Last week on my way to Detroit to be interviewed for a TV talk show, I found myself accidentally coaching a woman in the airport.
“Is that oatmeal?” she shouted from three tables away in the empty airport coffee shop where she worked.
I was pouring hot water into a Pyrex container that contained my go-to travel mixture of chia seeds, oats, raisins, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon.
I look up and responded “yeah, mostly. It’s other things, too. I like to make sure that I have something easily digestible that I know is going to make me feel good.”
“You must be really healthy,” she replied. “I need to get back to the gym. Since I’ve been working this job, I’ve put on 80 pounds, and I know I need get back there. I just can’t really find the time. I mean, I get home so late.
And then I just don’t want to get out after that — I’m beat.“
I stirred my chia porridge as she continued to monologue.
“Of course, that’ll change in another three years.”
My flight wasn’t for another hour, and this woman clearly wanted to talk, so I figured I’d bite: “What will be different three years from now?”
“Well, I’m retiring. And then I’ll have all kinds of time.”
There was so much I wanted to say at this point. So many assumptions, right?
(Like: you don’t actually have to go to the gym to work out. We all have the same number of hours in the day. It’s just a question of what we’re choosing to prioritize. She works in an airport, which is essentially an indoor track with plenty of places to take a long walk.)
But I settled on just asking “What if you didn’t have to wait three years?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose I could go before work. I used to do that,” she responded.
“How did you feel when you were in that habit?” I inquired.
“Better than I do now. I had more energy. I wasn’t eating as much sugar. I don’t really know why I stopped going. I guess I must have just fallen out of the habit. But talking to you, I’m really feeling like I could do this again!”
At this point, outed myself as someone who helps people create the healthy habits, and asked her for permission to do a little coaching. She replied with an enthusiastic “Sure!”
“What’s really stopping you from making this change?” I asked her.
“Well, honestly, it’s the first few days that are the hardest.”
“Why?” I inquired.
“Well, ’cause I feel like everyone is going to be judging me.
Like I’m going to walk in there and everybody’s going to look at me and go ‘Wo-ow, you should have been here a long time ago, fatty!'”
I paused, and just looked at her with as much empathy and love as my eyes could muster, and said, “Yeah, that sounds like a really painful thought.”
“The thing is,” she continued, “they probably wouldn’t say anything.”
I agreed that everybody at the gym was pretty much just doing their own thing.
At this point, I could not have loved this woman more.
There she was, totally seeing through her own resistance and her own bullshit excuses.
“How could it actually be easy to get back to the gym? What if you were to just go in your street clothes and walk around, to take the edge off the discomfort of breaking into that environment again? Would that help?” I suggested.
“Yeah, I bet that would feel less intimidating.” She smiled, but her voice still sounded tentative.
“What else would make it easier?” I prodded.
“I could call Sue. She and I used to work out together before work a bunch of years back. I bet she’d be up for going with me.”
“Yeah! I think I can really do this.”
And I could see that she actually believed it. Her face softened. Her shoulders lost a bit of their slouch. There was a new shine in her eyes and resolve in her voice as she started planning aloud about texting her former workout buddy and figuring out a good day next week to go.
She probably thanked me about seven times or eight times before I left for my gate.
I live for conversations like this: helping people identify that the root of the problem had nothing to do with what they think it is. In this case, what was stopping this woman from working out had nothing to do with time, or her schedule; it far more to do with shame and the inertia that shame enables.
If you could use some help in having your own blind spots lovingly pointed out with compassionate strategy, I’m here for you. This is what I do in my coaching program, Level Up Your Life. You’re invited to check it out.