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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!