I sat on my front porch to soak in the sun when a mom jogged past on the sidewalk. She looked radiant pushing her stroller, with her perfect messy bun, cute ball cap, neatly-fitted exercise clothes, and a lean, athletic body. Immediately, my stomach clenched and my insides crawled as comparison jammed my brain.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but after a minute of trying — and failing — to think positively about her, I realized I had allowed envy to become my friend. My sense of lack had brought me to a point where her successes mirrored my failures, and all I felt was disgust. At the time, I was in the thick of dealing with long-term effects from a respiratory infection that wrecked me. Everything was harder. I felt like I was shoved into a deep, dark pit, and the effort required to climb out was too daunting.
Of course, looking back now, I know those feelings weren’t about her at all; they were entirely about me. Brené Brown explains in Atlas of the Heart, “Envy occurs when we want something another person has,” and she had everything I wanted: health, happiness, time with her kid, and the simple ability to do. Frustrated that I couldn’t think of a single positive thought toward her, I knew things needed to change; I needed to experience life fully again.
With determination to move past that feeling, I started forward, ever so slowly, and with every little win, my goals expanded. Today, with the help of specialists, the right medications, and consistent effort, I can happily say I’ve lost 32 pounds, lowered my blood sugar levels, increased my confidence, and gained muscle to become the strongest I’ve ever felt, even with regular setbacks from having vestibular migraines and two heart conditions triggered by exercise.
My hope is, if you have a desire to be healthy again in whatever way that word speaks to you, these tidbits of wisdom from my own journey can help:
Set short-term goals while striving for the long term.
When I started on my health journey a couple years ago, my first goal, and really the only goal I could even envision myself doing at the time, was to walk around the block. It then progressed to walking around the nature park, then finishing a dance workout, then lifting 5-, 10- and 15-pound weights. I hung this quote from Confucius— “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop,” — and I read it often when discouragement crept in.
About a month ago, my husband and I took a trip to Maui without the kids and hiked the Waihe’e Ridge Trail, which has some of the most stunning views on the island. As we walked through Hawaiian forest and ascended onto the ridge, we were overwhelmed by its beauty. It was a challenging 4-mile, out-and-back trail with steep inclines and drop offs, and it was a dream come true. My goal was always long-term. I wanted to experience life fully again. As I climbed that mountain, I knew my health and happiness wouldn’t stop after a day, a week, a year, or even ten years. I could accomplish short-term, daily, consistent, not-so-grandiose goals, so I could have moments like these for all of life.
Remove the guilt with the bare minimum rule.
As a perfectionist with chronic illnesses, the pressure and stress from pushing myself to the limits often lands me in bed dizzy and unable to function. So instead, I consistently do the bare minimum every day. I follow what James Clear says to do in Atomic Habits: “Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.” For example, I lay out my exercise clothes at night, and the next morning, the bare minimum I require of myself is to put them on. Especially when life spins out of control, this method takes away the guilt. Instead of beating myself up about not completing a 30-minute workout, I congratulate myself for simply doing what I can, every day.
For the last couple months, my husband and I have ended each night with back scratches, per my husband’s request. One night, I asked him why, out of everything he could’ve asked for, he asked for a simple back scratch. He said, “It’s your bare minimum. I know it’s something you can do every night.” I loved that, and every night, whether my feet ache from walking at work or I have boundless amounts of energy, I know I can at least scratch his back. The consistent, daily time together has strengthened our marriage.
Envision your future self. Believe you can change.
In October 2020, my dietician encouraged me to write down my health goals unrelated to weight. Essentially, she wanted to know what I envisioned when I thought of my healthiest self, so I wrote: “I walk and run with ease. I find joy in exercising and eating right. I have energy to keep up with my kids. My positive outlook also benefits my family. I can wear jeans comfortably. I enjoy looking in the mirror. Snacking has become easy when I choose healthy, mindful eating. My beliefs better align with my actual choices. I feel more like my age and refuse to let chronic illness poorly shape my choices. I choose joy each day. My daughters see me as an example of who they should/want to be.” I hung that paper on my fridge, and when my mind turned to weight as the sole marker of success, I reminded myself that my goal encompassed so much more.
A couple months ago, I walked home from the nature park with my neighbor boys, ages five and eight, when we saw their P.E. teacher jogging in the distance. After a moment, the eight-year-old unexpectedly said, “YOU should be our P.E. teacher!” Amusedly confused, I laughed loudly and asked, “Why me?!” He responded, “Because I see you work out every day! You even lift weights!”
That moment was pivotal for me. It took hearing it from the mouth of a child, but after two years of consistent belief put into action, I had changed. I was no longer the envious woman on the porch, unable to feel an inkling of positivity toward another mom. Instead, even with the ups and downs of chronic illnesses, I had become the one on the sidewalk—happy, healthy, capable, and strong.