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A Year in Review: Hitting the Gym

I am not an active person. I don't really do the whole outdoor thing much either. I love dining at restaurants and being lazy about picking up food versus taking the time to cook it myself. Peanut M&Ms are my kryptonite.

So when I decided October of last year that I wanted to make some changes, a little part of me felt pretty confident I'd cave after a few months at best and go back to being as lazy as always.

I'm still lazy. But one year later, I can confidently say I'm also still hitting the gym regularly; multiple times a week every week.

It would be fair to say I was in a bit of a funk this time last year. I have a habit of being my own best critic and I was less than thrilled with my absolute lack of self-care. To be honest, I was probably about as unhealthy as I'd ever been. Eating junk food all the time and doing absolutely no exercise will do that.

I'd gone to the gym before. Still was paying every month for the access I never used. But it never stuck. I'd go for a bit, drag myself in day after day absolutely hating it. I'd try to follow one exercise guidance or another. I'd try to listen to people talking about their favorite time of day to workout or how long you have to go before it becomes a "habit" (I'm going to say right now that I don't fully believe I'll ever habitually go to the gym. It's a straight up decision every time I do). I'd watch motivational videos, some more effective than others (if you've never seen Workout Wednesday on YouTube by Zach Anner, I can't encourage it enough).

But lo and behold, my outcome had always been the same. Come 2 or 3 months later, it was like I'd never even tried going to the gym.

So, what was so damn different this time? I want to say not much. It's still hard. It's still a challenge. I still want to sit at home and eat cheeseburgers and plays video games way more than I want to go to the gym. But, there were definitely some changes this time around that made all the difference. At least for me.

And that's the first thing. It was for me. Fun fact, I have self body image issues. I struggle everyday with how I look, how I perceive myself. I used to always want to go to the gym because I wanted to look better. You know what's wrong with that? Nothing, really. As long as it comes from a good place. For me, however, I always felt like I was trying to look good for someone else. I wanted to feel attractive to other people. And oh can I say that that "motivation" was just the worst. The pressure of trying to look good for people? Talk about derailing yourself at every turn! No. This time around, it was for me. I still have issues with how I look, but so it goes. I had to learn to go to the gym because I wanted to, because I needed to. My healthy was and is on the line. Mentally and physically. It's a dangerously comfortable spiral to hate on yourself and then do the things that make it worse because you're upset and go round and round. It took a hard stop for me to make myself look at things differently. To want to work towards changing what I struggled with rather than getting bogged down by it. I'm far from perfect, but it's getting better because I haven't stopped yet! Which leads to more points.

Celebrating the wins and not being defeated by trip ups.

As easy of a concept as this always seems to be, as much as it makes sense, this has been so hard. Going to the gym, you want to see results. You want to feel fat melting off, see muscles swelling with strength, feel the cardio hurt at least a little bit less than last time. I mean, seriously treadmill, I'm doing my best and I rate running! But I digress. It's been a long road of learning and I'm still working on it, but redefining victories has been huge. There's always the ultimate goal, but fitness being about the destination is the infuriating truth that's almost impossible to face. The only way I haven't given up has been to change my sense of accomplishment. Walking in the door each time is a win. Stepping on the treadmill is a win. Each rep, each set, each exercise is a win. Each muscle that needs to be stretched because it's sore literally all the time is a win. The gym is scary. It's intimidating. There's so many fit people that make me feel so inferior. It takes every little self pat on the back to stand next to them with my tiny dumbbells and actually push myself rather than running away and saying I'll do it at home because guess what? There's no way in hell I'm working out at home where my chair and TV and video games and food are. No way.

On the other side, not letting myself be defeated has been just as if not more important. Setting goals is great! Beating yourself up for not meeting can be lethal. I try to keep general goals for myself. I try to lift as much as I can safely. I try to run as fast as I can. I try to eat healthy (more water, more lean protein, less sugar, less junk, less convenience foods, less sodium, on and on and on). By striving for my best, I can take pride in my accomplishments and not get bogged down by mistakes. Along with that, I have to remember all the time to turn mistakes into opportunities. I don't want to eat unhealthy, but darnit, it's just so good! So I do sometimes. I'll "slip" and have a greasy pile of food or a bunch of chocolate when the cravings overtake my willpower. It happens! I don't want it to, but it does. So then what? I keep going. It's so easy to want to berate myself into inaction. To think that I had a bunch of ice cream so I've screwed up too much. Fun fact, it doesn't have to work like that. I might eat some really bad food. Doesn't mean I can't go to the gym like I was supposed to. I might miss some days working out because life has other plans. Doesn't mean it won't still be there when my schedule is back on track. I can still have those wins I mentioned above. It's not over because I ate a candy bar. Just means I've got more work to do.

Another aspect I've been beyond grateful for is having support. It sucks if you're going and no one cares, no one cheers you on, no one pushes you. It's true you've gotta push yourself but what happens when you're feeling extra tired or weak or worn out? Fortunately for me, my lovely girlfriend and a really close friend of mine has been rock stars this time around. Every time I feel like I'm dragging, they are right there to remind me that I'm killing it just for showing up and pushing myself even if it wasn't as much weight or as fast as a run as last time. And that's huge.

I've had to learn to take advice with a grain of salt. You have any idea how annoying it is when someone in much worse shape than you tries to criticize your efforts? Or how daunting it can be when someone much more fit than you makes it all look so easy? Haha. Working on that last one still. However, if my countless attempts at getting fit have taught me one thing, it's that there are practically an unlimited number of ways to workout and get in shape. My favorite? The one that works for me. Everyone has opinions on what to lift and how to lift, frequency, duration. And honestly, some people really do know what they're talking about and should definitely be listened to. But I wouldn't be still at it if I didn't listen to myself first. Is it possible that I could be doing better than I am right now? Absolutely it is. But I've come to trust that the workout you will do is far more successful than the flawless workout you'll skip. I'm always looking for new and better ways to exercise. I'm always looking for ways to improve what I do. Fact of the matter is, though, if it doesn't work for me, I don't do it. I'd rather show up everyday and bust my ass until I'm huffing and sweating and my legs are wobbling beneath me than force myself to hate my workout so much I just give up. I'm far from the pinnacle you want to model your own workouts after, but at least I'm still showing up. I'll take that over the alternative.

The fact is, I'm nowhere near the ideal state I'd love to be at. I have a hard time a lot of days not getting down on myself for the shape of my body, for the little bit extra I carry, for not being able to finish a set because my arms give out, for not getting in as many times a week as I'd like. But I've finally started to learn to appreciate what I do more than what I don't and it's made all the difference.

One small piece of unsolicited advice from someone not even remotely qualified to give it. If you're worried about or struggle with dieting, start with developing good exercise habits first. I promise nothing makes unhealthy foods taste or feel worse than getting in shape. The more progress you make working out, the more oh so many of those unhealthy foods start to grow a lot less unappealing, narrowing down the amount of stuff you have to willpower yourself away from.

Thank you for joining me in my crazy world. Maybe I'll catch you at the gym!

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