It has been 5 weeks since I’ve started working out at the gym. I’ve retired 2 pair of pants, changed my diet, and increased my fitness level, while feeling a lot more motivated to do new things in life.
“This is amazing!” I thought to myself as I stared at the mirror and felt my second pair of pants about to slip down my hips as I continued tightening my belt further.
You see, I’ve always had this terrible habit of procrastination, or giving excuses for anything that I knew I had to do. I remember telling myself the same few reasons, so much so that I could give you a list of them. Well, why not. Here’s the top 5 excuses why I shouldn’t go for a gym / swim / workout / jog today:
- “Jogging doesn’t do much help as compared to going to the gym.”
- “I’ll go to the gym when there’s no body inside.”
- “I don’t know how to swim.”
- “I don’t know if I’m doing this workout correct.”
- “I haven’t quit my job to find time to hit the gym.”
Sometimes, we may use a certain “favorite” set of excuses on repeat, to the point where we start giving excuses on auto-pilot. This goes beyond the context of fitness. To some, it may be in the long forgotten dream of wanting to become a writer (but pushing off writing a 500 word blog entry because they were “too busy”), to others, it may be in other areas such as starting a business (“I’ve got no time to work on a business idea when I still am working in a full-time job.”).
I too, was once a habitual excuse producing machine. Till I turned it off.
From excuses producing machine to purpose driven human being
As I was beginning to come up with a topic to write on today, a verse from the bible kept repeating itself in my head.
“Do not despise these small beginnings” — Zechariah 4:10 NLT
At the time of writing, I’ve just returned from a swim, pulled my hamstring, no big issue. Felt glad as it was my first time in the pool in months, where it took a couple of glasses of Baileys before I even dared entered into the water. This swim, was my next step in my small beginnings to give my life a complete makeover.
I mentioned my decision to make a trip down to a gym for the first time with my friend in the previous post.
At the gym, I felt like a complete newbie … wait, no. I was a complete newbie in the gym.
Everyone else was lifting weights that were much heavier and at higher repetitions that I could do on my day 1.
Needless to say, I was entirely sore throughout the week. I decided to give it another shot for my day 2, which was 7 days later. I thought it was going to be the same routine as we did on day 1. How wrong I was! We did a completely different set of exercises, utilizing other machines, and learned that different types of exercises worked different muscle groups. I had to cut my exercise short for day 2, as I had a work appointment scheduled to start in 30 minutes time. I missed out one set of exercises that I was taught to look forward to towards the end of our gym sessions—they were all for the abs.
There were 3 machines that were isolated at a different corner of the gym that almost no one (or less than 5% of the gym goers for the day) would use.
I sucked at those abs exercises.
“It’s because you have a lot of belly fat! You need to lose that first to get into good form for these set of exercises. We’ll do these every end of our gym sessions every week.” my friend told me from day 1.
After one of such workout sessions I was then told, “You need to get this intensity at every workout session. If you are really serious about this, you need to up the frequency to twice a week like me, or 4 times a week (to target every muscle group), and eat clean. You need to find a way to make it sustainable.”
I believed it was then when I started to make a shift from an excuse driven personality, to becoming a purpose driven human being.
Every act we do has got to be purpose driven in order to allow us to sustain our newly formed habits better–purpose driven is more in-depth than having to say that “my purpose in life is to change the world”, it goes deeper.
For instance, I’ve learned to stock up on groceries that will last beyond a week, in order to prevent myself from looking at alternative sources (such as fast food), when food runs out in the refrigerator, or to drink coffee sans-sugar to keep myself in alert state prior to going for a workout, to portion my meat for the week before placing them into the freezer, or even for today’s decision to add swimming into my schedule is due to it having the benefits from cold-exposure, and being crucial for speedy muscle recovery.
Of course, all these wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t able to break free from certain fears conveyed through the excuses that I had given throughout the years.
Understanding the specific reason behind your fears, and what you can do to turn things around
Most fears are stemmed from very trivial reasons. As with the examples I’ve mentioned at the start of this post, almost all of them were variations of the fear of “looking dumb in front of others”, or “what would others think of me?”
Like my example in getting into better shape or having improved fitness levels, my fears that held me back from even beginning weren’t necessarily about “what if I did an exercise wrongly and tore my muscles” or “what if I trained today even when I am feeling overly exhausted and get a counter-productive session instead”. They were more of the fear of embarrassing myself of others because I am a newbie to begin with.
How about another example about writing a blog? I too had some fear when writing this blog too, and it goes as trivial as “what would others think of me”, instead of more legitimate worries such as “could I reach my goal of 1,000 words for this post”, to “could I come up with an article that is organized to different sub headers with a couple of take away pointers that the readers could use”.
For every new goal that you are setting, there will be such fears that seeks to low-blow you. It’s your role to switch off those fears, and turn things around by doing the tiny things that will get you further ahead in your life.
Here’s 3 things to overcome your fears.
1. Do tiny and almost laughable steps.
First and foremost, no one is laughing at you. While I was carrying light weights on my first day at the gym, looking all out of shape and feeling as though I was doing everything wrong, I realized that no one else bothered to even laugh. The truth is that everyone else was busy working out their own exercises to even give a second’s worth to even thing of anything bad about others around them.
My first lesson on day 1 was to get my form correct. While the goal is to increase my muscle mass to have a better resting metabolism rate over time, this meant that I had to start from the weight suitable for me to correct my form to prevent from injury and to engage the muscle groups that I am targeting with the exercise.
Similarly for changing my diet, I started my groceries shopping for my first week with a whopping (sarcasm) $15. I bought organic peanut butter (ingredients include only peanuts and salt), guacamole, and organic eggs. My friend topped up by buying a packet of baby oats to help me get started for the new week. I changed my breakfast for the week, and felt the change worked. I then proceeded to change my diet further on week 3, bumping up my bill for groceries to a bit over $50 after doing some research prior to getting what I need, and then $70 on the 4th week with even more research and seeing my pants getting looser by the week.
Even for my first swim, my goal was to me able to get my body to adapt to the water, get used to be in the pool for at least 15 minutes, and try to get a lap done without getting any injuries. Of course, as no one will be assisting me in swimming, I have to rely on seeing how others swim to get a better sense on how I can improve my form better in the current session.
Likewise for writing, I had to give up on over-thinking of topics and start writing on the one thing that is relevant to me now, with pointers that serves as the lessons learned that inspired this entry.
2. Repeat the very same actions again on another day.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Beyond getting your first day done, can you repeat the same meal, exercises, activities (from swimming, to sitting infront of your computer and typing your next 1000 words, to writing down notes on paper during interviews or services). It’s about going the long-game. You see, anyone can go to the gym for an induction session, or write a 1000 word essay once. How about doing the same things over and over again in the next 30 days? Can you see yourself doing that beyond 30 days, extending towards a 2 years period?
I’m quite lucky to have a gym buddy who’ve been through the same things for over 7 years, who’s activities and habits I could model after to see greater success in the forming of my own.
It wasn’t the first gym session that got me this far. It was the repeated gym sessions with my buddy, then following through by personally doing the same activities and actions on my own throughout the week.
3. Intensify your actions—the only way to get you your optimal results.
Going beyond the 2 simple steps. “Can you repeat it in the same intensity on your own? 2 times a week. If you are really serious about this, 4 times a week.” My gym buddy said to me. The routine wasn’t really that of the extreme end. I’ve met with a Muay Thai instructor — who had guided me with some variation of exercises which I could do at places with limited gym machines available — worked out 5 times a week, excluding training sessions, and a triathlete — who competes worldwide in traiathlons — who runs upwards to 20km every morning at 4am.
It took me up to my 4th try at my home gym to get to the intensity that I wanted.
Intensity, small steps, and how failure helps to overcome your fears
After all, starting small doesn’t necessarily lead you to anywhere. There’s this certain barrier of limitation that we all would know it best as “comfort zone” which we could only break it by exerting ourselves to reach our optimal state fast through intense action taking.
Intensity doesn’t also mean that we should go beyond what we are able to do right from the start. It means we should gradually max out in deliberate, self-controlled motion. Of course, if you know you could do better, seek assistance to push yourself beyond your present ability.
How does intensity then relate to small steps?
Here’s examples of what I did:
Small step: joined my friend for gym sessions
Intensify: do similar actions and understanding the rational behind it, but at my personal max
Small step: start writing my blog entry
Intensify: aim for beyond 1000 word entries, with minimal of 2 sub-headers, with a 3 point takeaways for easier reading
Small step: join a running group session
Intensify: do my max interval runs for the first 2.4km, complete the rest at a slower pace
Will there be instances where we reach a point of failure? Definitely! Many times.
Failure is normal.
For example, during my first week of gym, I had my body ached till the point where I couldn’t move for most of the week. It was only until recently where I could pick up a 3 times a week routine where pain is still existent (I’ll just work on the areas where it doesn’t hurt yet), while I am switching up to tailor in a morning run (today run -> breakfast, gradually going towards breakfast -> workout) — yes, I’ve failed at day 2 where I couldn’t complete a high intensity interval run by 9 minutes (usual 10 minutes without stop).
Even throughout the entire gym sessions, I had lots of assistance for negative and forced reps just to get my inactive muscles into shock and pressure, conditioned for growth.
I had failed in my interval runs in between a long distance running session, where I had complete it on my first try, the second try failed to the point where I had to find a shortcut to complete the route in 20 minutes overtime.
I’ve too failed in completing a blog post. This post took 3 weeks to finish in over a period of 2 separate writing days.
However, there’s a light at the end of failure. It’s completion.
You’ve completed a good workout. You’ve completed a good writeup.
Can you see yourself moving on from that to something bigger in the next 30 days or 3 months?
You’ve completed your first book. You’ve dropped 2 inches off your waistline. You’ve completed your e-tailer site.
Let’s get things done. :)