The power to decide

I’m feeling ready to begin work towards bodybuilding-type goals again, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit conflicted. Can I add more intensity and/or volume to my training without overdoing it and triggering my PTSD? Can I work towards some fat loss in a healthy way that honors the life I want to live, not just the body I’m hoping to display?

We are each our own authority.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I worked with him, but I can still hear the gravelly voice of my teacher, Donald, trumpeting in my head.

Donald is charismatic, powerful, and has the gravitas that comes from years of study and deep thought. Only a few inches taller than myself, his presence seems larger than the physical space he takes up.

And he is telling me that when making life decisions I am my own authority.

I have the autonomy and responsibility to determine my own path.

Not only can I disagree with him, I’m actually going against his teachings if I find myself agreeing with him all of the time. I have to determine what is right for me, or I’m not being an ethical, responsible person.

When it comes to what is healthy, what habits and practices are best for each of us, we are each our own authority. We have the autonomy and responsibility to determine what is best for ourselves. Experts like physicians can help us know what might be ideal, but we have to do the work to fit those recommendations into our lives. No one else can truly tell us how best to put it into action. When we allow others to define what is best for us–rigidly follow a diet or exercise plan–we not only relinquish our autonomy, we fail to take responsibility for our actions and choices.

When we attach a label to what we are doing and who we are, we can use it as a shorthand for giving up our own responsibility to decide.

I can’t eat right now, I’m an intermittent faster. (Giving up to the clock our responsibility for listening to and respecting our internal hunger cues.)

I can’t eat anything else today (or I have to keep eating) because I have to hit my calorie target. (Giving up responsibility to listening to the unique appetite needs of your day.)

I have to do this workout as written because it’s Monday. (Giving up the responsibility of listening to how the movements feel in your body on a given day.)

I’m opposed to anyone having fat loss goals. (Attempting to take away the autonomy and personal responsibility of individuals to decide what is best for themselves and their body composition.)

It is work to have to make decisions. It’s easier to have a template to follow than to make our own designs. I love structure, and I love having routines to follow. And I work hard to make sure that the templates and structures I create for myself are built upon what works best for me, not what someone else has told me I should do. I am my own authority. I decide.

So, I need to remember to not let I’m a bodybuilder limit my view or prevent me from listening to my inner wisdom.

Whether or not it is healthy for me to pursue bodybuilding, building more muscle, reducing body fat, depends upon me–my brain, my body, my abilities to navigate life in a healthy way while pursuing those goals.

Whether or not it would be healthy for me to pursue any goals–running faster or farther, gaining or losing weight, adding more fruits and veggies to my day, taking vitamins or other supplements, maxing my lifts, going for a morning walk–depends upon my brain, my body, and my abilities to navigate life in a healthy way while pursuing those goals.

I am my own authority. I have a responsibility to do the work to make sure that the pursuit of the goal is being done in a healthy way, and I can change the goal and how I approach it at any time. That’s part of being responsible and responsive to myself. I need to let my internal compass show me the way, and the work is not set-it-and-forget-it. That’s part of being a responsible and ethical decision maker, too.

The truth is, whether or not we abdicate responsibility, we are still our own authority. Relinquishing authority is a choice we are making, too. And trying to take away the choices of others–telling them what they should or shouldn’t do–doesn’t remove their autonomy either, and it’s unethical to try. Show me a revolution that didn’t start with an act of defiant autonomy.

We each desire to be the director of our own lives even when we wish for the path of least resistance. And that’s an important piece of the puzzle, too–wrestling between autonomy and the short-term ease of following along with someone else’s rules and expectations. We can try on someone else’s ideas for a while and see how they fit, but our responsibility is to never stop noticing where it feels wrong. We can note the areas of discomfort and decide if we need to make adjustments or if the whole thing needs to go and we need something entirely different.

At the extremes, we can note those personal acts of defiance–binging on all the foods, quitting all workouts and watching Netflix when we used to go to the gym, moving from eating no meat to living off of steak. If we neglect our autonomy, at some point we will show ourselves that we’ve gone too far. But rebellion isn’t fully autonomous, either. It’s still a reaction to something outside of us rather than a decision made from within.

We dwell in the place of true personal authority when we are making decisions based upon our own internal compass. And that’s the work–to develop our own internal awareness, to be checking in with ourselves regularly, to transcend the labels and self-limiting beliefs to determine what is best for us now and looking towards the future.

I am my own authority. No one else can decide what is best for me.

We are each our own authority. No one else can decide what is best for each of us.

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