“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” – John Dryden
The month of February is starting next week. How are you doing with your New Year’s resolution? You know, the one that you are going to “go to the gym” at least three times a week? If you’re like most people, you are already slacking on this. Statistically, over 80% of you are already sliding on this and will be completely over it by Valentine’s Day. What’s going on? Bought the right clothing for it, you planned it out well, or at least you thought you did. You even put the cool looking ID badge on your key ring to remind you of all the hard work you were doing. Now that ID badge is a constant reminder to you, nagging you that you are failing on a promise you made to yourself. What’s going on with you? Why can’t you “go to the gym?”
The answer lies in the reasons that you need to go to the gym in the first place. Most people decide to go to the gym were at one point in their life in pretty decent shape. They remained pretty active during high school and college, and perhaps were once quite athletic. By their early 30s jobs, careers, marriage, family, and children all came along and gradually changed their lifestyle. People find themselves trying to salvage small bits of their schedule to carve out some “me time,” where they can get in a workout. For most people, the lifestyle of trying to survive in the 21st century changes their daily habits. A person wakes up one day, looks in the mirror, and sees a large stranger staring back at them. After the initial realization that the stranger is actually them, thoughts change to, “What happened?” A person usually decides that they’re going to change and “get back to” some past physical size or capability that they had in their youth. You know, back to my weight when I got married, back to my 34 inch waist, back to my what ever. But how? How do I get it back?
The media, television, and the Internet-three indulgences that got you out of shape in the first place-eventually provides the answer. Join a gym! Simple! Three easy words, join a gym! 10 bucks a month! What could this possibly go wrong with this? Some of these gyms even guarantee that you will not feel embarrassed being there, promising that no one is going to judge you, there will be no muscled out bodybuilders juiced out of their minds actually working hard. You can go there, listen to a little pop music, putter around on a few shiny machines, and even attend their pizza night on Fridays. Within six weeks you look fantastic, all your friends will be telling you how great you look, and life will be puppies and rainbows.
So what goes wrong? What goes wrong is your willpower and habits need to be built up before you begin to work on your body. You’ve gotten out of shape because of a lifestyle that you developed because you have responsibilities. This fast-paced lifestyle that probably includes job and family stress that’s led to high levels of cortisol, eating on-the-fly when you get a chance, not enough time, and eventually too much on your plate. Literally and figuratively, too much on your plate. You’re too busy, eating a little too much of what ever is available when you’re hungry, and not moving enough during your day.
“You’ve decided to change, but nothing else has. Whatever got you here in the first place is still out there.”- Original quote from the author
The problem with this logic is that the reason you got out of shape in the first place is that your lifestyle changed your habits. Modern life is a Chinese water torture, slowly but surely dripping, dripping, eroding willpower and motivation. Going to the gym without building motivation first is the biggest mistake, setting you up for inevitable failure. The second mistake is announcing it to everyone. “I’m going to go to the gym, get back in shape.” Everyone knows it, and you emphasize it by putting that fashionable ID badge on your key ring. Within a couple of months it serves as a nagging reminder that you are fooling yourself. Eventually, you even stop looking at yourself in the mirror, stop stepping on the scale, and start feeling bad about yourself… again. You start believing that you’re lazy. In all reality, you wouldn’t be if you had the time to work out. You don’t! At least not in the traditional way of “going to the gym.” You have more important things in your life, or so you think… Telling yourself that you are going to “go to the gym” a regular basis is unrealistic in a setup for failure.
The solution? A little reality check. You can find the time. In fact, despite what you think, we all have the same amount of time-24 hours each day. How do you learn to utilize your time in a way that allows you to stay fit? Here are some practical, but not very sexy, suggestions:
⦁ Start by building up your motivation! It’s not that you don’t want to be in shape, you’ve lost your drive, motivation and willpower. Start by building this back first. The way to do this is with small, and I mean really small, bouts of exercise, 10 minutes or less, one to two times per day. It needs to be simple. Things like a 10 minutes stretching routine in the morning, parking your car a few blocks away from your job and walking, skipping the elevator for the stairs, or walking your dog after work, are good examples. No excuses! If the weather is unfavorable, then do 10 crunches and 10 push-ups on the floor. Write these down in a notebook! This is very important. It may seem trivial, but trust me, it’s not. You have to write this down with the date in what you did for those 10 minutes. Do not do any more than this for the first month! The goal for this month is to gradually get you used to moving again as pain-free as possible. If you go to a gym, your enthusiasm will take over in a way that your body cannot accommodate. You’ll get sore muscles, sore joints, pain, and will feel rundown. Nothing kills motivation faster.
⦁ Do not buy any equipment that you don’t already own! Nothing is a bigger reminder of your lack of motivation than a dusty exercise bike in your basement, or some $1500 exercise machine that you used for a few weeks. Remember, you’re building motivation first, and slowly. If you do have exercise equipment do not do a long routine of any type. 10 minutes periods of time only! If you feel enthusiastic indulge yourself with a second 5 minute period of time only if at least eight hours are between episodes. And, stick with this for a full month.
⦁ Not having any equipment to use is not an excuse. Start by using your body weight and learn how to move again. Equipment, although great, tends to put strain on the joints more so than body weight exercises. Pain is the killer of motivation, remember that.
⦁ Do not join a gym or spend any money on your exercise routine for at least 30 days! Work is probably one of the reasons you haven’t had the time to exercise over the years. Wasted money on trying to get fit is a nagging reminder that you are lazy, unmotivated, and out of shape. Before you spend a dime on your exercise program, be sure that you can stick to a routine for at least 30 days.
⦁ After 30 days you may begin to ramp up your exercise routine to approximately 30 minutes per day. This 30 minutes may be done consecutively or it can be broken down into two, 15 minute sessions. Again, it is imperative that this is recorded in your notebook with the date, the length of time, and what you did for exercise. Even though you made it through the first month or so, Do not go to the gym! The reason is you run the risk of sabotaging your exercise routine by the commitment of time it will take to get there, work out, shower and change, and return to your real life.
⦁ After 90 days of exercise, you’re on your own! Feel free to amp up your daily routine to as much as you want. If you want to buy home equipment, then do so. Whatever you do for a daily routine, just make sure it fits your schedule. Never drastically alter your schedule for your exercise routine! Remember, the reason you stopped exercising in the first place was because of your schedule. Make your routine fit your schedule by working out in the morning before your day starts, doing something during your lunch break at work, closing your office door for some push-ups, crunches, or stretching, doing an exercise tape every afternoon when you get home, walking your dog twice a day, etc. Your routine needs to be as natural as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. Getting in the car, driving to a commercial gym, changing into some fashionable clothing, working out in a warehouse under the scrutiny of others on shiny machines, showering, and returning to your real-world is not natural, at least not for you. There are select few who are wired to thrive at a commercial gym. You are not one of them! If you were, you’d never would have gotten out of shape in the first place. Don’t fool yourself! Do not go to the gym!
Following these suggestions will allow you to develop internal reasons for exercise. You can learn to enjoy exercise in and of itself, rather than for the external reasons where you are rewarded by what others think of you. The activity itself needs to be your reward. You need to consider it as being equally beneficial to your mental health as it is to your physical health. Once you start connecting the mind benefits with the body benefits, your hooked.
Just remember these simple rules:
⦁ At least three substantial workouts a week
⦁ Never go more than three days without some kind of workout.
⦁ A brief workout is better than no workout.
⦁ Do something daily, even if it is a few minutes of stretching on your “off” day. Mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and physical projects around the house all count as a workout.
⦁ Balance cardiovascular workouts with resistance work such as weights, body weight exercises, or resistance bands.
⦁ Don’t Diet! Just be sure to cut down on sugar, simple carbohydrates, and allow yourself sugary, sweet, desserts around one time per week.
“And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean? “- Apollo Creed
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