I’ve written much lately about showing up and making a change. It really is as simple as, “Make a schedule, and just show up,” but change is hard, which makes showing up to make a change hard and there are many barriers to overcome.
Life is busy. With work, and commuting, and family, and all the other stresses and strains on our time, scheduling in a regular torture session at the gym is hard. We step on the scale, we look in the mirror and we’re motivated to make a change. We join a gym and start to exercise, and the cold, hard reality hits; it hurts. It hurts to exercise, and it hurts to recover. It’s hard.
But that scale, that look in the mirror. We tough it out through that first recovery, and the second, but it’s still hard. Then that project at work needs a few extra hours, but that’s no problem, you can go tomorrow. Then the kid needs help with his homework, also no problem, there’s always tomorrow. Then the weekend arrives, and you’re going out with friends, but no problem. Of course, no one goes to the gym on Sunday, still no problem, you’ll start fresh next week.
Except you’re tired, so you put off Monday’s workout to Tuesday, to Wednesday, to…never. And you’re back to square one.
Change is hard. Motivation fades. Life catches up to you. I said it’s simple, not that it is easy. So how do you survive it? What will push you through the hard bits to make it a part of your life?
I don’t know.
Wait, wut? You don’t know? Then why are you writing this?
Because the reason I don’t know is that the way is unique. Everyone has his own path. My way isn’t yours, your way isn’t mine. I could tell you, knowing it to be true, that if you go to yoga three or four times a week, it will transform your life.
But what if you hate yoga? Doesn’t matter, if you go to yoga three or four times a week it will transform your life. The problem is, if you hate yoga, the odds of you going that often for long enough to transform your life are vanishingly small, as in approaching zero. As in, it’s not going to happen.
So I repeat, what to do?
First, find something you like to do. I hate lifting. There have been three separate times in my life when I tried to make lifting a part of my workout routine. All three failed for one simple reason, I hate lifting. If you don’t enjoy your exercise, you have a psychological barrier to overcome before you even begin. More succinctly, if you hate your workout, you won’t do it.
One of those times I tried lifting was after a summer job working in concrete. I’d gained 20 lbs of muscle, I liked how I looked and wanted to maintain it. This was third year first term and, between school, karate and running, the weight room lasted about two months. I didn’t like lifting, it was a chore to show up, and I stopped.
You don’t have to love your exercise, but you should like it enough that going isn’t a chore. Pick something you like, maybe you even grow to love it. It becomes a joy to do it, and the chore is skipping out when life is in the way.
Second, take away your choice. Don’t decide on Tuesday if you’re going to work out on Tuesday. Decide Monday night. Prep your gym bag, put it beside the door with your keys, before you go to bed. Don’t give yourself a choice on workout day.
Third, remove any barriers to getting there. My buddy Mike spin bikes in his basement. The barrier to getting there is walking down the stairs. Not a home workout guy? Find a gym on your commute, or close to it.
Fourth, remove any barriers to being there. If you’re uncomfortable exercising in a particular setting, find another one. One of the biggest problems of the gym is the question of, “Is somebody watching me?” I have written on the subject of ditching the gym for a home workout and, personally, I like going to the club, but if you find yourself too self-conscious to exercise, you won’t. You won’t even show up.
Fifth, prepare yourself physically. Yes, prepare yourself psychologically (points one to four), but prep your body. Keep up on your sleep. Leaving aside all the other benefits of good sleep, it’s hard to work out when you’re tired. Do you sweat a lot? Make sure you’re hydrated. Is your workout a heavy calorie burner? Eat a banana ½ an hour in advance. Develop little routines to pre-suade yourself that you’ll have an excellent workout.
I like to eat a few small squares of dark chocolate shortly before leaving for the club. I cut off all caffeine 6 hours before. I have a bottle of water before going to the car. I generally listen to Bach or Chopin on the drive in. At the club, some people find themselves more comfortable in a certain spot in the room. Some people have little warm up routines before every class. Whatever it takes, prep yourself.
Sixth, have a cool down routine. After every class I give myself a few minutes to lay down and relax. I drink another bottle of water (I sweat a lot). On the drive home I like to listen to Amon Amarth’s “Surtur Rising.” After particularly difficult evening classes I drink a cup of recovery tea. Seriously, that’s the name on the bag. Don’t know if it’s doing anything at all physically, but it’s part of the routine.
Routine, routine, routine. If you make your workout a part of your life’s routines you flip the script. You don’t choose to show up, you choose to skip. A healthy lifestyle becomes the default and quitting becomes hard.
Finally, and most important of all, tame the critic between your ears. Stay positive because it’s far too easy to get down on yourself when:
- You have a bad class.
- You’re not seeing the progress you want.
- You slip on your diet.
- You miss a week. Whatever.
This is the acid test, don’t get down on yourself. Push through. If you do, you’ll set yourself up to slip further and the easiest way to silence the critic is to quit. Then he’s won and you’ve lost, and lost all the potential benefits. Change is hard, but it’s worth it.