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In her book, The Elephant in the Gym, Gillian Goerzen helps us understand how our mindset can make or break our fitness goals.
Allan (1:14): Gillian, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Gillian Goerzen (1:18): Hello. Thank you so much for having me. What a delight.
Allan (1:23): Your book is called The Elephant in the Gym, and I had two thoughts when I first saw the title. One of these, I don’t like the connotation, and the other one I was like, “That would actually be a good book.” I’m glad you went with the good book route.
Gillian Goerzen (1:42): Yay! That was one of my biggest concerns when I came up with the title. I was trail running actually and I came up with this title. We were having this conversation and it’s like, “The elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about. Hey, it’s the elephant in the gym!” I was with my running mates, and the first thing that comes up was, “Am I the elephant in the gym?” Of course I was like, “No, no. Oh gosh, the subtitle’s going to have to be really clear that they are not the elephant in the gym.”
Allan (2:12): I do want to talk to that for a moment, because I think a lot of people are going to find this podcast probably in January when they’re making these decisions, and they’re going to go into the gym and feel a little uncomfortable with it. The people in the gym – other than the fact the gym gets really crowded in in January, so the people that are there all the time might be a little frustrated that they have to wait on a machine they’ve never had to wait on – but they want you in the gym. They want the gym to be successful, the gym owner to be doing what they’re doing and changing lives. And more than likely that person you see over there by the weight rack that somewhat intimidates you – at one point, they either walked in there as a scrawny 14-year-old kid, or they came in there feeling like they were an elephant. And now they’ve done this hard work over a period of time and they’ve changed. So I would look at that. I would hope people going into the gym for the first time – I know you feel intimidated and I know you want to run over and get on that treadmill – fight that urge. Get into the culture of the gym. It’s a culture of change. It’s actually a culture of comradery. The gym is a wonderful place to be once you get over that hurdle and you start getting comfortable in your own skin.
Gillian Goerzen (3:30): Really finding the right gym for you. You might come into one facility and think… We’re all so caught up in our own stories, in our own head, we make up these stories about what we think other people are thinking about us, but they’re 99.9% of the time wrong, because we actually are perceiving things that aren’t there. Most people, when they see other people just getting started, they think, “Gosh, way to go! Good for them. I’m so glad to see more people coming in.” So one is, get past that idea that we have in our head, but secondly, finding a facility that really resonates with you and has a similar philosophy to you, that you feel really welcomed in. I always like to say that we want to find that Cheers experience. You come in and everybody knows your name, and you feel really welcomed. It’s that community and collaboration that you were talking about.
Allan (4:27): And that happens; it’s just going to take a little bit of time, because when you first walk in the gym, we kind of expect that you’re only going to be there for three weeks and then you’re going to be gone. A lot of people aren’t going to invest. And people are not staring at you. They’re just watching to make sure you don’t do something to hurt yourself, because they’ve been there and done that. Fortunately though, that’s not what this book is about.
Gillian Goerzen (4:51): No, it’s not.
Allan (4:53): This is about the conversations that you have with yourself, and how we actually get in our own way.
Gillian Goerzen (5:02): Amen. Sure do.
Allan (5:07): You start out in the early part in the book and you told this story of the two wolves. Would you mind sharing that? I really think that if people can wrap their head around this story and remind themselves of this story on a regular basis, this is going to solve a lot of problems.
Gillian Goerzen (5:27): I agree. It’s a beautiful story. It’s a First Nations story, for those who aren’t familiar with it. And as the story goes, a grandfather is telling his grandson about a battle he has going on within himself. So there are two wolves – there’s one good and there’s one evil. And the grandson asks, “Which one will win, Grandfather?” And he replies, “The one I feed.” As the story goes, it’s not really about eliminating the evil wolf; it’s about nourishing the wolf you want to thrive. So if we take that metaphor into the health conversation, into how we treat ourselves, it’s not about getting rid of the struggle; it’s about nourishing the ways that we’re being successful. It’s about nourishing the ways we are building ourselves up. It’s about nourishing what we need to grow, shift and develop. So instead of fighting against the things that aren’t working, focusing on the things that are working, the wonderful things that we are already doing, because there’s always some. When I talk to clients, it’s always that we tend to focus on the things we aren’t doing instead of the things we are doing. And when reframe and turn people around to the, “But tell me about what you are doing. What did you do this past week to help yourself, to move yourself forward to health?” – there are always way more things than they even realized. And once they see those, they’re like, “I actually did quite a bit for myself this week. Awesome. Let’s build from there.” And that’s what creates more momentum. That magical motivation that we all seek is seeing that we’re actually already doing things. And you get to develop belief in yourself, the self-efficacy, the self-confidence in your capabilities.
Allan (7:18): I think when you’re going through something, you need to take that slight step back and say, “Is this a good wolf or a bad wolf?” More than likely, if you have a negative feeling, if you’re feeling down, if you’re not feeling good about yourself, you’re probably feeding the bad wolf, and it’s time to stop. So, take that step back and say, “There’s a reason why I’m not satisfied with what’s going on with my life, or my health, or my fitness.” You’ve got to take that step back and figure out what’s the wolf you need to feed to move this thing forward.
Gillian Goerzen (7:52): Absolutely.
Allan (7:54): You have a concept in the book that I really, really liked and I think a lot of people will. Again, we’re getting close to January, so people are probably getting into that premise of thinking, “I’ve got to set a resolution. I’m going to go to the gym five days a week and I’m going to cut out processed foods and try to sleep eight hours a night.” They set these standards of what they’re going to do, and actually some of them work for about three weeks, and then they miss a day at the gym. And that missing the day at the gym, they feed the bad wolf and they say, “Well, I missed Thursday. I may as well just skip Friday.” So, you have this concept called the “health zone”, which I think is going to set people into a really good state of mind, to constantly be feeding the good wolf. Can you talk about the health zone?
Gillian Goerzen (9:01): Totally. You really hit it on the head. Why I developed the health zone was that I kept having these conversations with my clients about, they’d map out this criteria for themselves, this very black-and-white, very binary relationship with what they needed to do to, in their heads, be successful with their health – whether that was going to the gym three times a week, whether that was not eating processed foods, whatever. It’s similar examples to what you were mentioning. What I noticed was when they made one choice that took them out of that very black-and-white, very binary criteria, they decided that they’d failed. And when they decided that they failed and fed that evil wolf, what ends up happening is this domino effect, but not in the direction we want. We skipped the gym, so then we think, “Today’s kind of a write-off. I’m going to have an indulgent lunch.” And then indulgent lunch leads to mid-afternoon coffee with a special treat, it leads to drive-through for dinner, it leads to not getting to bed on time, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And then start fresh tomorrow. That domino effect leads us down a path that’s not really conducive to our health, when all it was was that we maybe needed to sleep in a little bit that morning and skip the gym. One workout off doesn’t negate the two workouts that person had already done in the week.
So the idea of the health zone was to get people out of that binary, black-and-white thinking, was to really look at our lives and give ourselves more flexibility, more room, more grace to live in a range of activities. For example, instead of having a quota of, “I’m going to exercise three days per week for this much time”, or whenever I’m going to do – saying instead, “I’m going to move my body two to four days per week for a minimum of 15 minutes, and I’m going to be happy no matter where I fall in that range. No matter where I fall in that range, I’m actually still being successful.” So, it comes down to looking at that whole health range and thinking what are our, I call them, “non-negotiables”. The bottom of the range is this idea of, what are the non-negotiable health habits I’m going to maintain no matter what? Think brushing your teeth. No matter how busy we get, most of us, 90% of the time, brush our teeth twice a day. We don’t even really think about it. It’s a health habit we maintain because we see the value in doing that. So, what are the other health habits we can maintain at the bottom end of that health zone no matter what, and engage and feeling successful, and feeding the good wolf? And then at the other end of the range would be your optimal habits. Not like the sunshine and rainbows optimal habits, where it’s not going to work with your actual real life, but what’s going to work with your real life if things were swimming along in a reasonable fashion – no major bumps in life, but regular life. What would you be doing on the other end of that spectrum? And so, finding that kind of range and no matter where you fall in that, feeling really successful about the choices you’ve made.
Allan (12:31): The thing I like about this is, if you’re doing anything positive, even a small step in the right direction can make a huge difference over time. We don’t realize we were potentially living very, very unhealthy lives, and now we’re not doing that anymore. We’re better. But if you set this bar and say, “I have to be at this level” and you don’t reach that, is that going to be the thing that knocks you off permanently? And so, it’s just a function of setting that bottom level and that top level, and then trying to make sure that you have strategies in your life that keep you accountable and successful within that range.
Gillian Goerzen (13:12): Totally. I always tell my clients, something is better than nothing. If you can even do 10 minutes of a workout and just go for a 10 minute walk, isn’t that better than doing nothing? If we actually step back and objectively look at it, we’re all going to go, “Of course.” Isn’t two servings of vegetables better than none? Yeah, absolutely it is. One glass of water is better than no glasses of water, or three is better than two. All of these steps in the right direction help us, and again, doing them consistently, of course, is what is the big, big clincher.
Allan (13:52): With the book, The Elephant in the Gym, you set 10, what you call “Super You” principles, and you have a chapter about each one. We have a lot of information about each one of these so we can’t dive deep into each one. But I would like, if you don’t mind sharing the ten, and just giving us a general overview of what that means in context to our health and fitness.
Gillian Goerzen (14:15): Absolutely. I really wanted a way to wrap up each chapter, and the key message I want you to walk away from the chapter with. It becomes, in essence, a summary of the book. The first one is really about, be you. You’re unique, and so is your health, is the principle. The big thing I always want people to take away is, there’s no other person on the planet that’s exactly like you. There’s no one right way to be healthy either, because everybody is different. We all have different genetics, interests, priorities, values. We need to find the way that works for us and our lives. That’s the first one. The second one is to really embrace our humanity. There’s unfortunately this misconception that there’s a “perfect” out there, that if I just follow this program perfectly and I will do this, then I will be healthy. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s about really focusing on being human, embracing the fact that you are human, and that you will ebb and flow and you will make mistakes. It’s about learning to give yourself some compassion in those moments and learning from those changes. The third one is to show up, to really trust the process, whatever process you choose, and actually take action and move yourself forward. The fourth one is to unlock your potential. That one’s really about knowing and acknowledging that you are both your loudest critic and your biggest cheerleader. Again, that’s that evil wolf, good wolf. You can feed the loudest critic or you can be your biggest cheerleader. But part of that is that mindfulness, becoming aware of where you’re being very hard on yourself, and then how you shift that tide. And I talk about some really tangible strategies in that chapter. Number five is practicing patience and perseverance. One of guiding things in the fitness industry and the health industry is, everybody wants that quick fix, but quick doesn’t usually equal sustainable, unfortunately. We all want that dramatic result, but the dramatic result usually requires extreme measures, and those are rarely sustainable in anybody’s real life. So, understanding that things will take time, change isn’t easy. Be willing to put the work in and acknowledge that it will be tough, that there will be a struggle, and it’s very human to struggle and that’s okay.
The next one is to really explore the science and practice the art. I come from a background of a degree in Kinesiology, and I’ve done a lot of work and study over the years of the science, the physiology of exercise and how do we be healthy. There’s a tremendous amount of science to all of this – to health and to fitness. And how you apply it in your life is an art. So I say, “Explore the science, practice the art.” It’s about acknowledging what the actual science is – not the pseudo-science, the actual science. And then understanding how you apply it to your life is an art. The next one is to reclaim your relationship with food. Of course, I couldn’t have a health book without an acknowledgement around the nutrition piece. Again, nutrition science – super complex topic, but I think we’ve overcomplicated it in a lot of ways. I have 10 tips that I offer in that chapter to really reconnect to our relationship with food. We talk about, “Fly the white flag.” Let’s stop having this really intense battle with food. Food is what we need to nourish our bodies, but also to nourish our souls. And then, yawning your way to success. The other piece that we often don’t talk about in this health conversation is sleep. I call it the “unsung hero of health”. We need to be as a culture shifting our conversation and really putting more value back to sleep, because it’s really huge. And I talk about the science behind that as well. And the final one is, own it – your health, your fitness, and your life. Own that you’re going to have a unique vision, and then create that for yourself. Create a plan and an approach to health and fitness that really feels good and grounded in your life right now as it is, so that you can evolve and grow your health and wellness throughout the course of your life. Because what my health and wellness looked like when I was 20 is different than it looks like at 40.
Allan (18:56): Absolutely. I think anyone that’s hearing these “Super You” principles that you have, that resonates with us. That’s the message that I’ve had on this podcast since the beginning, almost three years ago, and this is episode 350. We’ve been having this conversation, so these principles are not new to us, but the base point is, we have to take that step back and remind ourselves why we’re doing this and what’s going on. Each of these principles is addressing a different part of both our mental reflection of our lives, and then the actions we take after we have made these decisions and we’re making these choices.
Gillian Goerzen (19:44): Absolutely. I would say the first part of the book is really addressing what you’ve been up against – all the struggle that we’ve been facing and what’s actually holding you back. And then the second half of the book is really about, where do we go from here? Where do we go now that we’ve become aware of this? We see the elephant in the gym; now, how do we address it? How do we move forward in a powerful and empowered way, so that we feel we are in the driver’s seat in our own life? And not feeling like we’re looking outside of ourselves to someone else to tell us this magic solution, that if we just follow this magic solution that this individual with lots of likes on Facebook is going to tell me what to do; and really putting the power back on ourselves. It’s like, “I get to choose. Actually, it’s up to me to choose what’s going to work for me.”
Allan (20:34): Yes, absolutely. I do want to take one step backwards. You have all kinds of actionable tips, so I don’t want anyone to think that this book is just principles-based. The principles are important, but you follow up each of the principles with some homework, action items, some things we need to do. Again, I’m very action-oriented. Give me something and then tell me what to do. You can pick and choose how you apply these things in your life. But you’ve got to take it back to this one seed, and the one seed is that you have to have a desire to change, because if you don’t truly have the desire to change, then when you actually start going up against the work ahead of you… I know this might sound strange, but getting better sleep is hard work. You’ve got to say “No” to some things that you probably don’t want to say “No” to, like Words With Friends or Netflix. It’s time to go to bed. So, it’s not going to be easy. I would love to say that it’s easy, but it’s never going to be completely easy. It gets easier, but it’s never going to be easy. So, with that hard work in front of us, can you talk a little bit about that thing we need, the desire to change and how we can embrace that?
Gillian Goerzen (21:59): I think one of the pieces around that that I really want people to hear is that we have to choose our “hard”. When you’re feeling uncomfortable in your skin, when you’re not happy with the level of health you currently have, when you feel like there are things you can’t do with your body that you’d really like to do – the example I give in the book is, you watch your child on a ride at Disneyland that you’d really liked to be in, but you don’t fit in the seat – my gosh, that is hard. So, It’s really embracing the fact that that work is worth it, because the alternative is hard too. It’s about choosing which hard do you want to live with. Do you want to live with the hard of feeling uncomfortable in your skin, not feeling like your body is in its best shape for you, not being able to do the things you want to do, not feeling vibrant, vital and alive and able to live your life the way you want to live it? Or do you want to make the other hard decision, which is to make a few sacrifices, to have to say “No” sometimes, to put yourself first, to say “Yes” to yourself and say “No” to others? I think that is hard too, but understanding that the thing that’s going to push you through is really that reverence for the alternative, which is also hard, and knowing what’s in it for you on the other side of hard.
What I talk about a lot is really connecting to, not the, “How I want to look in my body”; “How do I want to feel in my body?” What’s the “Why”? What’s in it for me to do this work and get past the hard? And that’s connecting to a really powerful, really deep, meaningful “Why”? What’s in it for you? Why do you want to do this? Not just because I know I’ll fit in my clothes. That’s nice, to fit in your clothes, if it’s about weight loss, or to be able to run a 10K – that’s also great. But what’s in it for you to be able to do those things? I talk to a lot of moms and a lot of parents. For a lot of them it’s, “I want to be a great role model for my kids. I don’t want my kids to feel like this in their body.” Okay, now we’re talking. That’s a more powerful and more motivating “Why”. So when that alarm goes off in the morning and you want to stay in bed, but you know you should get up and go and do your workout, or go for your walk, or make time to make a healthy lunch – you’re going to think of that reason and it’s going to give you the impetus you need to get out of bed and go and do it.
Allan (24:26): Yes. Part of what you’re talking here, like I said, does resonate with us. I’ve always talked about it in terms of what I call “commitment”, and that commitment is the combination of your vision – what does a healthy, fit and happy person mean to you personally? Because what it means to me is something entirely different. And when I get older, I’ve used the phrase, “When I’m 105, I want to be able to wipe my own butt.” I say that because I know how many people get into their 70s, 80s and 90s and they lose their independence, and I don’t want to be that person. I know I don’t have to be that person, because I have role models I see that are 80s, 90s, 100, well into their 100s, still living active lifestyles. I just know I need to do the things to do that. Today, my vision is, I not only want to enjoy time with my kids or grandkids, when they come around. It’s if one of them tells me they want to go do a Tough Mudder, I want to be able to go do that with them. It’s not that I want to do a Tough Mudder for the sake of saying I did a Tough Mudder. I was like that when I was young and competitive. Now it’s just I don’t want my daughter to be waiting on me. I want to finish the race with her, and I want to enjoy myself and not hurt myself while I’m doing it. So, I train that way. That’s your vision. And then the “Why” part is the quality time with my family. It’s knowing that if I want to be around, I’ve got to take care of myself. I put it in slightly different terms, but it was funny as I went through the book, I kept seeing my words in your book.
Gillian Goerzen (26:13): You’ve got to love it when find that, which gives me so much hope, because I think the more of us that are having these conversations, I see the shift in the tides of the conversation around health and fitness. I see things shifting and it gives me a lot of hope because I think for a lot of years it was the blood, sweat and tears, and look a certain way. There’s still a tremendous amount of that; and still, I’m hearing more and more people having these conversations, more and more people saying, “I just want to be able to wipe my butt when I’m 90.” One of the common ones I hear from my clients with grandkids: “I want to get down on the floor and play with my grandkids, or I want to be able to take them to the park and actively play with them.” That’s really empowering, when you start talking about that vision, as opposed to being able to look good in a bikini, which is neither here nor there at the end of the day. What did you do in your bikini? That’s what I want to talk about. Did you go surfing? Did you go play with your kids in the sand and feel fantastic? Because that’s what the people in your life are going to remember. Nobody gets to their deathbed and thinks, “Gosh, I wish I’d looked better in a bikini.” They think of all the things they did; they think of all the relationships they had. Again, it’s that step back – what’s important to me, what do I value? At the end of the day, what do I hold close to my heart? That’s the core message here.
Allan (27:42): Cool. Now, I’m introducing a new, I guess I’ll call it a “segment”, for lack of better words, to this show. I’d like to ask you, what are three strategies or tactics to get healthy, fit, and happy, which is what I define “wellness”? What are three of your strategies or tactics for wellness?
Gillian Goerzen (28:06): Okay. So number one – before you embark on anything, the first thing that always comes to mind – are you willing to do this for the rest of your life? I just got a message from a client earlier today and she was curious about a supplement. And I said, “From a scientific perspective, here’s some information about it. But I want you to take a step back. If you take this supplement, are you willing to take it for the rest of your life? Is this something that resonates with you and feels like it connects to you?” Trust your instincts around, is this something you want to do for the rest of your life? If the answer to that is “No”, what’s the point of doing it short-term? Is this a sustainable thing I can do? So, trusting your instincts, really asking the questions before you jump all in. So that’s number one, is really listening to that. Number two – I really, truly believe whatever you choose to do around your health and fitness – do it, and do it consistently. There is no magic pill, there is no magic solution or program. It’s just the things we do with consistency that really add up to creating more impact in our lives and more change in our health. And the third thing is to not judge failure. So when you fall off that blessed wagon, to not look at it as you failing. If you fell off the wagon or you keep falling off the wagon, maybe you’re just on the wrong track. Maybe you just need to find a different wagon to be on and find a different way of doing things. The other analogy I like to use is, before you wipe the slate clean, take a look at the chalk marks. What can you learn from what you tried there? Get up and try again. It’s the whole, “Failure isn’t falling. Failure is choosing not to get back up.” So, get back up, try again, learn from what didn’t work. Those are higher level mental strategies, not tactical strategies, but there you have it.
Allan (30:10): That’s totally cool. That’s exactly what I think we needed to hear. If you haven’t caught it from me, I love your message.
Gillian Goerzen (30:18): Thank you.
Allan (30:18): If someone wanted to get in touch with you, learn more about the book, where would you like for me to send them?
Gillian Goerzen (30:25): There are two places they could go. They could go to ElephantInTheGym.com, all one word; or they can head to SuperYou.ca. I have those two places that they could head, and they’ll be able to find me in one of those.
Allan (30:40): Excellent. This is going to be episode 350, so you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/350, and I’ll be sure to have those links in the show notes. Gillian, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Gillian Goerzen (30:54): Oh, such a delight. I’m brand new to the 40+ club, and I’m really happy to be here.
Allan (31:01): Welcome! We’re glad to have you.
Gillian Goerzen (31:04): So many of my friends were nervous about turning 40 and I’m like, “Bring it on. I just feel like this is going to be the best decades of our lives. It’s great.”
Allan (31:13): Cool.
I hope you enjoyed that conversation as much as I enjoyed having it. Gillian’s a pretty special person, and her book, The Elephant in the Gym, is a really cool book. I love the cover, I love the concepts in the book. As I was reading the book, it pretty much mirrored what we’re doing here on this podcast and what I’ve done with The Wellness Roadmap. It was really nice to see that this conversation is starting to make a good role, that more and more people are starting to recognize that the mindset we take into the gym, the mindset we take into the food choices, the mindset we take into all of our health choices, really does drive how successful we’re going to be. So, The Elephant in the Gym is a great book. I do encourage you to step out and get that.
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