In the past, my relationship with exercise has been a “love/hate” one – You know, the kind where I loved the results, but (usually) hated the time, effort and commitment required from me to actually get them. Does this feeling ring a familiar bell with you as well? I thought so…
Unfortunately, I’ve felt this way about regular exercise for most of my life; however not that long ago (and ironically, on a treadmill) I had a paradigm shift in this department, and it’s this:
As I’m getting older, I realize that regular exercise is not so much about people BEING fit and strong, but more about them being committed to the task and routine of actually DOING a regular exercise routine, despite what or how they are feeling at the time.
Put another way: I’ve realized that being fit and strong has become a journey, not a destination; and that regular exercise is no longer about making the effort to STAY fit and strong, but rather about having the mental toughness needed to honour the commitment made to stick to a regular exercise schedule. This ESPECIALLY holds true during those times when – for one reason or another – we don’t feel like doing so.
And it’s because of this shift I now see the the real failure being not in raising my weights or benching a few extra reps, but rather
if I make excuses to avoid a regular workout altogether. If this were the case, it would mean that I’ve become one of “those people” who talk and talk about what they are going to do, but rarely follow through. when
For the record, I never, ever want to be known as one of those guys. Remembering this is what always gets me into the gym without fail, even if I’m feeling a bit lazy or reluctant to do so.
TWO BENEFITS HIGHLIGHTED BY THIS PARADIGM SHIFT
Viewing an exercise regime this way highlights two important benefits: First, it gives a powerful example to follow (that being regular exercise) which in turn is a reminder of the importance of honouring ALL the commitments we make to ourselves; commitments like better eating habits, reading versus watching television, limiting Facebook and internet sessions, spending time with family, etc.
Secondly, sticking to a regular exercise routine automatically provides us with the benefit of strength and fitness. By making an exercise routine priority (in the legendary words of Stephen Covey) we create a situation that is truly “Win-Win”. That’s because the sheer act of honouring our commitment means our minds win; and because our bodies benefit from the exercise itself, they also win. Makes sense, right? Of course!
So this must mean that regular exercise must be a no brainer for everyone, right? Well, not really – and therein lies the rub:
You’ll note that the last statement said “sticking to a regular exercise routine” – Well, it’s the “sticking” part where people (myself included) tend to fall down on all such commitments, usually by inviting slothful behaviour or feeble excuses into the mix. Once this happens, we tend to lose our drive and motivation.
What’s that? What slothful behaviour? What excuses? Are you frickin’ kidding me?
Let’s see… How about moaning that we’re “too tired” or “not feeling up to exercising” after a long day’s work, or constantly complaining that “It’s always so busy and I can’t get on the machines I need so why bother going?”
Need more? No problem! We’ve got sleeping in after a late night out, being hungover and/or having no energy, not being able to go because of a “headache” (usually from the hangover), not wanting to get wet driving there because it’s raining outside, or any other of the myriad of excuses people make for not exercising.
The bottom line is that by making excuses, people are actually breaking a commitment they made to themselves, which is a dangerous habit to develop. Worse still, doing so repeatedly can quickly become a slippery slope; that’s because when we accept our own lame excuses to not exercise, we tend to accept our own lame excuses not to do the other important things in life. For example:
Is it easier to grab some fast food than cook a good meal? No problem! Got no time to read a book, but lots of time to troll Facebook? Okay then! Got to binge watch Game of Thrones on Netflix, but don’t have time to spend playing ball with your kids? If you say so! See what I mean?
And that’s why I truly believe that sticking to a regular exercise routine is a sure-fire way to make us stick to the other commitments in life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this idea has recently come as an epiphany to me, and is what’s making is me stick to the many commitments I’ve make to myself, such as those listed as my goals for 2016.
But to be honest, even though this concept makes perfect sense, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this “paradigm shift” of how regular exercise helps me write for two hours a day, or cook roasted chicken instead of going to KFC. I’m pretty sure it’s because growing up, I had a much different idea of what fitness meant.
There’s no easy way to say it… Growing up I was a skinny runt. No, seriously – at 17 years old I stood a non-threatening 5 foot 3 inches tall, and tipped the scales at around a buck fifty. Seriously, I was so small that if you’d tossed a blue and white dress and cap on me I’d be able to sell girl guide cookies with the best of them!
Fed up always being teased for being a goofy, skinny kid I’d “work out” with the crappy concrete-filled plastic Weider dumbbells I’d amassed between garage sales and Christmas presents, dreaming of the day when I’d become big, strong and muscular, and wouldn’t have to take any shit from the bigger kids (and my brothers) any longer. This is the vision that drove me into our cold, dark basement full of spiders and mildew each night to do sets of curls and bench presses.
Then after a few years something happened: You know that “growth spurt” kids go through when they are 14 or 15? Mine came at 18; and over the next three or four years I gained about 30 lbs which meant I was no longer puny. However, thanks to my consistent exercise routine (coupled with a high metabolism) I never got fat or pudgy – something that was lucky seeing as my second favourite activity was drinking two-fours of Hi-Test with my buddies.
Like most folks, over the years my weight slowly inched up pound by pound and – depending on my level of commitment to exercise at various times – I kept myself in pretty good shape, with my very best period of fitness lasting about twelve years while living in various parts of Alberta, and being surrounded by lots of big, strapping guys who worked out a lot.
The first was in Edmonton, where I’d use the fully equipped gym in the basement of the hotel I worked at. Each day I’d go downstairs and work out with friends before work, so the time spent exercising was also quite social. Spurned on by “The Old Boys” (a pack of 40 year old construction workers who’d work out, then have pints in the pub I managed afterwards) I’d constantly push myself to lift heavier weights, or do more reps – you know the drill.
The bottom line was that I became quite big, muscular and strong, which – as a reformed runt – was quite a change. To be honest, I quickly learned to LOVE the attention I’d get from people, which in turn spurned on to work harder, and push my physical boundaries even more.
In my late 30’s (around 2000) and living in Calgary; my workout routine was all set, and my frame came in at a very lean, muscular 205 lb. – a far cry from the runt I’d once been. And while I loved the way that exercise made me feel about myself, I can also admit that the fear of losing my “V” physique is what drove me to exercise so hard.
This is because regardless of my outer appearance, in the mirror I still saw a skinny kid wearing a torn up Ramones shirt, so I did whatever I had to do to maintain my 32″ waist and a 46″ chest.
FIT BECOMES FAT
Years later I moved to the ski hill where my workouts were replaced with plain old hard work – as in 7 days a week, 14 hours per day – for about 8 months of the year. Oh yeah – and since I owned a bar there was no shortage of beer to be had.
For the next several years the long hours coupled with my high metabolism kept me from getting too fat; but the lack of exercise or strength training also made me soft and weak. I vowed to correct this once we left the hill, which eventually happened in 2005.
Only I didn’t correct the pattern; I became one of “those guys” I once hated, the kind who made excuses why they didn’t exercise, trying to convince myself that the occasional long walk along the waterfront every couple of weeks was a fitness routine. As my weight crept up to 220 lbs. and my waist became a tight fitting 36″, the evidence of my lack of commitment was painfully obvious, and could no longer be ignored.
Fed up with being a tub of lard, in 2013 I re-joined a gym once more time and reintroduced myself to the workout routine I’d used all those years ago. However my body rebelled against this sudden demand for discipline, mostly by sending me a very stern message of pulled muscles, torn ligaments and a seriously bunged up shoulder.
And trust me, I got that message LOUD AND CLEAR: My body was telling me that I was no longer 21 years old, or even 31 years old… I WAS NOW 51 YEARS OLD, and this dog needed to learn new tricks! (Groan!)
Frustrated and demoralized, I nursed my injuries with bags of frozen peas and ibuprofen, and was dumbfounded at what I could possibly do from then on it.
And as fate would have it, that’s when the universe decided it was time to step in and provide me with exactly what I needed – some solid advice that made sense of what it was I was trying to achieve. Whilst reading an article online about what makes people successful, I stumbled upon the following passage:
“Hate to exercise? Well, learn to hate it a little less. Almost every millionaire I’ve interviewed has some sort of rigorous workout routine—weightlifting, marathons and triathlons, running. They’re elite in business and at the gym.
There’s a correlation between breaking down barriers in fitness and breaking them down in business and in your mind. They’re both about strength and confidence, discipline and commitment. Weak won’t cut it. So get working on your fitness—and the rest will seem a little less daunting”
With this realization, I now get it: Regular exercise isn’t simply about strength and endurance; it is about creating a mental toughness and and honouring a commitment to ourselves – therefore in one fell swoop my exercise goal became not what the workout routine itself looks like, but rather that I (a) actually have an exercise routine to do, and (b) that I stay committed to it, come rain or shine – and no lame excuses.
These days I no longer feel the need to bench 3 sets of 10 with 200 lb. (circa year 2000 mindset) because that’s no longer the goal; hence why I now bench 65 lb. (circa 2016 mindset) and spend way more time on the treadmill, and do so consistently, because it’s the consistency (and commitment) that’s the real goal.
And to be honest, I’ve come to realize that the author of that paradigm-shifting passage was dead on; because the more I look around me, the more I notice the individuals who excel in their lives all have some kind of regular exercise routine that they follow, without fail… It’s true.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at those folks around you who are inspired, organized, who set and achieve lofty goals, build companies, tackle adventure head on, travel the world, read good books, and above all live life on their own terms – and chances are pretty good you’ll also discover that they all have some sort of exercise routine they (getting back to my original epiphany) follow.
This in turn helps create the “success” habits that keep them committed and organized enough to do all the great things that they do in their lives. Another way to say this is CAUSE = EFFECT.
If you don’t believe me, then check out the opposite scenario: Look at those folks who procrastinate, who are always late to appointments, who are unhappy in their lives and careers, who are slovenly in both mind and body, who complain a lot about outside forces controlling their destiny, who spend all their time surfing or watching Netflix, who are out of shape, etc. – chances are pretty good the they don’t have a regular exercise routine in place, and therefore don’t have the benefit of the mental toughness and commitment that it provides.
So there you have it: The real reason that every single one of us should have a regular exercise routine is because doing so helps us keep all the commitments in our lives, come rain or shine… and seriously, isn’t that an awesome benefit of a few sit-ups and laps on a treadmill four times a week?
Yep, it it sure is.
And with that being said, I’m off to the gym!