. She reported to me tonight that although she hasn’t lost any substantial amount of weight, for the first time in a decade, she’s no heavier than she was a year ago. And there are more signs of progress: we’re making the laps in less time, she’s not experiencing as much next-day soreness as she did at the start, and she made it all the way through last winter without ever getting seriously ill. She’d been laid up for a week or two with bronchitis or bad chest colds at least once each of the previous three winters.

I’m very proud of her.

Right before we started her on the once-a-week program, I wrote her a long e-mail pep talk. I tracked down that message tonight to check whether my advice turned out to be any good. Here’s part of that message (emphasis added):

Don’t be discouraged by the slow pace of progress. The goals you’re going to be setting are for a lifetime, but it’s a healthier, more fulfilling, more satisfying, more pain-free, more energetic lifetime, and it will be worth the work…. [W]e didn’t get ourselves overweight in a year of bad habits, so we’re not going to fix the problem with a year of good habits. But making a few incremental changes in our lives—more good foods, more good habits, a little more dancing, a little more walking, some other fun activities that you’ll discover later—can change the trajectory and get us where we want to go.

Gayle, if you’re reading, congratulations! I’ll see you at the park one day soon.

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