Moderation: Harder than Dramatic Effort

I’ve mentioned before that my fitness goal is to show up every weekday for half an hour. Ideally this means a swim first thing in the morning. There is a class schedule coming up that means that either I swim after I teach, or I do something else before I open the gym. It may mean something else, because I tend not to want to work out after being around people a whole bunch. We’ll see.

So, the goal? Show up, get blood pumping for half an hour. That’s it. This is not to make myself work out, per se. It’s to contain my enthusiasm for days like today and prevent burnout.

After a couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where I hit that endorphin high in a swim.1 I’m swimming about 1,000 yards in half an hour on more days than not, 2 and I got to thinking:

Me: Hey, if we could do 1,000 in half an hour, why not do another 20 minutes and swim a mile? We’ve got time this morning, because our meetings don’t start till later!

Myself: No. Half hour’s up. Out of the pool.

Me: Aw come on. Let’s prove to ourselves we can swim a mile.

Myself: You already know you can swim a mile. That’s not a great athletic feat for you; it just requires patience. Stop it. Out of the pool.

Me: But it’s cool and intense and stuff! And we feel good.

Myself: Yes it is, and yes, we feel good. You’re not here for cool and intense. You’re here to learn consistency. Get out of the damn pool, right now. You’ll feel good from a workout again, I promise.

Me: But lots of people here are working out for a whole hour and do every day.

Myself: OUT. OF. THE. POOL.

Me: Fine! (Gets out of the pool).

Myself: (Softening a bit) Your problem isn’t whether or not you can swim a mile or work out for an hour, or reach an athletic goal or any of that. You’re pretty good at dramatic, short-term effort. Your problem is consistency of moderate effort. You have not yet proven you will be consistent over the long term with exercise. That’s your goal. Giving in to swimming that mile would interfere with that. After you’ve solved the consistency problem, and that’s going to take at least a year, we can revisit athletic goals. (Muttering) As if you won’t be swimming a mile in half an hour after a year of this, anyway…


I’m not by nature a moderate person, nor do I really have any middle gears. I’m intense. I have a bad temper, and I throw myself into joy with absolute abandon. While there are advantages to this in many ways, in terms of the dailyness of life, it can interfere.

I also got to thinking about this for people with a lot of the “invisible” illnesses people can have (CFS and its derivatives, and so on). I have one – arthritis, and swimming is a fine work-around for me on that one. But I got to thinking about small consistencies. And I mean really small, like 5-15 minutes of a workout routine each weekday. (Strength, stretching, whatever).

I know for a fact that there are healthy people who do this and have seen fairly dramatically positive results over a period of several years. Of course, I don’t live in other people’s bodies, but I wonder if it’s anything anyone who has one of these invisible illnesses has tried it over a period of a year or more and liked the results.


1 Swimming is the most reliable way for this to happen, because it doesn’t hurt like many land-based exercises do.

2 I’m not permitting myself specific distance goals. The goal is to swim half an hour.

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