I know you already know how important working out is, so I’m not going to go over that in this article.
But I also know that simply reinstating facts won’t help convince you nor get your workout wheels to start rolling. Gym memberships ramp up in January, it’s the busiest period in the sweat factory for the entire year, packed to the brim with optimistic souls and vibrant faces. But after just a month, the numbers go down quite significantly.
So starting may not really be the problem, after all Americans are signing up for gym memberships. The latest statistics show that there were 62.5 million gym members in the US in 2018. That’s almost one-fifth of the population, which is quite a lot if you consider that a substantial percentage of the population accounts for kids and senior citizens — people who are non-viable for fitness centres.
Perhaps it’s keeping to your commitment that’s been the unmovable stone in this problem. A New Years Resolution, no matter how grand or optimistic it may sound, will always stay an arbitration until it is translated into concrete actions. And just as any building, if constructed on an unstable infrastructure, will sooner or later collapse into a pile of pitiful debris, setting up commitments without a clear intention or motivation will more often than not lead to premature termination.
I started exercising on a regular basis back when I was in second year of high school. Coming off middle school 20 pounds overweight may not seem like much of a deal, but the constant chaffs and teases got the better out of me and one day I decided the mockery was enough. I gave myself a 6-month timeframe to lose that extra 20 pounds, and promised myself a victorious box of donuts (which I never redeemed) should I be able to complete the task. The motivation was there, the goal was there, and the reward was there. From that point, I took a leap of faith and simply just did it.
The last words to the preceding paragraph sounds a lot like Nike’s motto, doesn’t it? The slogan was inspired by Gary Gilmore’s last words “Let’s do it”, and was coined by Nike in 1988. But advertising and financial reasons aside, Nike’s tagline provide insight to some golden words to live by:
“Just do it”
From the offset, the motto may seem a bit like asking a chronic smoker to stop smoking. Given without context, the advice is a complete scrap. It’s a superficially ridiculous attempt at motivating someone. Yet take a deeper dive into the slogan and Nike’s philosophy behind their choice of those words becomes apparent. The term “Just do it” revolves around the concept of motivation being a direct consequence of action.
“Happiness is not a rigid, unchanging state. On the contrary, the manifestation of happiness takes a committed effort”
Motivation comes from action.
Ruminating over the motivational aspect of starting a new habit will practically get you nowhere. Godifying motivation means you stay put where you are, unmoved, unproductive, until a seemingly divine source of inspiration comes around to motivate you, paralysing you in the process. Relying on an external source of motivation is like waiting to win the lottery. Sorry to break this off to you, but you’re not going to win the lottery.
Motivation can be visualised as a temporary booster that helps translate desire into direct action. Motivation helps squeeze out your impulses and in the process, drives progress. Instead of relying on its unpredictable arrival, leverage your control over action to make sure you reap in that extra squeeze of motivation in due course.
Set feasible goals.
If you’re giving a 300-pound man advice on how he can complete the marathon, you’re not going to tell him to run 10 miles on day 1. It’s going to be a 5-minute walk on day 1, then up that to 10 minutes, then a single mile run after his body has accustomed to the walking phase, and then 3 miles, then 5, and slowly up the marathon ladder from there.
Similarly, you’re not going to get much inspiration and excitement from playing against Rafael Nadal on your first tennis tournament. The same frustration would be manifested should you be drawn up against a 5-year old. According to author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an ‘optimal experience’ is a genuinely satisfying phenomenon that occurs when you are in a state of consciousness called flow. In his book titled, Flow, he mentions that “happiness is not a rigid, unchanging state.” He added that “on the contrary, the manifestation of happiness takes a committed effort.”
I’m running a short tangent with the idea of happiness because the intrinsic process that occurs when one feels that burst of ecstasy, that feeling is what motivates you down the line. Inherently, setting up not just goals, but well-measured, carefully-planned goals sets up the circuit for flow and in the long run gets you to achieve the goal more easily.
Slow and steady wins the race
At this point, I’m not even going to recite the story of the hare and the tortoise, but as cliche as fables go, the moral is quite simple and straightforward. Taking small but steady steps sets off not just the momentum, but the foundation to achieving mountainous tasks.
Similar to my 300-pound man example, he will only be able to complete the marathon by taking consistently practiced baby steps. Even if you’re fitter than my human exemplar, you don’t practice participation in the marathon by running 42 miles seven days a week. A seasoned marathoner (or any person for that matter) will understand that spacing your workouts and runs within the week will return the benefits leaps and bounds better than the former regimen.
The key is slow, steady, committed baby steps toward your goals.
Do not set one-time goals
One-time goals have to sense of continuity. Getting an A+ for your biology exam is an example of a one-time goal. Getting admitted into Harvard is a one-time goal. These goals have an end to them, achieve them and you can toss that goal in the bin, cause if you did it — you did it.
Getting in shape does not follow that narrative. One does not simply just get in shape, one has to stay in shape. Losing 20 pounds is not, therefore, an ideal goal. Rather, the goal should be lose 20 pounds and maintain that 150 pound frame. With this concept in mind, it should now be intuitive for you to not over-worship the goal.
These four tips as a collective got me to begin and continue my journey with exercise to this very day. Practicing these concepts religiously meant that I intentionally disallowed myself off slack for the past 3 years. Whereas we get 2–3 months of annual leave from our studies, I have never taken more than a week’s worth of break from working out. I’ve kept the motivation-action wheel moving so swiftly and consistently that I view it as a vital part of my day to day and I find difficult to part with.
Along the years of venturing in workout land, I’ve met a lot of people. A fair few of them start and fall short. The majority of people give up their exercise undertakings because they failed to practice and commit to the four psychological pillars of working out. The few people that eventually came out on top not only religiously practiced the four cores — they found profound enjoyment in the activity.
If there’s just one thing I can finish this article off, it’s that I promise you, cross-my-heart, that the day will come when you get that euphoric, almost addictive kind of joy with regular, routine workouts.
It will be worth it.