A mental and physical transformation.
Whether it’s the growing popularity of platforms like Medium and podcasting, or just a symptom of the times, there appears to be a drastic increase in the demand for self-help advice. And certainly no shortage of people looking to provide it. Throw a rock in any direction, and you’re likely to hit someone promoting or recommending a self-help book.
With so much information and so many options to choose from, figuring out where to start can sometimes be more daunting than the improvement process itself. In my case, it certainly felt that way.
I don’t consider myself to be some sort of self-help guru like Tony Robbins. A leadership expert like Jocko Willink, or an iron-willed maniac, running 200-mile races like David Goggins. I am none of those things. What I am is someone who knows how it feels to want to change desperately.
Honestly, aside from a few unique life experiences, I consider myself just about as average as it gets — an everyday guy with typical problems, thoughts, feelings, and pitfalls. So, chances are, whatever you may be going through, I’ve been there.
I’m certainly not reinventing the wheel here. Instead, this article outlines my journey of self-improvement. Applying the different concepts I’ve picked up along the way in an attempt to become just a little less average.
And if I can do it, I’m pretty sure anyone can.
September of 2016. It’s around 2 am. I’m sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot in my 2000 Saturn LE bawling my eyes out. Check engine light is on, oil light is on, and I’m scarfing enough McDonald’s to feed a middle school football team.
Six hundred miles away from home. I had just given up on my dreams of making a living as a hip-hop artist. My life’s purpose at the time; my entire identity (or so I thought). Not because of failure or any sort of set back, but because I was unfit to handle the pressure. I was weak. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.
The shame and embarrassment of quitting music led to me wanting to get as far away from my hometown as possible. In my mind, I was a failure and thought everyone knew it. I was in an unfamiliar city and homesick. Jobless, on my last 200 dollars, and had several car issues I could not pay for. On top of it all, I was 360 lbs with a laundry list of mental health issues and no idea how to cope.
They say you must hit absolute rock bottom before you’re willing to implement real change. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I can tell you from personal experience “they” hit the nail on the head. I have reached several highs and lows throughout my life, but when I think of what defines rock bottom for me, that memory repeatedly plays in my head.
Before that final low point, I found myself stuck in a continuous cycle of negativity. The anxiety would flair up, usually brought about by an upcoming show, studio session, or any sort of new challenge. I would deal with it the same way every time.
I took the path of least resistance, choosing to run from my problems whenever possible. Instead of tackling things head-on, I sought comfort. My favorite sources were food, drugs(Xanax and weed), and alcohol. When I wasn’t numbing myself, I would avoid the issue altogether. Both methods would work for the time being, usually a few hours to a day.
When I would wake up the following morning, I would be ten times worse than before, feeling unprepared for whatever event was coming up. Overwhelming regret, anxiety, and self-loathing. Followed by a frantic attempt to work my way out of the hole I had dug for myself.
This negative snowball would continue to roll, picking up speed and mass, leading up to whatever deadline was looming. I would drag myself through it. “Fake it till you make it” type of attitude. The show would end, and the anxiety would melt away. Until the next obligation, and the cycle would begin all over again.
I spent a solid five years living my life this way, choosing the same coping methods over and over and somehow expecting the results to be different this time around.
The definition of insanity.
The Snowball Method
I described that negative snowball earlier. Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows that familiar feeling of drowning in negative thoughts. Compounding and growing to the point where you end up worrying about something completely different than you were in the first place.
If there’s one thing I have learned through my various experiences, it’s that life seems to be based on momentum. Most of my lowest lows are rooted in a handful of poor decisions. Those decisions would lead to negativity in one form or another, more of those similar choices, and so on. I believe you can build that same momentum in a positive direction.
It can be as simple as starting your day off on the right foot. Choosing to meditate, workout, or eat a healthy breakfast can lead to more positive decisions throughout the day. One solid day in the books becomes another.
At that point, you’ve already got a streak going, right? So why stop now?
That positive snowball can sometimes be harder to build. It’s usually a long process with a few breaks or stalls in between. It’s a lot of work to push that boulder back up the hill, but nothing worth having comes easy. There are no shortcuts. With that process comes an unbelievable amount of strength. Every time you reach a goal, every fear or obstacle you overcome adds to your snowball. Equipping you with more power and growth until pushing that boulder up the hill eventually seems effortless.
Breaking Out of Your Box
Without realizing it, we put ourselves in a box. That box is created by our thoughts and what others tell us of ourselves, clearly defining our strengths and weaknesses. We go through our entire lives in that box, accepting it as fact, not realizing that its walls are imaginary.
There is no material strong enough to hold up against hard work and the right mindset. That realization in and of itself can provide a revolutionary outlook on one’s life. It can make the steel walls of that box feel like wet cardboard.
Once someone comes to that conclusion and understands the process and effort required, I believe anyone can become proficient in any new type of pursuit.
Just a week or so after my McDonalds episode, I finally found a job with FedEx. Once again, I felt those familiar anxious feelings return. This time, I had nowhere to run. I desperately needed money, and there was no way to avoid it. Little did I know FedEx would inadvertently help to save my life.
I started off working in the warehouse for a few hours a night. Emptying trucks, throwing boxes on a belt, sweating my ass off. A far cry from any job I held previously. A few months had passed before I knew it. I lost 40 pounds and felt a growing sense of purpose.
I had never lost that much weight in such a short time. I started to improve my diet, within a few weeks, I noticed significant changes mentally as well. I felt a focus and clarity I had never felt before. The pounds continued to fly off.
My snowball grew.
A random recommendation on Twitter led me to discover the headspace app. Meditation had never been on my radar before. My previous way of thinking had me convinced it was nonsense. Downloading that app ended up being the best decision I have ever made for myself. After a few of their basic three-minute sessions, I became hooked. It provided more relief for the inner chatter and anxiety than Xanax, smoking weed, and Jack Daniels ever had. Finally, I had a tool to battle this thing in my head.
That’s when the progress ramped up tenfold. This newfound perspective and lease on life had me thirsting for knowledge. I began ravenously digesting podcasts, books, and YouTube videos, found several sources of motivation and inspiration. I took what I liked from each of them and molded it into a blueprint for myself.
I no longer wanted to run from my problems. I felt well equipped and looked to conquer them head-on. The crusade on myself began, eliminating every aspect of my life that I disliked. Setting small, achievable goals and reaching them. They ranged from losing x number of pounds by this date to carrying myself differently at work to command more respect.
I started to look at my past as experiences that built strength instead of reminding me of my shortcomings. I discovered that working out and pushing my physical limits facilitated even more growth. Starting every day with a sense of accomplishment gave me the confidence to handle the difficult situations I faced at work and everyday life.
Learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable became an obsession. Any time my initial instinct was to resist or avoid something. I jumped in with both feet.
I felt awkward navigating through the dating scene; the process felt clunky. So, I downloaded Tinder and Bumble and began dating more, putting myself out there as much as possible.
Working out in public made me feel self-conscious, so I started running through my neighborhood and at local parks, joined a gym, and decided to take a Muay Thai class.
Little by little, I started overcoming fears and turning negatives into positives, from claustrophobia to social anxiety, to school subjects that used to give me trouble. It’s easy to only concentrate on things you excel at, wanting to improve even more at those things. While that is always important, real progress comes from developing in the areas where you are lacking.
Of course, that’s the abbreviated version of my story. I could sit here and flesh out the details, every peak and valley of my journey. Maybe one day, I will. For now, I wanted to give some context as to why I’m here, why I’m so passionate about mental health and nutrition, and why I’ve started writing on medium in the first place.
Nobody is perfect. This whole thing is a continuously evolving process. Whether your twenty-nine or fifty-nine, the work on yourself never stops. I still have plenty of bad days, bad weeks, and even months. Life has a way of continuing to test you no matter what. The hope is that you pick up enough tools and build enough strength along the way to deal with it a little better each time.
I believe in you; because, as I said, I’ve been there. I considered myself a lost cause for many years. Thinking I just had to accept anxiety as a part of my life, thinking I just didn’t have it in me to lose weight after hundreds of failed attempts. It took those few months in a FedEx warehouse to give me the kickstart I needed.
I’m hoping that after reading this, my story can become someone’s FedEx warehouse.