a little more, a little better, and relative baselines
One of the habits that we implement in the coaching curriculum of Precision Nutrition is called “a little more, a little better”. It’s a habit that sounds small (because it is), yet one that adds up to significant changes over time. Essentially, you pick something (anything!), and aim to do it a little bit better than before – e.g. lift a tiny bit more weight than yesterday; do one more rep than yesterday, eat one more serving of vegetables than yesterday, etc.
It IS an awesome habit. Yet, there is one pot hole that many clients get stuck in – the assumption that doing “a little more, a little better” will be progressive and linear. In other words, we must always up the weight, we must always eat more vegetables, and that approach, is, of course, unsustainable. [Trust me, I maxed out at 12 servings of vegetables a day at one point, and I am quite happy eating less most days].
A little more, a little better is dependent on the day. Sometimes, a little more, a little better is adding few more pounds to your squat, and sometimes, a little more, a little better is managing to shower.
Ashtanga yoga is a great discipline that is full of relative baseline reminders. You show up on your mat six days a week. Some of those days, you have a great practice. Some of those days, you do ok. And other days suck giant Ganesh balls. And a little more, a little better means simply making it to your damn mat at all.
I recall hurting my wrist, and calling my yoga teacher to tell him I am not coming in for my daily practice. “How come?”, he asks. “I hurt my wrist!”, I repeat, feeling incredibly sorry for myself. “Ok”, he responds, “so you can come in and do everything that does not involve your wrist. See you soon!”, and hangs up. I make it to the studio that day, and get through my practice, skipping every pose that involves the use of my wrist, and swallowing tears. It is a great lesson. It is never about the wrist. It is about “a little more, a little better” on that day. [You may also recall a somewhat related essay on the discipline workouts].
I have received a violent reminder of those in the last three days, as I have developed a strange, and obviously life-threatening affliction, which reminded me of how fleeting life is.
I got the flu. Or, as one of my friends helpfully suggested, the “man flu”.
The Urban Dictionary suggests that yes, there is such a thing: “The condition shared by all males wherein a common illness (usually a mild cold) is presented by the patient as life-threatening.”
I showed the following video to Italian, and he said that it seemed pretty accurate (with roles reversed, obviously, and thankfully, he was not sick).
After I come home from the walk-in clinic (spending most of my twenty minute wait, trying not to collapse), and announce the diagnosis to Italian, he is amused to no end.
“Who has the common, usual, ordinary, pedestrian, cliche flu?”, he teases. I just pout into my eleventh mug of Neocitron. (According to the doctor, I should not exceed 4,000mg of acetaminophen per 24 hours, which seems about 4,000,000mg short).
Italian, of course, correctly deduced that I was secretly hoping for much more serious, and definitely more unique diagnosis than the common freaking flu. You know… to validate my suffering, and all. Hence, the visit to the clinic was hugely unsatisfying.
‘What brings you here today?”
“I am never sick. And now I feel like death. My throat. My chest. My whole body”. Underlying message: There is clearly something horribly wrong with me. Please make this go away, or send me back to the glue factory. PLEASE!
After few questions, and listening to my chest, the doctor announces: “Congratulations, you have the flu!”. I am not fucking kidding. He says “congratulations”. I am pretty pissy before that, now I am downright insufferable.
He reminds me to drink lots of fluids (my throat hurt so bad I couldn’t stomach anything else anyway), and to sleep lots (great advice in theory, but incredibly frustrating in practice – I was so sick, I could not fall asleep at all).
“Where is your regular pharmacy?”.
My regular pharmacy?
“I don’t have a regular pharmacy. I am healthy as a horse”. I am clearly not in the mood to be helpful. The doctor sends me downstairs with a prescription for a $30 nasal spray – mostly to make the visit feel worthwhile, I am sure.
I spend few days, mimicking the lifestyle of our cats – ever so slowly moving from the bed to the couch and back. I can’t seem to regulate body temperature all of a sudden (even more so than usual) – the experience of standing in a hot shower, and shaking from the cold is pretty unnerving. I take multiple showers a day, and stick my feet in a bucket of hot water for the remainder of the time. Oh, and as soon as I get warm, I immediately get too hot, and spend the next few hours, sweating violently through every single layer of towels, clothes, and/or bedding surrounding me.
Italian, who is a little thrown off by my multi-day horizontality, insists that I go for a walk yesterday. The ten minute drive to the forest is a little dodgy, and then the twenty five minute zombie walk with Leonard Cohen for soundtrack completely does me in. I am back on the couch, whimpering in no time.
“How was the forest?”.
“HORRIBLE!”. Underlying message: I hate you, and how could you send me to that awful place? And what if I died, walking there? And now I feel even worse. Nobody loves me!!!
I ask for strange foods – namely, hot and sour soup, Kraft dinner, and hot dogs. The first of those at least makes sense – it’s a hot spicy soup that clears your sinuses, and makes you happy on the inside. The last two items – Italian double and triple checks. “Are you sure?”. [Maybe now he will finally believe that I am dying? Although, I doubt I’d get KD and hot dogs for my last meal. No sir!].
Then I ask him to boil some potatoes. “You want mashed potatoes?”, he nods. “No, I want to breathe the potato air over the pot”, I respond. He lifts his head to join me in a laugh, and sees that I am dead serious. Pretty sure that’s the last straw.
“I am NOT boiling you freaking potatoes so you can breathe over them!”.
“What’s the big deal? We used to do it when we were kids all the time!”.
“Because it’s ridiculous!”.
“So what? Just a regular example of Soviet self-healing voodoo.”
“I am going to make mashed potatoes. You can do whatever you want with the water, breathe it in or whatever, but that’s NOT why I am boiling potatoes. I am making mashed potatoes!!!”.
Forty five minutes later, I am sitting at the kitchen counter with a towel over my head, and my face over the pot, breathing in the starchy steam from the boiled potatoes. Mmmmmm…. Childhood.
So, back to relative baselines.
I am feeling fantastic today. And I find that fact hilarious, because my feeling fantastic is very much RELATIVE to how I have been feeling in the last 48 hours, aka “wanting to die”. Thus, I keep forgetting that I am still very much sick. The man flu keeps reminding me of that fact, whenever I decide to utter a sentence that is a tad too long, and then I am stopped in my tracks with an attack of coughing that physically brings me to my knees, as I swear between the coughs. But hey, I can utter short sentences! A little more, a little better!
I went downstairs to my office for the first time in three days. After an hour, I was exhausted. That’s sitting in a chair, and gently pressing on keys, y’all. But it’s an hour! A little more, a little better!
And once again… it’s all relative.
I get an email from my mother later today. It said: “Sorry to hear you are sick! Try deep inhaling under the pan with boiling water with soda or potato. It does help!”
P.S. If you enjoy reading about me in great deal of pain, check out that time I had a jammed rib. #goodtimes