The Care and Feeding of Your Inner Crab

There are a hundreds of health and fitness bloggers out there who can offer excellent tips for improving your diet, getting in great shape, staying cheerful in the face of adversity, achieving your most cherished goals, and just generally approaching life with an energetic, positive attitude.

Obviously, that's never been my forté.

I don't think everyone is naturally cheerful, or easily motivated. On the other hand, plenty of grumpy, unenthusiastic, and downright lazy folks like myself have discovered the amazing benefits of good nutrition and vigorous exercise. We can commit to healthy living, and we do it. We may even enjoy certain aspects of it. But often we grumble. Healthy living can be a huge a pain in the ass.

But please don't pity us foot-dragging, cautious cynics. It's my contention that a certain amount of cranky skepticism when approaching health and fitness is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ever notice how many cheerful optimists announce plans to go completely raw-food vegan, or run a marathon, or lose 50 lbs--and then they just as cheerfully abandon these plans a month later to take up scrapbooking or tend to virtual livestock on FarmVille? They never expected that lifestyle changes would be such a hassle! Meanwhile, grumpier folks might complain about missing our cheeseburgers or Krispy Kremes or setting our alarms at 5 a.m. to work out--yet decades later, here we are, still doing our whiny best to tackle this whole "healthy living" thing. It never occurred to us that it would be easy.

So as the good ship Cranky Fitness sails off into the sunset (this is our last week of regular posting, though the blog will remain open for occasional updates) I'd like to offer some advice on Crabbiness. We all have an Inner Crab; but unlike the Inner Child movement, few people have advocated letting the poor Inner Crab out.

Well, phooey to that! There good times and bad times to be a Crab. A few ideas:

When to Exercise Your Inner Crab

1. Evaluating Sales Pitches

Image: indiamos

Optimistic types are much more likely to believe claims like "Read this book and lose 20 pounds in two weeks!" or "tone your entire body with one simple exercise!" or "try this cucumber-cactus needle 30 day cleanse and feel like a million!" Just because you want something to be true, does not make it so. Wishful thinking is a natural human tendency, and if someone can make a buck off yours, they will. So before you part with hard-earned money, listen to your Inner Crab and accentuate the negative. Don't believe what advertisements say until you've done some independent research.

2. Time-consuming and/or dangerous endeavors

Let's say your best friend's lifelong dream is an ascent up Mount Everest--and she wonders if you'd like to come along. Do you picture yourself at the top, admiring the view and posing for pictures, and figure the rest will just come naturally? Or do you envision frostbite, altitude sickness, avalanches, alienated family members, drained bank accounts, and extended periods of being freezing-ass cold and eating crappy food?

Well, the ability to imagine the downside of energy-sucking or risky pursuits, no matter how glamorous they sound, can be a huge advantage in setting meaningful priorities in life. Unless it's been your lifelong dream to climb the stupid mountain, in which case, what the hell, go for it.

3. Bullies

True, a crabby attitude won't help you if someone is threatening to give you a wedgie if you don't hand over your lunch money. But as an adult, bullying can be more subtle. Some folks feel threatened or inconvenienced by healthy habits, and might try to guilt you or otherwise manipulate you. Perhaps they want you to eat food you know isn't good for you, or skip your workout to go out barhopping, or to jump on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet.

You don't have to be a Crab to be assertive, but it helps. Sometimes non-crabby people are so optimistic about human nature they make excuses for assholes overly demanding companions, and become so easy-going they always put others first even when the demands are unreasonable. If you know you're being bamboozled into bad behavior, maybe it's time to embrace your Inner Crab and say "screw it!"

4. Lame Temptations

It's one thing to indulge in a tempting pleasure that you've earned and that you know you will enjoy. But if you're faced with an indulgence you don't even really want all that much, and are just succumbing out of habit or weakness, then be crabby and pissed off about your stupid choice before you make it, not after. Be pessimistic and emphasize the negative; don't exaggerate the potential pleasure a guilty treat will give you. (And then celebrate your awesome self-discipline when you take the high road).

5. Setting Goals

Another good time not to be too optimistic: when you're committing to a new self-improvement endeavor and figuring out how much you'll expect of yourself. Many would disagree with me, but I think optimistic over-promising can lead to a sense of failure, when you're actually making positive changes! Let your inner Crab reign in your expectations just a little, so that there's more room to exceed your own expectations.

When to Cage the Crab

Even lifelong Crabs like myself know that there are times when pessimism and orneriness are not our friends. So proper Inner Crab training involves the frequent use of at least a leash and/or a muzzle.

1. Poor Performance and General Screwing Up

In any self-improvement endeavor, there will be times (LOTS and LOTS of times) when you won't measure up to your own expectations. This is normal and natural and it does not mean that all is lost or that you will never meet your goals. It means you need to stop beating yourself up, figure out a better strategy, and keep on doing your best.

So when you screw up and need to encourage yourself to get back on track? Put a muzzle on that grumpy crab and think positive thoughts! You really CAN recover from even the most monumental fuck-up as long as you don't give up entirely.

2. Injuries

If you are a lifelong exerciser, you WILL hurt yourself. And you will have to do things differently if you want to stay active. Whether these changes are major or minor, temporary or permanent, they pretty much always suck.

At first, go ahead and let your Inner Crab bitch and moan all it wants. Pretending all is well when it isn't may lead to that creepy "I'm lying to myself" feeling. But after a couple days, it doesn't help to dwell too much on what you're missing out on; that energy is better spent exploring new alternatives. You need to cross-train anyway, and injuries are sometimes life's little kick in the pants to get you to mix things up.

3. Food Frustration

Healthy food takes a while to get used to. If you've been eating lots of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and refined grains, then you're just not going to appreciate the joys of fresh produce and lean proteins and whole grains right away. This is perfectly natural; there's nothing wrong with you. You have two choices: either adjust gradually, or suffer through an ugly transition period. Either way, it's not a good time to get all pessimistic and think that healthy eating will always be torture. Because it won't. Your tastes will change with repeated exposure, I promise. The trick is to keep finding more stuff you actually like, so cutting out 90% of the crap that the rest of the world eats doesn't feel like such a hardship. But this process can take a while, and focusing on the good things you can eat instead of the evil yummy things you shouldn't is a much more effective approach.

4. Dealing With Cheerful Companions

The cranky, skeptical viewpoint that comes in so handy for us crabs in evaluating options and keeping us out of trouble can, weirdly enough, depress and alienate our more cheerful companions. They often don't appreciate our realistic caution, and tend to see it instead as Party Pooperism.

This does not mean that a natural Crab has to be fake cheerful all the time. But it does help to be judicious with our crabbiness. For example, it's best to save skepticism for times when there are choices to be made and it is still possible to change the situation; after-the-fact "I knew this was a really stupid idea" type speeches are seldom well-received.

Anyone else have advice on harnessing your Inner Crab? Or are you all cheerful optimists just peeking in to see how the other half lives?

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