Every day I put on my running shoes and I head to the gym for a workout.
I force myself to do this because by the end, I feel amazingly good.
Exercise gives me a natural high.
Comedian and writer Catherine Deveny says:
“[After exercise] My body feels better, my mind clearer, my heart lighter and I’m happier and less grumpy. Starting the day with some cardio makes me move faster for the rest of the day; I end up getting more done.”
Oh, how I can relate!
These benefits have helped me to conquer my inner couch potato and create healthy habits.
The workout that nearly derailed me
99% of my workouts leave me feeling great. But a couple of months ago, I did a workout that messed with my mind. By the end, there was no natural high. I just felt bad.
Here’s what happened . . .
My alarm went off in the morning
That was my cue to get up and get moving.
After a busy weekend, I felt exhausted. Did I want to exercise? No way.
But I managed to drag myself out of bed, get dressed and drive to the gym. I reminded myself, “After the workout, you’ll feel good.”
I arrived at the gym and started jogging with everyone else.
I was huffing and puffing. It felt hard but I was there. I was doing it.
I said to myself, “Good work Jane. Keep going.”
Then we started doing push ups.
I thought, “This mustn’t look pretty but I’m here. I’m doing it. And showing up is what matters.”
I was starting to get into the groove of the workout. I was feeling less groggy and more mentally alert. The feel good chemicals were beginning to kick in . . .
But then the instructor said something that threw me off track. It was a simple comment but it derailed me. Here’s what she said:
“You’re really struggling today Jane. You look really tired.”
All of a sudden, everything felt ten times harder. And I felt really tired.
My mind was spinning out of control with thoughts like . . .
“I must look really tired and stupid doing these exercises. Why didn’t I just stay in bed?”
“I have to go and present at a school shortly . . . will I be able to do it?”
“Maybe I’m not up to it today? Maybe my talks will be a flop?”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop the negative self talk. It was relentless.
As I was driving home, I noticed I felt upset. I found myself thinking, “Did the gym instructor have to make those comments?”
Her comments weren’t helpful. They weren’t motivating. They just made me feel lousy and clumsy.
Was I being overly sensitive? Perhaps.
But I knew this was one of those moments where I could easily throw in the towel. It was a make or break moment.
My eureka moment
A few days later, I had a realisation . . .
Nothing is easy about doing sprints and push ups.
These things are hard work. They’re tiring. They can cause us discomfort.
But it’s the discomfort and strain that often leads to progress.
I think this is where some of us go wrong in life – we expect things to be easy.
As soon as things become slightly challenging, stressful or a strain, what do we do?
We give up.
We take the easy and more entertaining path. We escape to our devices for instant gratification.
As best selling author Mark Manson says:
“Our tolerance for pain, as a culture, is diminishing rapidly.”
Modern life has deluded us into thinking the easy way is the best way forward. But I’m not so sure it is.
I think if you can resist instant gratification and stick at something that is challenging, you’ll be better off in life (certainly in the long run).
No pain, no gain
The other thing I like about working out and lifting weights is it builds my tolerance for discomfort and stamina to complete big projects.
For instance, I recently started participating in boxing classes. There is nothing easy about boxing. Each class is a hard slog.
But my boxing teacher is super motivating. She has this saying:
“Without pain, there’s no progress!”
I asked her what exactly she meant by this. Surely, if my knee hurts, I shouldn’t keep kicking the bag?
She explained . . .
“I’m not talking about pain in a specific area. It’s about experiencing the feeling of challenging your body. Pushing past your limit because that’s where the magic happens.”
“Some days are going to be harder than others, but that’s okay!”
It may feel counterintuitive but avoiding stress and pain isn’t good for us. It actually has the opposite effect. It makes us weak. As Mark Manson says:
“. . . if you avoid stress and pain (i.e. you sit on your damn couch all day watching Netflix) your muscles will atrophy, your bones will become brittle, and you will degenerate into weakness.”
So whatever challenge you’re facing in your life right now, don’t avoid it.
When you feel the discomfort, nothing is wrong. Take it as a sign that you’re on the right path. Keep going. Challenge yourself to take the next step. Because that’s where the magic happens.