Exercising and how to Stick With It
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Exercising and how to Stick With It
When I came back home after my first year in a US university, I was 70 kg (155 pounds) with almost no body fat. I had lost 15 kg (33 pounds) in nine months.
My parents were in shock. "Most people who go to the US come back fatter, not thinner," they said.
I had finally found ways to motivate myself. I was working out five, six times a week and eating right. I want to share the techniques I used to motivate myself and even more importantly - stick with it.
But first, let me share why I care about exercising so much and why you should too. Let’s leave the tremendous health benefits aside. Let’s instead explore other reasons.
The most important reason for me is that exercising makes my life 10 times better. Once I started doing it regularly, it not only made me look better, it also made me feel better.
When you exercise hard your confidence shoots through the roof. People will be able to sense that about you, even if the physical results are not yet present. When you become more confident your whole life starts to change. It becomes easier for you to be more social. You have more initiative and you have more faith in your abilities.
Additionally, once you make the decision to start and you execute on that decision, you begin to see that you can translate your desires into your reality.
Exercising also increases your discipline. Furthermore, it improves your willpower. This empowers you to do so much more in so many more areas of your life.
Another benefit is that exercising allows people to trust you more, because you trust yourself more. You rewire your brain to know that your word is your bond.
Finally, in a lot of ways a good workout is like a drug. Soon, you start craving the endorphins that rush into your brain. Those little buddies actually add to your energy. After a good workout, you will be able to get much more out of your day and often with a more genuine smile. Allow me emphasize once more. Starting to exercise is impossible until you realize it will make your life at least 10 times better. It’s well worth your time and effort to add it into your schedule.
Make a goal, split it into manageable chunks, and keep track of your progress
The number one reason people quit exercising is that they don’t see the progress right away. The number two reason is that they don’t set a goal for what they want to achieve. We can lump these two problems together and solve them both with a simple strategy.
Before you start exercising, you need to set a clear, specific goal. If you don’t do that, you will quickly lose your motivation. Why should you stick with it, when you don’t know why you are doing it?
When picking a goal, start with your ideal long-term goal, then split it into shorter manageable chunks. When I first started working out, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to lose at least 10 kg of fat within nine months. Notice that my initial goal, that first chunk, wasn’t to become a 90 kg-all-muscle machine, even though that is my ultimate goal. I instead picked something that seemed realistic, yet was still enough to motivate me.
Now that you have your ultimate goal that is split into several smaller, more realistic chunks, you need to attach a realistic time frame. Setting an unrealistic time frame is the perfect way to set yourself up for failure and disappointment. My advice is, whatever number of days you think you’ll need to get to your goal, add half of it back to that number. For example, if you think you can achieve what you want in 200 days, make that 300 for your time frame. This is not because you can’t do it in 200. Of course, you can. This technique has a couple of other advantages.
Firstly, it will help you stick with it. It’s very possible you will encounter some challenges along the way. This will allow you to account for those, without beating yourself up. This has to be a process where you can forgive yourself if you go astray. That’s the only way you will persevere.
Secondly, physical progress doesn’t come as fast as you’d like. If you haven’t exercised much before, you body will initially be plunged into shock. Your body will not trust that you are going to be serious about this, so it will take its sweet time to respond to your efforts.
When you have that goal with the realistic time frame attached to it, there’s a final thing for you to do. Never account for your progress through the mirror. In fact, it’s better if you don’t spend too much time in front of one. Instead, look at your progress, in terms of days past out of your time frame. As I said, progress is initially hard to see on your body, but it’s easy to see on the calendar. If it’s been a month in and you’ve been doing everything right, but have yet to see serious results in the mirror, it can be tempting to give up. You will try and convince yourself that you’ve given it your best shot. But, when you look at it in terms of days past, it’s only been 30 days out of your 300. Are you really going to give up after only giving it 10%? Is that the best you can do? If that’s so, then you should be ashamed to ever look at yourself in a mirror again.
The good thing about this time frame strategy is that by the time you’ve done 60 or 70%, you have been doing it for so long, that it will now actually be harder to stop than to keep going. It will have already become a part of your life.
What to do for exercise
If you are a total newbie you might wonder what is the best way to exercise. There really isn’t one answer to this. It depends both on what you’re trying to accomplish, as per your goals, and on what you will derive the most pleasure out of. Perhaps, you’d want to accomplish something that will require a lot of weight training. That doesn’t mean you have to do weights. If you hate it, there are different ways you can get the results you want in more enjoyable ways.
I, for example, try to do weights 2-3 times a week, swim 1-2 times a week and do yoga once. Sometimes I will do more, sometimes less. Sometimes I will play a soccer game. Sometimes I will play a golf game. You’ve got to find a balance of the things that will work for you and the things that will make you happy. After all you are doing this for yourself, so you need to be excited about your exercise.
I can’t tell you what to do, mainly because I don’t know what your specific goals are. Only you can know that. Figure out what you want, then figure out how to get it. I’m certain that with a little research you will be able to find out what the perfect routine for you is.
Exercise early in the morning
As I said earlier, those endorphins that rush into your brain will actually give you more energy. That’s why it is a good idea, especially when you’re first forming the habit, to go early in the morning.
The obvious reason is that it will set you up for having a great day. By the time you get to work you will have already achieved quite a lot. You will get more satisfaction out of the rest of your day. Also, you’ve already gotten it out of the way, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Another reason is, willpower is more like a muscle than we realize. If you exercise a lot of it at work in order to keep focused and concentrated, the chances that you will have enough left to go workout at night are pretty slim. Train your willpower muscle by exercising early, when it’s still much easier.
You might not be a morning person, or you might hate the idea of doing anything at all in the morning. Trust me, so was I. With time you will come to realize how much better it is and you will love doing it. A good way to get to your exercise early is to prepare yourself for success the night before. Put your clothes in your bag before going to bed. Put that bag in such a place that you will see it waiting for you when you get up. This will remind you that you’ve got something to do. It will also make it much easier, because you’ve removed some of the obstacles to actually getting to the gym.
Getting to the gym when you don’t feel like it
There are days when getting to the gym is the last thing I feel like doing. Especially then, it is crucial that I can muster the willpower to do it. Ideally, I’d take a break only if I planned for it in advance. Giving in to the desire to skip on a workout "just this once," is the worst thing you can do. Soon it’s "just this once," every time.
A good strategy to get yourself in the gym when you don’t feel like it, is to split your goal into manageable chunks. Don’t reserve this powerful technique for long term planning only. Take a simple goal - you want to go exercise. Instead of thinking of all the things this would require of you, tell yourself to just pack your back. Once you’ve done that, tell yourself to "just get there" - you don’t really need to exercise if you don’t feel like it. Once you’re there just change your clothes. Then, start playing around with the machines. Before you know it, you’re exercising. The trick is not to focus on the big task ahead. Split it into the most minuscule portions and deal with each one as it comes up. That way you are keeping yourself motivated and making progress at the same time.
Keep yourself accountable
A good strategy for making sure you stick to your commitment is to keep yourself accountable. There are a couple of great ways to do that.
Firstly, tell everyone you know of your plans. If you broadcast your intentions there’s now an added social pressure to keep your word. There’s nothing as motivating as the people you respect asking you about how your workout routine is treating you.
Secondly, you’ve got to remember that you’ve given your word. Your word matters, even if nobody knows about it. I’ve noticed that people tend to become much more responsible when they make a promise to someone else, rather than themselves. It’s as if they are not deserving of the same type of respect as the other person. In fact, you’re just as deserving, if not more, than anybody else. Be the type of person that keeps his word regardless of whether anybody else will ever find out.
Finally, gym memberships are not just a good way for gyms to make money. They are also a good motivator for you to exercise. My suggestion to you would be to decide how much you think you can afford to pay for a gym membership. Then, pay just slightly more. I say this for two reasons. One is that if you’re a person for whom it’s hard to get motivated, then this will be just what you need. Second, you will realize that you are well worth the extra dollars. There’s no better investment than the one in yourself. And that’s a lesson worth paying for.
Find people to exercise with
Now, this one is hard to do, especially if you’re less social. However, everything is more fun to do in good company. At our core, we’re all social creatures. We should try to embrace that whenever we can. Whatever it is you’re doing, soccer, tennis, gym, golf. Try to find a buddy or two who would like to do it with you. This will not only make the exercise more fun for you, but will also add an extra layer of motivation.
Make a list exercises to do in the week ahead
I’ve found that a good technique to keep me on track with my plans is to make a schedule with the things I want to do in the week ahead. Then I tick them off as they come up. Success is hard to come by, if you don’t plan for it first. This is also a great strategy for your exercises. Make a plan for the things you’d like to do over the week. Plan for the specific times you will do them and meditate on what you want to get out of them, and the week, in order to consider it a success.
It is very important that you also plan for failure. What will you do if something happens that will not allow you to follow through on your plan? If you simulate possible setbacks ahead of time, you will be prepared for them when the arise and they will not be able to stop you.
Pretend that you love it until you actually start loving it
The most important thing about exercising is sticking with it. In order to stick with it, you need to enjoy it. That’s going to be hard to do at first, especially if you’re out of shape and if every workout takes a lot out of you. But with time you will start to love it. There’s not a single person I know that has been doing it for a while and says he doesn’t enjoy it. The thing is, you might not enjoy it right away. It might even take you a long while to start having fun. My advice in that scenario is to pretend.
Act like you love the heck out of it. Approach your exercises with a smile and try to emulate genuine excitement. The thing about pretending that you love something is that it actually makes you feel like it. This is true, even if you are forcing yourself.
I for one, sometimes hold a pencil between my lips, thus forcing my face into a smiling position, when I feel down. This produces an instant impact. Within five minutes I’m genuinely smiling. I invite you to try this technique the next time you have a chance. Pretending that it is so, truly can make it so.