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In the spring of 2020, as all of us began working from home during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself in need.
That need was for an office to work in, as it proved quickly impossible for me to work from home with my wife and four children around me. As luck would have it, the house we had purchased three years prior had a finished basement, though it was in desperate need of renovation. I had wanted to redo this space anyway, so working from home was a great excuse to do it.
Over the course of the next few months, I ripped that room apart myself. I hung new sheetrock, created a wall of shiplap, put down trim, painted everything, and put down a brand new floor. It was a lot of fun.
However, in the process of doing this project, I finally was forced to come to grips with something I had been actively avoiding for years. I was fat.
It was the flooring that really drove this point home to me. I was unable to work more than 15 consecutive minutes without taking a break. I was getting winded by simply bending over to place the new floor in position. The entire thing took much longer than it really should have, and it was all due to the fact that I was in absolutely horrendous shape.
The story of how I got to this very unfortunate position actually begins nearly eight years ago. I was in the far left lane of the highway, and the car to my right ended up coming into my lane, and clipping my vehicle. He hit me just right, sending my car spinning across the road, ultimately slamming into a concrete guardrail going well over 60 miles per hour.
Two of the vertebrae in my back were smashed, and I ended up having a spinal fusion surgery to repair the damage, which required a year of recovery and rehabilitation.
As I began to heal, I realized that much of what I used to do to stay in shape and be healthy was impossible for me. Swimming, running, biking, and hiking, they were all out. I couldn’t pull it off anymore. And as my activity level declined, my weight — slowly but surely — began to creep up. Eight years after the accident, I weighed about a hundred pounds more than I had before.
There were several occasions where I would come to grips with my general state of unhealthiness, and resolve to do something about it only to fail when my body rejected the exercise.
But something was different as I came face to face with myself in that basement. Something snapped in my mind. I had lost patience with myself, and I no longer wanted to be that person anymore.
That was 32 weeks ago. This past Sunday, I stepped on the scale and it told me that I had since lost 100 pounds.
Throughout this process, I chose not to really speak much about it to those around me. I had made the decision early on that I was doing what I was doing for myself, my family, and my own health, and not for the approval or attention of those around me. And that is important, I think, to being successful at making any major life change.
One thing has motivated me for the last eight months, and I repeat the same thing to myself almost daily: I want to discover the best version of myself that can possibly exist.
I’m not there yet, but on the occasion of having achieved one of my benchmarks — 100 pounds — I thought it was worth reflecting on the most important thing I’ve learned over this time.
If you want to make a real change, be completely, brutally honest with yourself. I needed to understand that I lied to myself constantly, and was making many excuses for why I couldn’t achieve something. It is only in recognizing that, that we can get by the roadblocks we set for ourselves, and start looking for ways to achieve.
Food was my problem, not exercise, and it was only by being honest about that, and doing something about it that I was able to change. I found three or four meals that I truly enjoyed for each meal of the day, calculated the calories and simply made the math work. No gimmicks, no systems, no gurus. Just math.
There are many more lessons, but that brutal honesty is the biggest key. Stop telling yourself all the ways you can’t do something, because chances are, you are telling yourself what you want to hear and that you do, in fact, have the ability to change.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.