Find Your Fit: How to Do It For Good This Time
How many of us actually enjoy exercising? And for those of us who do, how many liked it the very first time we tried it?
I’m willing to bet that most of us didn’t. The truth is that “finding your fit” is usually easier said than done. Sometimes it’s downright unpleasant.
I mean, how many of us even have the time to exercise these days, even if we do enjoy it? If you listen to most standard, mainstream advice, all you need to do is build up your willpower and acknowledge your priorities. Yeah, right.
We have to balance our commitments with work, school, families, our social lives, and we have to make time to push ourselves to our physical limits and drench ourselves in sweat every day? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.
When Greg, the publisher of fit815, told me to write on the topic of “how to get over your hatred of exercise,” I had no idea where to begin. To be honest, I love to work out. I love going to the gym and getting beat up. I love waking up sore the next day. What advice do I have to offer people who have struggled all their lives to get fit?
But then I remembered my own journey.
Working out isn’t supposed to be easy, but it doesn’t have to be something you hate. Even though I’ve been consistently active since high school, I still struggle all the time with finding the time and motivation to work out. Sometimes I even feel like giving up, like all this effort isn’t worth anything at all.
Yes, even people who love to exercise hate it sometimes. Here’s what I mean…
Last year I moved from the 815 to Denver, Colorado. The first two things any new “transplant” (as we’re called) notices are the mountains to the west and the unbelievable amount of health nuts around you at all times. They’re everywhere! Sunup or sundown, there are parks filled with couples running and cycling, gyms packed with young lifters and bodybuilders, yoga studios for every type of consumer on every corner, skiers traveling towards the mountains, and everything else you can think of.
As someone who grew up in the 10th most obese city in the U.S. (a staggering 33% obesity rate in Rockford, according to Gallop), it seems like everyone in Denver finds their fit with total ease. How do they do it? How could I?
I immediately wanted to give up. Every time I stepped outside in my running shoes, I felt like people were judging me. I never felt like I fit in at the local gym. So, for the first 4-5 months, I didn’t do anything. Every day I knew that I should be doing something, but I let my own fear and knack for self-criticism stand in the way.
Thinking about that journey has led me to consider more seriously why people hate exercising. So today, after many hours of thinking, conversing, and self-reflecting, I want to outline a few of the most common reasons, practical ways to overcome them, and the lessons we can learn.
1. “I just can’t get started” (Or, “I have no motivation.”)
Like I said before, most people will tell you to build up qualities like willpower, perseverance, and grit. While those are great qualities to have in life, I have a different philosophy about exercise.
Sometimes it’s not enough to just push through something you don’t enjoy. It’s not sustainable in the long run, either. The practical trick is to lower something called “activation energy.” Activation energy is a term from physics that simply describes the energy required to put something into motion.
How is this relevant? It might sound basic, but the easier it is to get up and do something, the more likely you are to do it. Want to go for a run when you wake up? Set out your running clothes on top of your alarm clock so they’re already in your hand when you wake up. Don’t want to drive to the gym? Switch to the gym closest to your house. The list goes on.
The point is to make it easy as possible to get moving. Be proud of wherever you end up.
Lesson: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Focus on the start.
2. “I don’t know where to begin.”
The world of fitness can be confusing, not to mention the fact that everyone seems to have a different opinion about what works. If you don’t know where to begin, seek out guidance from someone who does.
The easiest way to do this is probably to hire a personal trainer or fitness coach; they’re the experts. But that’s not the only way. Try out group classes led by an instructor at the gym. Watch YouTube video workouts. You can even ask a fit person at the gym what works for them and try it out for yourself!
Lesson: Go into your workout with a plan created by an expert or someone who has been in your shoes.
3. “X is the most un-enjoyable activity I have ever done.”
It’s surprising how narrow our beliefs about “exercise” are. How many of us think of treadmills, heavy weights, and boot camp classes? The truth is that there are a ton of other ways to incorporate more movement into our fitness routines.
You can start with simple changes like running outside instead of on a treadmill, or you can seek out completely different activities altogether. Try your hand at martial arts, experiment with calisthenics, take a long bike ride, learn to dance, etc. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.
Also keep in mind that the community you’re a part of can make a big difference. Find the right people to support you by switching gyms, taking new classes, or going at different times of the day. Ask your fit friends or people whose level of fitness you admire what works for them.
Lesson: Expand your horizons to find what activities — and which people — work for you.
4. “I don’t have the time.”
This is everyone’s favorite excuse (and the one I use for just about everything). If this isn’t just a line for you, it’s worth using a time log to see where you might be wasting time and a calendar to keep yourself on track.
But even if you can’t afford an extra 30 minutes a day in your schedule, you can sneak in more movements where and when possible. Take a power walk during your lunch break. Put a doorway pull-up bar in your office. Again, the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.
My personal favorite thing to do is commute to work by bicycle. Even if you only commuted a very conservative five miles round-trip, three times a week, for five months out of the year, that’s 300 miles of cycling — 13,000+ calories burned — for just going to work.
Lesson: Remember that every little bit counts.
5. “I’m not consistent, so it doesn’t matter.”
We know from the preceding point that every little bit counts, but no one can deny that consistency can sometimes make all the difference. The key here is to build up a habit as part of a daily or weekly routine.
In the best-selling book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg identified three parts of a habit: the cue, the action, and the reward. Once you find an action that you want to pursue, experiment with incorporating different cues (times, places, etc.) and rewards.
Here are a couple of examples. When you wake up, go for a run, and then reward yourself with a delicious breakfast. When you take your kids to the playground, do a calisthenics workout, and then reward yourself with a movie when you get home.
Lesson: Work on building up a habit and routine.
6. “I get discouraged when I don’t see any results.”
This one is tough. When we work so hard and don’t see it pay off, it’s discouraging. The first thing is to remember that results take time, and oftentimes we make progress without being able to see it for ourselves. The second thing I always stress is that you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. Eating the right foods is absolutely essential to maximizing your progress in the gym.
Another thing I’d recommend is to make sure you have a smart way of measuring success. Instead of counting pounds while losing weight, wrap a piece of yarn around your waist every week, cut it, and tape it to your wall. You’ll see the yarn shortening more than you’ll see the numbers on the scale dropping.
Finally, take time to celebrate your “quick wins.” Sometimes it’s easy to keep our eyes on our big, long-term goal that we almost miss all the progress we make in between. In reality, these quick wins are the things that keep us moving forward to the next one.
Lesson: Find different ways to measure your success. Celebrate the “quick wins.”
7. “Nothing I do seems to work.”
The goal is to find YOUR unique, individual, personally-tailored fit. But what do you do when you’ve already tried everything?
Just like they say that “the best diet is the one you stick to,” so it is with exercise. Find an exercise buddy, work with a personal trainer, and build a habit using the points above. But most importantly, recognize that it’s okay if things don’t work out sometimes; it just means that it might be time for a change.
Failure is part of the process of learning and the path to success. Keep doing the right things, and remember that even if it doesn’t seem like exercise is making a difference in your life, it most likely is.
Lesson: Give yourself permission to fail. Everyone loses; winners learn anyway.
8. “I’m too lazy.”
This one might seem trivial, but I think the underlying “invisible scripts” are common to everyone in at least some part of our lives. That’s why I saved this one for last.
At the core of saying “I’m too ____” (you fill in the blank) is a statement about the kind of people we believe that we are. The problem is that we often use these statements to justify the talents and successes we see in other people but not ourselves. The truth is that skills, qualities, personal characteristics — these are all things that we can learn, improve, and change.
So the next time you start telling yourself, “I’m not the type of person who can do ___,” tell yourself just the opposite. Go out and prove yourself wrong.
Lesson: Change your invisible scripts, and don’t let your own self-doubt hold you back.
There are a lot of reasons we might hate exercising but, in my experience, I think very few of them have to do with the act of exercising itself. More often, they have to do with our own beliefs, expectations, and perceptions of ourselves.
There’s one more thing I want to do in this article. I want to invite all of you still reading this — wherever you are, however old you may be, whatever circumstances you may have — to join me in a public commitment to stop letting fear and other excuses get in the way of living a healthy, happy, and flourishing life.
Finding your fit isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be something you hate. Move a little bit more. Eat a little bit better. But most importantly, make it something you enjoy.