Photos taken 5th July 2020 (left) and 12th August 2020 (right)
I’ve spent all my life till this year avoiding exercise most days or exercising and hating it.
Exercise has always been on my “should do” list, and I’ve spent a tonne of energy and time avoiding it and hating it. I’ve tried time and again to get into some sort of regular exercise routine and failed time and again. There was even a 3 month period when I booked personal training sessions regularly at the gym, hoping this would get me on the right path to fitness. I did get more fit during that time, but as soon as the sessions stopped, I went straight back to my exercise avoiding ways.
This isn’t to say I felt badly about my lack of fitness or my appearance. Maybe that added to my lack of motivation?
I just could not convince myself that fitness was that important. Life rolled along just fine without it, and all the things I most loved doing were not conducive to fitness (song writing, reading, socialising, eating tasty things).
But this March I began 2 things:
1) ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNERS: I started setting a few priorities each morning and texting my priorities to accountability partners who texted me theirs each day also
2) EXERCISING DAILY: For some reason whenever I set my priorities for the day, which ranged from things like “drink water” and “bath” to “finish tax return”, number 1 on the list every day was “exercise”.
I don’t know why I started putting exercise on my priorities list each day. It had never been a priority for me before. I think it might be because I knew it was something I could do in exactly 11 minutes. I had bought an online programme of 11 minute workout videos called “One And Done”. Putting exercise on my list each day meant that one of my goals every day took just 11 minutes. I love feeling like I’m winning, and always having a do-able goal on my daily list felt like a win to me.
So I ended up doing 11 minutes of exercise every day without missing a single day for 4 months. This was extraordinary for me.
Until then I had never sustained any exercise programme for more than a few weeks at most. And here I was suddenly exercising EVERY DAY.
Exercising for 11 minutes EVERY DAY for 4 months had a profound impact on me. Of course, my overall physical fitness level increased. Nothing dramatic but I felt stronger and healthier.
But the BIG change was internal.
Over this period of 4 months of exercising daily, I experienced a lot of internal conflict. I started to see which things motivated and demotivated me.
I saw that it was hardest to get the workout done on the days that I THOUGHT about it. My thoughts did not want me to exercise. My thoughts were things like, “Ugh I really don’t feel like exercising today.” And “I feel so tired.” And “I would rather sit on the sofa.” And “Can’t believe the day is half over and I still haven’t done the workout.” My thoughts were my enemy.
It took me about 2 months to recognise this pattern – that any days when I paused and thought about exercising, it would become incredibly difficult to motivate to do the workout.
I also realised that I regularly checked what I FELT like doing before deciding what to do. So I would often start the workout if I felt like “yes let’s get this done and over with ASAP!” But I would really struggle on days when I felt like “Nah I really don’t feel like doing it right now”. On those days it would get pushed back all day long until I thought “I’m nearly out of time, need to do it now!”
When I realised that checking what I FELT like doing and THINKING about working out were both huge hindrances, I stopped doing those things and instead I swapped to asking myself,
“Do I have 11 minutes right now?”
If my answer was yes, I hit play on a workout and did it straight away, barefoot on the living room floor wearing whatever I was wearing at the moment. No pauses, no thoughts.
It wasn’t just my pre-workout thoughts that changed.
In the beginning, my thoughts during workouts were things like: “Ugh this is so hard” and “Oh I hate this” and “Why does this never get easier” and “I wish this were over”.
When I stopped indulging in negative pre-workout thoughts, a funny thing happened. My during-workout thoughts also changed. While exercising I started thinking about the day, about what I needed or wanted to get done. Instead of thinking thoughts that protested the exercise, I started actually WORKING mentally, figuring things out, planning, deciding.
On days that I felt super draggy and unmotivated about EVERYTHING (not just exercise), I found that during my 11 minutes of exercise, thinking about what I wanted to get done after I finished the workout gave me more energy for launching into the tasks after my workout ended.
By the end of June, I was generally more productive from day to day, generally more fit, and most importantly, I didn’t have loads of internal conflict about avoiding exercise.
Exercise was just something I did every day because it was good for me and had a much broader positive impact on my life, in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Because of that positive impact, I found that I truly valued exercise and fitness, for the first time in my life. I didn’t just know rationally that it was good for me. I knew it on a deeper level, I was living the benefits.
And suddenly it made sense to me to do a longer workout, to do MORE exercise. I truly wanted to be fitter and healthier. Not in a “I really should” and “that would be nice” sort of way. But in a deeper desire sort of way.
So I started an exercise programme called Figure 8 Fitness. It was dance based and I’ve always admired the graceful movements of expressiveness of dancers and gymnasts. So the programme appealed to me, not only for the promised lithe muscular figure and strength, but also for developing my dancing skills.
I was quite comfortable with my established 11 minutes of exercise per day, so at first I thought I would do a Figure 8 workout from time to time, as and when I felt like it. Soon I realised that I wanted to go for it, and stick with the daily Figure 8 schedule. I had the “basic” package which came with an 8 week daily workout schedule. I printed out the schedule, stuck it to the fridge, and ticked off the days as I did them.
I took photos of myself on 5th July, soon after beginning the programme, because that was part of the programme advice. I don’t weigh or measure myself (I don’t even own a set of scales). But I’ve got photos to give a general idea of physical changes.
I’m glad I had 4 months of easy daily workouts to prepare me for Figure 8. Even with the prep, I still find the workouts really killer. I’m still sore every day and I’ve just finished week 5. I still can’t do some of the exercises, and can’t keep up with the pace of some of the workouts. But I do my best.
Jaana Kunitz who leads the workouts shouts all throughout the workouts. She exhorts and encourages, but also she celebrates each workout, saying how FUN it is to do such a killer workout. At one point at the end of a difficult workout, as she is leading the cool down, she says something like, “And look up, and stretch, and you JUST …. FEEL … HAPPY” and she sighs with happiness. And I DO feel happy!
I feel happy about how far I’ve come with exercising in the past few months. Yes of course I’m proud of myself for the results I’ve achieved.
But the BIG WIN has been learning to stop resisting, stop complaining, stop hating doing what feels hard.
It used to be such a big deal to me, to be able to do what I liked and to do as little as possible of things I didn’t like. That was my definition of freedom. But that freedom wasn’t freedom at all as it prevented me from growing in ways that I wanted.
Sometimes taking care of myself means doing stuff I might dislike doing. And when that’s the case, it makes a world of a difference to simply choose not to spend my energy resisting, complaining, dreading, hating the things I need to do.
I’m still a huge proponent of self expression. But from now on I’m going to reserve expressions like “I hate this so much” for things that I want to stay away from. Not things that are good for me or that I need to get done.