What I Learned About Myself by Following a Twelve Week Fitness Program

The sun through the trees on an evening walk.

The sun through the trees on an evening walk.

A little over twelve weeks ago, I made the decision to make my fitness a priority as a way to help manage my anxiety and keep myself in shape. In the past, I would do really well for awhile with running or yoga or something similar, but then lose interest. This time, I had a goal of building lasting muscle and a lasting routine. 

I found a fitness plan online that listed everything I needed to do each day for the next twelve weeks. And guys, I did it! And I did it on my own terms. I was pretty anti-gym membership but I wanted the weight challenge and diversity I could get from the equipment and classes. I had to find a gym that didn't intimidate me or make me feel icky, and was fortunate to find a great women-only gym. I guess that all-girl education model from high school stuck with me. Personally, I am more comfortable in that kind of environment. 

Beyond building muscle and amping up my cardio health, I learned a lot about myself, how I work, and what keeps me motivated. Here are my takeaways from my 12 week fitness experience:

  1. I gained so much confidence in my ability to follow through on a goal from start to finish. If I keep at it, I can complete something. Putting my body to use made me feel like I could take on other challenges, that I could build healthy habits and stick with them. 
  2. It helps to add structure to a goal. By following a schedule and checking off days and workouts I completed, I had small wins each day and the achievement high kept me coming back for more. 
  3. I grew stronger and more sure of myself, accomplishing things I didn't think I could do. For instance, around week 10, the program told me to do sprints, at a really fast rate. I thought there was no way. In the past, I would not even have tried if I didn’t think I could do it. But I tried sprinting at the fast rate recommended and to my surprise, I could actually do it. All those weeks before I had built up the muscle and stamina to support myself.
  4. It is helpful to stick to a day by day schedule and to pay attention to the daily routine. When I only focused on the big picture, I wasn’t giving enough attention to the steps it would take to get there and so I would become overwhelmed by that big daunting goal and never achieve it. Same with the fitness routine, when I looked what came in the next week or month, I was intimidated. In those moments, I would tell myself I just have to get through this day and then I can worry about what comes next. This was the biggest change to my behavior that helped me stay on track. Taking it day by day and gradually building, without freaking out about the end result, taught me to appreciate the process. When I saw the payoffs reveal themselves, I knew it was because of my discipline and hard work. 
  5. I discovered my best, most productive working style. I need structure and a dedicated space where I feel comfortable. I also need some spontaneity. For these twelve weeks, that meant changing things up and going for outdoor walks and jogs, exploring the neighborhood and parks, and having flexibility when life came up, like moving and travel. 
  6. I need to follow my gut. I took the fitness plan and molded it so it felt right for me and my lifestyle. Along with exercises and routines, they provided a diet plan. But they included very meat-heavy meals and as a vegetarian, my diet is already limited, so I ate how felt best for me. I try to eat pretty healthy, avoiding processed foods and eating lots of veggies (most of the time—I’m looking at you Ben & Jerry’s). 
  7. The importance of making goals a priority on my daily calendar. I discovered that excuses are bullshit. If it is important to me, I will make the time and find a way. I have yet to miss a Game of Thrones episode or miss the next book on my reading list. I engage on Instagram and read copious amounts of articles online. If I can find time for this stuff, I can find time for the stuff that really matters to me.
  8. Last but not least, the mind body connection is real! Busting my ass and achieving a goal has been so good for my mental health. When my body is off, my mind is off and I didn’t even realize the clarity and focus I was missing until I started pushing myself physically in this new routine.

I am eager to apply these lessons to other areas of my life—those goals that seem too hard or unrealistic, and even the simple ones that I constantly put off. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you push your boundaries, try a new approach, and see something through!

Want to Have More Time? Stop Doing This

As organized as I am, and as eager as I am to help others with their work, when it comes to getting work done for myself I am a horrendous procrastinator. On one hand, I battle against irrational perfectionism. On the other, I’m not great at holding myself accountable. I don’t just procrastinate from work I think I should be doing, I also procrastinate doing the things that I actually want to do! How crazy is that shit? If I haven’t done the hard stuff, I feel as if I haven't earned the fun stuff and so I don’t allow myself to indulge. (Disclaimer: I was raised Catholic. Catholic guilt is real.) So instead, I will do something completely unproductive and mind numbing. I turn on the TV. Don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with TV and I love it. But the mindless watching of shit I don't care about can be such a horrendous time suck. 

It’s been a work in progress, but I finally stopped turning on the TV as soon as I get home from work, for background noise and entertainment while we are eating, when I am stalling from doing actual work, and even when I am stalling from doing something creative that I know I will enjoy. When I watch TV, I do so with purpose (if one can actually watch TV with purpose). What I mean by that is, I watch the shows I like and the movies I've been wanting to see and a little news here and there, but no endless HGTV marathons, or re-runs of How I Met Your Mother (pretty sure I’ve seen them all already) or two hours of the news. And I’ve got to say, if you want to have more time, get more done, cultivate that hobby—turn off the damn TV! Since cutting back on my screen time, I've created a website, a blog, picked up my knitting, read several books and magazines, started creative writing again, learned calligraphy, amped up my fitness routine, and had more QUALITY time with the people I care about without the TV blaring in the background.

Time management is an elusive skill and, well, hard to manage. I’d like to say simplifying our lives is a step in the right direction, but it’s not as simple as that, is it? Although, in some instances, it can help. If you were to keep track of what you did and how long you did it for the last twenty four hours, is there anything you could remove to make more time for family, exercising, writing, whatever it is you want to have more time for? My main time wasting device is the TV, and playing on my phone is a close second. When I joined Facebook, I noticed I started doing the one thing I really didn't want to, I was aimlessly scrolling the Facebook app on my phone and next thing I knew, 30 minutes went by. I deleted the app from my phone. Got some time back for writing. Instead of turning on the TV when I'm done with work, I listen to podcasts while making dinner (something I actually want to do and find value in). I am working on prioritizing what is important to me and giving those items the majority of my attention each day. 

Like I said, it sounds simple, but it’s not. It means really making the time to think about your priorities and how you spend your day. Most of the time, it’s easier to turn on the TV and not think about it. But if like me, you struggle for more time, if you want to carve more space into your life for the things that matter, or if you want to to spend less time numbing your mind in front of the TV, it's worth seeing what little adjustments you can make to have more time for the people and activities you love. What are your vices? Have you found a way to combat the lure of all the screens we have in our lives these days?