Project Louise: Advice From A Witch, And A Big New Challenge

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

Don't be frightened -- sometimes witches have good advice. (Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t be frightened — sometimes witches have good advice. (Wikimedia Commons)

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” one of the Witches said the other day.

The Witches are my two oldest friends in Boston; we worked together for years, and the nickname comes from an old joke from that time that would make even less sense if I explained it. We’re not actually witches, unless you really make us mad.

Anyway, this particular Witch is not known for going easy on me, so I was surprised when she said I should lighten up.

“Going to the gym five times a week? Lifting weights? Swimming? You’re trying to force yourself into a lifestyle that just isn’t you,” she said. I didn’t know where she got the five-times-a-week idea, but I kept listening.

“Go for a walk,” she said. “It’s not that complicated. Just get outside and go for a walk.”

Ha, I thought, that sounds too easy. So I didn’t do it.

Which is when I realized she might be on to something.

I have a certain weakness for all-or-nothing thinking, which may be another word for perfectionism. Aim high, go big or go home, anything worth doing is worth doing well – my brain is littered with motivational phrases that, while they’re sometimes motivating, can also make me feel like a failure if I decide that I’ve somehow failed to live up to them.

This is what I’ve been trying to short-circuit by my keep-it-simple approach to food. Don’t try to follow some “perfect” diet; just eat more vegetables and less junk, figure out some easy routines and tricks, and do what you can. It’s not that complicated.

So I’ve been trying to think what the exercise equivalent of “eat more vegetables” might look like. “Take more steps” comes to mind. Aha! The other Witch gave me a pocket pedometer a while ago – time to dig that out of the drawer and start using it.

What about making it easier to follow a routine? Getting myself out the door to the gym seems to be the hardest part – once I get there, I’m happy to do the work. So what if I don’t have to get out the door?

I’ve now bought a pair of 10-pound dumbbells, and I already had a stability ball and some exercise bands. So now I can exercise in my bedroom. In my pajamas, even. If I don’t do that, there is truly no excuse.

I talked with my trainer, Rick DiScipio, about this approach. He liked it – I think, honestly, he’ll be happy with anything that gets me moving consistently ­­– and he gave me a simple set of exercises that I can do at home with what I’ve got.

Just picture it: a lovely, healthy, calorie-burning ride to Hyannis. OK, this is actually Helsinki, but you get the picture. (Lumijaguaari via Wikimedia Commons)

Just picture it: a lovely, healthy, calorie-burning ride to Hyannis. OK, this is actually Helsinki, but you get the picture. (Lumijaguaari via Wikimedia Commons)

But I realize that I do also, genuinely, enjoy a challenge, and that deadlines do truly motivate me. All that is what got me into Project Louise, after all. And, as it happens, there’s a challenge with a deadline right at hand: WBUR is a media sponsor of the Best Buddies Challenge, an annual Boston-to-Hyannis bike ride that raises money for the Best Buddies program for developmentally disabled children.

It’s May 31 this year, and I asked Rick if he thought I should sign up. You can ride all 100 miles, or do a 50- or 20-mile section of the route, or do a 5K walk near the end. Part of me feels as if I should go for all 100, but I’ve never ridden that far in my life.

“How about 50?” Rick said. “You can definitely be ready for that.”

And I’ve ridden 50 miles in a day, many times. Granted, most of those times were in my teens and 20s, but still – knowing that I’ve done it before makes it feel easier to imagine doing it again.

So that’s my plan. By May 31, I’ll be ready to ride 50 miles. Rick is writing up a workout routine, and I’ll be using the bikes at the gym until the snow melts and I can start doing training rides outside. If you want to come along, I’d love the company. Just send me an email, and I’ll send you details.

But first, I’d better go for a walk.

Readers, what are your tips and tricks for developing an exercise routine? And is Louise being too hard on herself, or not hard enough? Where’s the line between pushing yourself and beating up on yourself?


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  • Jessica Mink

    Just start biking places. You can start with shorter errands and work your way up. Make using your car a conscious decision and not automatic. This will make exercise an integral part of your life and not something you do separately.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Great suggestion, thank you. But not till the weather gets just a little tiny bit better! Was that actually hail this morning?

  • Mary Finlay

    One of the things I did to build a support group for working out was to start a Facebook group of friends who wanted to hold each other accountable for getting in better shape. There are 15 women in my group which is called: 30 minutes a day workout group. We are committed to doing some form of exercise for 30 minutes every day. We all post what we do, sometimes adding pictures of where we walked, etc. We share advice and lots of encouragement. Many of us have lost weight, started new forms of exercises, signed up for races, walks, etc. Simple, free, and effective!

    • Louise Kennedy

      I like this idea too. Perhaps I should poll my FB friends to see if they’d join me…

  • Jean Fain

    Barbells in your bedroom sound logical, but lonesome. For lasting change, there’s no two ways around it: you gotta have support. Not just from the occasional expert who weighs in on this or that, but living, breathing, ongoing support. The witches have stood by you professionally, how about recreationally? Sounds like you could use a new bevy for walking, biking and other heart-pumping activities. Or a dog.
    Jean Fain, author of “The Self-Compassion Diet”

    • Louise Kennedy

      Funny you should mention a dog — time for me to stop nagging the kids and start nagging myself to get out the leash.

  • Sushma Gupta

    Great post. Keep sharing.

  • DD

    This is what I live by now.. just move more and eat a little less. I over complicate things and then I feel like a failure. You are doing great at self discovery and trying new things. Exposure alone deserves a ton of health points!!!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you. And yes, overthinking is a huge part of the problem. If we can stop that, just think how much more energy we’ll have for other things!

  • Bella

    A gym is just one place to exercise. I have never belonged to a gym (and the time I bought a 10 visit punch card it took me 2 years to use it up) and yet I find a million ways to exercise – yoga at home, dumbbells at home (and situps, push ups, etc), walking, hiking, putting a heavy back pack on and walking around my neighborhood), cross country skiing, walking in the Blue Hills or at a Trustees of Reservations property, etc.

    It really isn’t that complicated. And something like the Best Buddies ride is a great motivator to keep you on track with a firm deadline, instead of some random goal like “be in better shape by summer.” I would be much more motivated by “Don’t keel over on side of road during Best Buddies ride.”

    • Louise Kennedy

      “Don’t keel over.” An excellent mantra. Thank you!