Get stronger, not thinner

By | December 5, 2017

In my book, I have little “Action Plans” you can do if you want concrete steps on how to retire. The first Action Plan is to picture what you want your life post-retirement to look like. You have to understand why you want this because it has to matter to you on a deeper level. You’ll be turning to this reason a lot, so it has to be a good one.

When I was working, I constantly imagined what I would do when my days were my own. I wanted to wander, own my sleep schedule, take long walks, read every book that sounded interesting and craft words on my computer. I wanted the freedom more than the paycheck.

Sorry, I know I keep telling you this.

Found in the Berkeley botanical gardens

I’m repeating this because I think understanding your why is the first step in accomplishing most things in life. You have to actually want it. You have to want it more than the status quo.

Understand your why

What’s the story you tell yourself? The overarching theme? What kind of person do you want to be?

Currently, I’m working on Life Bucket List items #18 and #19 – maintain my body so that it’s healthy enough to see six individual abdominal muscles. I’m reading a lot of fitness transformation stories lately and every person seems to have their own why that’s more than superficial. Their why goes to who they fundamentally want to be.

I wanted to be a good influence for my son; to instill in him the ideals of a healthy and active lifestyle.

I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and feel 100 percent comfortable in my own skin.

My family is my motivation. I want them to see Mama as a doer…

Your why has to be strong enough to bat down life’s obstacles. If you can’t think of a reason to keep going, you’ll pitch a blanket on the side of the first roadblock. *Why* do you want to keep going?

My story

The first thirty-five years of my fitness journey involved a lot of meandering in blissful ignorance. I’ve been thin all my life, size zero tiny without much thought. I had no real goals or grand ideas in my head about why I should fitness. The verb. To fitness. Exercising was a chore on the to-do list that I occasionally crossed off when life didn’t get in the way. As a woman in my world, thin didn’t feel like a negative. I had nothing driving me, so I languished.

2009 in Switzerland

Now that I have the time and mental energy, I’ve spent a bunch of brain cells formulating my why for fitness, telling myself a story of what kind of life I want, what kind of person I want to be.

I don’t want to be thin. I’m tired of feeling scrawny, weak and little. I want to feel and to look and to actually be tough. Competent. Healthy. Capable. I want to startle in delight upon seeing my muscles. The Universe gifted me my body and I want to use it and I want to love it. We will be hanging out together for the rest of our lives, so I want our relationship to be a good and happy one.

Let your why guide you

I’m actively learning and using my why for directions. Now I’m understanding how different exercises will influence my body in different ways. Cardio is good for endurance and strengthens your heart. Weight training will shape your muscles and make you strong. Circuit training will train your heart to deal with stress.

If I want to be a strong person, I have to make my body do things a strong person would be able to do. Lifting heavy things. Opening jars. Punching bad guys.


Did you read the book Grit? I told you about it nearly a year ago, but I still think of it often. If you want to be successful at something, go about it in a gritty way.

I want to be gritty in exercise because I want to make it a lifetime habit that I enjoy, so I reread my article and expended more brain cells.

The gritty components of success

1. Find something you like to do.

Know yourself. Learn about yourself. What do you like doing and what can you not stand?

The goal of running a marathon never wormed its way onto my life bucket list. I’m usually attracted to the cliché items, but this one I never wanted to touch. Running is terrible and I hate it. I could never be gritty at running.

But I do like Pilates. I like weight lifting and getting stronger. I like body weight exercises I can do anywhere.

2. Do it every day and 3. Get better at it.

When you find something you like to do, think about your why and do it. Learn about it and actively try to get better at it. Jump into the flow of it. Be mindful when you’re doing it. Battle through the plateaus. It’s about trying to do something just a wee bit better the next day. Make your present self better than yesterday’s self. Just a smidgen better is enough. It builds up over time.

I think about my why when I’m actually working out, getting stronger and pushing myself.

4. Believe what you’re doing matters to other people.

Okay, this is always the part that I struggle with.

But if I can get strong, I pinky-swear promise that you can get strong. I tell you about it because I’m so flabbergasted that this stuff works. I have a long way to go, but it most definitely is working.

All the information is out there, you just have to take the mental space and time to learn about it and figure out what works for you personally and specifically.

And then you succeed by just doing whatever you need to do every day. When you encounter an obstacle or unexpected detour, you brainstorm ways around it instead of succumbing. Do that enough times and it becomes second nature. A good habit!

This frees up more time and mental space to learn about and experience anything else.

19 thoughts on “Get stronger, not thinner

  1. Graham

    Dear Thrifty Gal, please don’t give up on running. Running would never give up on you.

    Sometimes it’s like reading a book – you have to get through the first few pages before it becomes enjoyable. One of life’s joys is the last 10 km of a marathon, passing people who are suffering; and feeling powerful. Or suffering in the last 10 km and knowing you are strong enough to finish.

    If a bear chases you Anita, are pushups going to save you? No, you’re gonna want to run.
    Math and running – I saw them the other week, and they said hi – and they want to hang out with you.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Running and I hung out for about six months a few years ago. I hated every second we spent together and we amicably decided to go our separate ways. It’s better this way.

      The best exercise routine is the one you do.

      1. mmmKrispy

        ha, totally DO give up on running, if you don’t like it, find something else that you like to do instead! Assuming of course, that there is some form or forms of exercise that you find enjoyable. I also hate running. Well, maybe hate is a little strong. I strongly dislike it, and will definitely never run a marathon. That’s pretty close to my definition of hell, AND I’m convinced that it is actually NOT healthy to take it to that extreme anyway. I AM interested in sand volleyball doubles, and being competitive in and in shape for tournaments, and some cardio on a regular basis to supplement my normal volleyball, helps that – so for that reason, I’m willing to incorporate some jogging and/or sprinting into my non-volleyball workouts.

        I used to love rock climbing, and hope I will again some day in the future – it incorporates one of my absolute favorite things to do, which is to see gorgeous natural places, as well as a little adrenaline (hopefully not too much), and really fantastic overall exercise, with plenty of hiking, and also natural weight lifting & resistance training. The best shape I’ve ever been in was when I was rock climbing, and I must admit it made my too skinny arms (and the rest of me too I suppose), quite studly! Or whatever the feminine term for that would be. Sexy & strong!

        1. Graham

          OK mmmKrispy, and I must say I really like your name; I like that you started your comment with “ha”; and that you didn’t dismiss my bear theory like some of the amateur ursinologists who frequent this site. And, I have to confess that I didn’t even know that an ursinologists was a real thing until a minute ago.

          I am prepared to have an open mind, so, the next marathon I run, I am going to wear a knee bandage on one leg and put a handful of sand down my pants, and pat the person next to me on the backside, so I too can experience the sand volleyball vibe.

          Rock climbing though terrifies me, and as an Australian I don’t scare easily. It comes from living in a country invested by dangerous koala bears – which, as T Thrifty Gal can tell you, are like grizzly bears, only smaller; and they can’t run; and they eat leaves.

  2. Accidental Fire

    Find what you love, because when you do that you will undoubtedly keep going back to that activity. That said, it is important to maintain both endurance-based fitness, for the heart, and strength. I personally love Endurance Sports, I’m a big cyclist and runner. That said, I make myself do one day of strength and weight training each week, even though I don’t really enjoy it that much. The hardest part for strength training was finding a way to make it at least bearable for me.

    And all around fit person should have a strong heart and a strong body. It is very difficult, but this is what I strive for every day. Don’t know if I’m there yet….

    1. Erin

      Anita, Thank you for sharing what works for you! I think you wrote down some really useful wisdom without pushing your own preferences which is the very best kind of advice. I’m renewing my effort improve my fitness and strength and plan to revisit some of things you wrote here when I need a boost.

      I disagree with some of the other commenters here. I learned to like running but I don’t think you should feel obligated to do it if you hate it. Humans can’t outrun bears anyway. I think it’s so great you’re taking steps to improve your health! If you find a cardio component you love at some point, great! If not, you’re still better off thanks the efforts you’re already making.

      1. Thriftygal Post author

        Thanks, Erin. I really appreciate this comment. I think because I come across as humble or maybe equivocal, people feel the need to tell me what to do. It’s not a terrible thing – I think they’re trying to be helpful, but it does get tiring after a while.

    2. Thriftygal Post author

      From what I can gather, weight training does work your heart as well. It probably doesn’t do much for endurance, but I’m okay with that for now.

  3. Mike Geers

    A SEAL team member gave me this advice a long time ago….If you took the winner of a marathon and the winner of a 100 yard sprint and put 45 lbs of firefighting gear on them and asked them to go up 40 flights of stairs to save a life – which one would you think wins?

    1. Mike

      Who did the SEAL think it would be? I’m having a hard time with this one. The endurance runner (to make it up all those stairs)? The sprinter? Maybe neither of them can make it up? I will say I don’t know any firefighters that are marathoners so maybe that answers the question 🙂

      1. Thriftygal Post author

        Forty flights of stairs makes me think it’s the marathoner, but I could see sprinter being the answer too. Or neither. Maybe it’s the weightlifter because of the forty-five pounds of gear. This one is messing with my mind.

  4. Amit

    I love yoga. It has done wonderful things to my body and mind. You may like it too.

  5. Salec

    In my experience (and learning from the experience of others), wants are things we talk about. Needs are the things we do. If you want a certain physique, you’ll have to need it for some reason. I, for instance, love to sail. But to lift those halyards, I NEED to build muscles. I enjoy playing tennis, so I NEED to build endurance and explosive speed. I enjoy hiking, so I NEED to build stamina. Going to a gym because I WANT to look good or stay healthy isn’t going to last. No one has passion for work alone.

  6. Rudi Schmidt

    A little late to the ‘party’: three things–1. I value your emails very very much, and appreciate the time you put in to them, they have enhanced my life; 2. thank you for introducing me to JL Collins–bought his book and now read his blog and I only wish I had discovered him earlier (as I’m not retired); and 3. happy holidays wherever you are/will be….someone already used the term, livestrong, but it’s my wish for you.


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