In this final Health and Wealth episode Lisa Linfield chats through hitting rock bottom after a the Year of the Twins.  Having survived IVF, the pregnancy from hell and various hospitalisations, I finally felt able to go for a run over a year later.

I take you through that experience of hitting rock bottom, and looking back on what life is like with no health, and how I discovered the two keys to success in regaining my health that apply just as aptly to your wealth.

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Speaker 1:           00:00     Welcome to Working Women’s Wealth, where we discuss what it takes to build real wealth in a way normal humans can understand. Here’s your host Lisa Linfield.

Lisa Linfield:       00:21     Hello everybody, and welcome to today’s session of Working Women’s Wealth. One of the questions I often ask myself, both as a financial coach and just in reflection upon my own life is, can people change their behavior? Are we stuck the way we are? Is it just our DNA and we happen to be a product of it? So, it’s actually useless trying to change because it’s just the way we are? There are many people who can affect change, and it’s usually after some Damascus Road experience, something that truly, phenomenally shifts their life.

For me, I did have one of those Damascus Road experiences in January 2012, but it wasn’t what necessarily changed my life. I guess it was just what opened my eyes to the fact that rock bottom is not a place where one wants to stay. So, let me take it back a little while to give you some context so you can understand why this was such a profound experience for me. I started at the age of about 10 on diet. I was taken with my mom and dad to [inaudible 00:01:28] a bit like Weight Watchers, and every week we would go in and be weighed and report back on what we had  eaten and have to face a bit of humiliation if you put on a bit of weight.

I look at my daughter Jess at 10 years old, and I thank God that this isn’t part of her journey. I think both from a conscious perspective, we’ve chosen a path where we reflect only health and healthy things and what’s good to eat, not necessarily anything to do with weight or fat, but also in her genetics, she has a different makeup to me. But that started a long road from about 10 to 25 of that teenage anxiousness about weight and self-image and the latest diet, the latest craze in how we could lose weight. Fit or fat, you name it. Milkshake diets, starvation diets. I went to a boarding school and there are many different unhealthy habits like they are in many girls school.

This treadmill lasted for 15 years. From an exercise perspective, I never found any problem exercising. It was easy. I played sports, I was in sports teams. We had a huge sense of accountability to the other people on the team. It was never an option that you would let them down. Those team sports continued when I went to university, and I played hockey for my university. It was just a great sense of belonging. For me, it was far more about belonging to a team, than it was never about the actual physical exercise and the benefits of health. It wasn’t that conscious. It just was.

That part of it and fitness just was something that was part of life. But that diet thing just never quite worked. I guess I had an association like many teenagers, that boys would only date you if you were thin. So, it was this perpetual Monday, go and diet, starve yourself Tuesday. By Wednesday you’ve broken it and you’d go back to it on Monday again. And then that end of school came, and the end of University. I was out in the big bad world all by myself. No longer were there team sports that made you accountable. You had to get up and go to the gym by yourself.

So, it started another 10 years of really interesting observations of how difficult it was to go to gym if there was no team waiting for you, and no fun to be had and no laughter. I very much struggled to maintain consistent exercise. I would go for three weeks to a gym. Sign up, new contract, three weeks, and then life would happen and stuff would be. I was at the beginning of my career and I used to work all hours given to me. I moved to London and I guess innately with all the walking one does between tube stations and your home, there was a lot more general exercise, but I was never able to maintain it from any length of time.

I guess because also because at London you couldn’t afford to belong to a gym, my main thing was running and well, it rained all the time. So, I never quite did get around to doing much running through that period. So, I had never quite mastered the consistency of health, the consistency of eating correctly exercising correctly, following the right nutrition, and I’d never quite considered that there was something that could be done to make this any easier. I just figured this was life, you had to fight with yourself every single day about that alarm clock that would go, where you’d go, there’s no hope I’m getting up at this time in the morning. Because you’d only gone to bed a few hours earlier because you were working so late.

I think also, the other thing that worked against me was that my first degree is that I’m a physiotherapist or a physical therapist as it’s known overseas. I guess I thought I had all the knowledge I needed. But the challenge of life is knowledge is such a small part of getting things done. It doesn’t really help. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have if you don’t get up when that alarm clock goes. You’re never going to make it to the other side of health.

I basically, not resigned myself. I don’t think I ever resigned myself to being unhealthy, but life just took over and John and I got married and we came back to South Africa, and we started upon the journey of having children, which then again interrupted everything because there were pregnancies and brand new babies and things like that. It was only after three, four years struggle with fertility that we went for an IVF cycle that did happen to be successful. We were blessed enormously with these two amazing twins. The IVF was in December, and I’ll never forget it. From the middle of December, I was seriously ill. I just knew that this one had worked.

It started a year’s journey where it truly was a battle just to be alive. The year of the twins was one of those years that one reflects on and thank God that you made it to the other side. I was in hospital three times, one of them of which was trying to stop labor at 32 weeks. I had spent five months in bed, I lost 15 kilos, and it was just a quest to live through each minute. There was much time that I could think and reflect about, I guess health because I was in bed for a lot of time. But I remember people saying to me, “Did you read books and watch TV and catch up on such amazing things of having so much time in bed?” I remember saying them, I didn’t even have the energy to move. I’d lie in bed and watch the sparrows and the weaver birds make nests and the thing outside. I never even had a TV. I didn’t read one book. Every minute of the day was focusing on just trying to make it through the day.

The twins came and the birth wasn’t an easy thing. I managed to survive the first couple of months with two sets of nappies, two sets of feeding, two sets of sleeping, and not enough arms to feed both and change and manage two babies. They were born in August and I’ll never forget that January of 2012, it was great. We were at our house at the river and our house is in a complex that is on the river, but the way that you get to the road is through these farms and fields of [inaudible 00:08:10] and a pig farm. You literally go outside the gate of the complex and you feel like you could be in the middle of nowhere in the world because it’s just literally farmland and sounds of pigs and animals. It’s just really beautiful. I had a route that I used to run before the turns. That route 2500 route, through the farm back to the road and back again.

I obviously was feeling good enough that for the first time since a year and a bit before, I was able to actually put on my [inaudible 00:08:43] and decide I was going to go for a run and off I went. It was a beautiful blue day I remember, not a cloud in the sky. It was early in the morning, so it wasn’t too hot, and off I went. And then by the time I’d hit three minutes, I could go no longer. I remember sitting down near the jungle gym in our estate and just bawling my eyes out because I guess it was the relief of having survived that year. The ability to actually sit and reflect on it and not be in it. The ability to reflect on how hugely lucky I was to have these two amazing little cherubs and myself alive and all in one piece.

It was that relief that made me cry. But it was not just the relief, it was also the huge realization of what poor health really is. When you’re unable to walk up the stairs in your own house, when you are unable to make it down a passage and you have to crawl. When you’re unable to move. I sat there and I cried and I cried and I cried and I just knew I had to find a different solution because I had tried for 36 years of my life to exercise and to eat healthily and to be all of the things that one should be. But I’d never managed to succeed on a sustainable basis.

One of the amazing things about the human brain is once it opens itself and decides to do something, it looks and seeks and scans its environment, both consciously and subconsciously, to find a solution to this question that you’ve asked it. It was in May, a couple of months later, I’d gone back to work, maternity leave was finished. I’d been at an offsite and was driving back with a work colleague and friend of mine. I remember chatting about the weekend as you do, and asking her what her plans were. She said, “Well, tomorrow morning I’m going to gym with my trainer and then blah blah…” And carried on talking.

I remember thinking to myself, maybe that’s it. Maybe I need to try a personal trainer. I’ve tried everything else, maybe even considered a personal trainer. So as we were talking, I asked her, “Do you think it would be okay if I could see what it’s like to have a personal trainer?” Because I imagined huge, big fat muscle men that made you try and look like a muscle man. And this was just not my idea of health. We were in the car, she phoned him and he said, yeah, I’ll come along.

The next morning I rocked up at Kyle early in the morning with Michelle and we embarked on my first training session ever. Completely unlike my image of muscle men and steroids, we went down to an abandoned tennis court where there were tractor tires where they use the tractor tires to train. Now, imagine a tractor tire that at least comes up to the middle of your thigh. It wasn’t a little dude, it was a big guy. We spent the next hour hammering this thing with a weighted hammer, jumping up and down it, squatting on to it, dragging it from the one side of the tennis court to the other, and any number of huge endeavors of physical strength. It was quite an interesting thing because it was functional, because it wasn’t muscle men and trying to push a weight or two. It resonated with me in terms of the team sports and the things that I’d been involved in. It appealed to me not just being this linear lifting and pushing of weights.

The other thing was that it ignited almost the competitive thing in me, not for my friend, but for myself, where I could not believe that I was unable to do most of these exercises. Halfway through, I had to run very quickly to the bathroom. I think my train of thought that there was not a hope in heaven I would ever return back. Not only had I walked into this hectic session, but I was clearly unable to do it, and had been unwell through the whole period. But I knew deep inside myself that I had found the answer that I needed to come and do this kind of exercise. Exercise that made you strong, feel good, and that challenged you beyond your normal thing. It wasn’t just counting reps and pushing weights.

I had a deep think within myself because I guess one of the reasons why I’d never considered a trainer was because I had all of this huge amount of knowledge as a physio, I really didn’t get the concept of paying someone else to help me with something that I could very easily do on my own, put my own programs together. But I committed to it twice a week and I started going. I started going in the middle of winter, so it was very cold nights and I’d work out after work, and I do my hour. Through my life or through the period five and a half years, I basically go every week twice a week.

One of the things that’s changed in me is the conversation in my head. If the alarm goes or the reminder goes, and it’s early in the morning, and I need to get up for gym, I now gym in the morning, it’s not a conversation in my head that goes, oh my goodness. I don’t feel like doing this. Its changed the conversation completely. When the alarm goes off, my instinctive reaction is definitely not a hope in heaven am I going. It quickly changes to that almost logical response of, do I feel like wasting the money that I pay him on retainer? I’ve never come up to yes. Its never been worth wasting money to not go.

The other thing is that accountability of having someone waiting for you and knowing that you’re going to let them down if you’re not there, that also is something that I just can’t do. One of the amazing things about long term behavioral change is that the people around you see it. I was listening to the podcast that went live last week with Donna again, just before I put it up live. One of the things we were talking about is what happens if your spouse doesn’t buy into the financial changes that you want him to make? Her response was, well, you can never convince someone else, which I agree. But over time, people see that something has changed in you.

In the last five and a half years or since I started, John, my husband started going to Kyle. It’s quite a funny thing because the only reason why he went was I was having the first of my surgeries to try and fix up the insides after two twins had used my bladder as a trampoline. I had six weeks where I wasn’t allowed to go to gym. I said to him well, it’s no use us wasting that money, so you may as well take the sessions. He’s also always had the same view on personal trainers that they’re all trying, especially him because he’s a tall, well-built man, is that this dude was going to make him try and look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he didn’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He loved it.

When I went back, I said, “Well, why don’t we try just doing it together?” He said, there’s no way I’m going to be doing exercise and sweating with my wife. I get too focused on my exercise, and I don’t want the distraction. I said, “Well, let’s try it. We’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s give it two weeks, if you don’t like it.” I think the thing with finding a good trainer, a bit like a good advisor is that they’re able to work in complex situations. So, John would do his program, I would do mine. It clearly wasn’t a time of love and cuddles or anything like that. But it worked. And it worked well. For many years when our schedule was in sync, we used to go together, and we used to do the exercise and come back.

Then over time, last year, my mom joined me, and now my mom and I actually gym in the morning. It is just the most fantastic privilege to be able to join with my mom. She is the most phenomenal woman. She was a great team athlete at school. She has that strong mind, that strong will that some people have when it comes to exercise of that you never give up. She whoops my butt 90% of the time. Having her has really lifted my game a bit too. But it’s also fun, and we laugh and we joke, and it’s just another element of our relationship, which I love so dearly.

And then this year my dad joined us. One of the reasons I’m hugely pleased about the fact that my mom and dad do gym is my views after 40, the main thing you should be focusing on is strength and proprioception. Because fitness is important and that will never go away. But strength and proprioception are even more important because you need to be able to hold your muscles when you trip and when you fall or when you stumble. I’ve watched my mum balance art in terms of muscle strength. She’d always done spinning three times a week, but she was very imbalanced, and her proprioception is good. Her strength is brilliant. She can tank anyone hands down. Its just been a fantastic thing to feel a sense of comfort that they’re getting that much needed supervised plan.

Recently, I had hopefully the last of my surgeries and was off again for six weeks. When I came back, I was about two weeks into it. I was on the elliptical trainer. I was on the elliptical trainer at level eight, just warming up moseying through my 10 minute warm up, and this woman next door to me, was much younger than myself and was really exerting herself at level four. It was a really interesting reflection on the power of consistency. Because I’d been out of the game. My body was toast. Nothing like a good anesthetic and a couple of operations on your organs to make sure that you come back a little, not quite in great form. That power of consistency meant that I was able to even having lost some of my form, just step back into it and maintain a base level of strength.

When I was … I don’t think it was a thing of med school, but it was definitely an era about 20 years ago where you were of the opinion that you had to exercise three to four times a week, at least an hour and kill yourself through the process for it even to register on the Richter scale. It has been a humbling lesson as a trained, qualified professional physiotherapist to be able to work or to deeply grasp this concept that there is so much in life that’s about consistency, about many little small things that are repeated consistently that make exponential differences in your life.

I guess bring it back from the health to the wealth, those two lessons are hugely important. I think accountability partners are the number one difference between success and failure. If you’ve tried by yourself for so long to change something, be it health, be it wealth, be it anything and you haven’t managed to succeed, then you can’t sit and think that by trying again suddenly this time it’s going to work. It might do and you might be one of the rare few that do, but for most people, it requires something different in order to be successful at changing that. That to me is accountability partner. In finances, a financial advisor can be your accountability partner, but it could be anybody. It could be afraid so long as they hold you accountable, and don’t let you believe the stuff in your head. That can be a colleague at work, it can be a mentor coach, it can be anybody. But someone who meets with you regularly to hold you accountable. Because one of the challenges is wealth exactly like health is a daily habit.

It’s a bit like a ship that’s one or two degrees off. It doesn’t look that much in the beginning, but after a couple of days at sea, you’re heading to South America instead of North America. So, it’s really important that there is some regular accountability. The other thing I found useful in different areas. For example, when I was launching this podcast, was I’m part of a closed group of podcasters. Just hearing other people’s success stories and watching them battle through issues but make it through to the other side, creates that sense that actually you can do this and you can achieve it. What you thought is impossible is actually doable because there are other people who are cheering you on.

I remember on launch when this podcast hit fourth in the business and ninth in all of South Africa’s podcast, the generosity of spirit, of people saying, “Hey, well done. That’s great.” Was just the most, not only comforting, but just a reassuring thing, and just great because they had been through all these difficult downs. I had committed to an October launch date originally, and had to go in for the surgery. Which meant that I only launched in November. But they’d helped me through that and cheered me on when I did my first interview, and then when the podcast went live. Not only could it be a human like your financial advisor, but it could also be a Facebook group. It can be an app that tracks one of the key pieces of research in the book on habits that I read. It said that people who record either their weight daily or their expenses daily are more likely to change behavior than those that don’t. So, one of the apps could be the difference for you. But find someone to be accountable to.

Secondly, never underestimate the power of consistency. Just save a small amount a month, 500 Rand, 50 pounds, whatever it is, just save a small amount every single month. That consistency adds up over time. That compounding of that interest adds up over time. So, make sure that you never think that you’re supposed to save 10,000 Rand. Start small. You don’t do an ironman from nothing. You start small. You take one discipline at a time, and you grow and grow and grow, until eventually you do the ironman. You don’t do it straight away.

I would really urge for all of you to find not only an accountability partner, but also to start with something small, but commit to doing it consistently. Come rain or shine, you’re going to save that or invest a small amount of money. For me, those were the key lessons I learned through this watershed moment of working out that without your health and in retirement without your wealth, you’re unable to do the things that life has created you to do. To enjoy those children that I tried so hard to have.

For all of you, I wish you a really great period of reflection through this December period. That you would then come to some form of settling in your heart about the things that you need to do to make sure that your retirement stays on track. I’m Lisa Linfield, and this is Working Women’s Wealth. Thanks so much. Cheers.