What is the one most challenging part of a fitness journey? Finding time to exercise? No. Muscle burn during and after a workout session? Nope. These are definitely pain points but not the factor that puts you off your fitness track.
It is the ability to bounce back to where we left off every time we are thrown off board. This is especially true when we are in the early stages and are struggling with on and off days. When we are off track, we just assume this is not for us and we totally quit. Even worse is the fear of failure. I realized recently that when we are on track, we feel so anxious to stay on track that we become so rigid with our lives. We struggle every bit to fight life whose very nature is change. Sometimes this affects not just us, but everyone around us too. The solution is to accept this reality and to develop the art of seamlessly lifting ourselves when we sink and diving down when we seem to float up. Just like in swimming, the ideal place for you is the middle zone, completely submerged inside the water, where we can surge ahead and cover real distance. But you do need to come up for a gasp of air now and then.
Getting fit is boring. Yeah, I said it. I do try to keep variety to reduce the boring factor but it still is not so exciting once you get used to it. You just repeat it day after day, and over time, you simply get fit. But it is not so “simple”, is it? Life happens. We get sick or pull a muscle. We get busy with work. Extended family visits us or we go on vacation. Happiness or sadness, we end up binging on comfort foods and our fitness goals fly out of our mind’s window. Once off track, we struggle to get back. The task of looking back and thinking of the uphill struggle to get to the point where we left off itself feels huge. And if we repeat this more often than not, we think everything is lost. What is the point, we say to ourselves. “I always end up doing this. I’m hopeless. Fitness is not for me. May be I am doing more damage by trying than not.”
Relax! Fitness can be easy when you work it into a routine, a habit. Habit formation has three discrete steps. First, comes the trigger. A condition that pushes you to action. My energy slumps in the evening or my painfully tight muscles when I wake up – I desperately need an energy boost to cover the last part of my day or need to stretch to get myself to face the day. This feeling of pain or dullness is my cue! Now comes my workout session to the rescue. I train myself to automatically hit the mat. We are successfully in the second step of action. Then, our objective is to make this action part a no-brainer. No decision making or scrambling for supplies at this moment or all momentum is lost. Plan and prepare in advance and execute. Definite plan, like monday is yoga, tuesday running or wednesday 20 minutes and thursday 30 mins and so on are some examples. You could also decide what to do depending on how you feel that day, once you get in tune with your body. Work a plan that is meaningful to your lifestyle, your needs and your constraints. Because it is your body, your journey. The third part is a definite result. How do you feel at the end of the workout. Relaxed, calm, light, sweaty, hungry, jumpy, happy, fresh, centered within your body, lesser pain than before, more flexible than when you started… observe and register these feelings every single day. This is what you earned through sweat and hard work, so relish every bit of it.
I read somewhere that exercise is 30% and diet is 70%. May be. But it does not work for me that way. I could never control my diet. The more I try to control, the more it spirals out. That is because I know when I lie to myself! I can’t convince myself not to eat that cookie or the cake when I’m drooling within. But instead when I exercise and feel good, I don’t really need that comfort from food. Once the need is eliminated, I find that the battle is half won. Second, I really know how I feel when I eat a nutritious vs comfort food and what it does to my next workout session. I feel lumpy and heavy and I end up struggling to finish my session. I register this feeling as well. It becomes easy for me to say no because that’s again the truth from within me. It becomes an intuitive decision rather than a struggle of will. But it is easier said than done. I find that emotions play a greater role in my food choices. I need to have routines to improve the happiness quotient like gratitude journal, connecting with friends and family, carving out time for an activity I enjoy and so on. And the time to dissipate the negatives through meditation or calming down, speaking out and the like.
Slow but sure and steady steps are more important than acting fast and ending up crashed midway. Forget micro-managing and look at the big picture for fitness is a process not a result. If you mess up, the one thing you would not want to do is to beat yourself up emotionally, give up and stand at the refrigerator door late night for one more serving of that cake. You may be just starting to walk. But it’s important to keep walking, pick yourself up every time you fall and march ahead. And one day, you will be sprinting like a pro! Oh, and the very next day you may need to fix your walking again, but that is how life goes…