Tag Archives: Motivation

Ghosts of Fitness Past: Things That Have Thrown Me Off Course and How I Dealt With Them

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the reasons people give for not being interested in work out. It wasn’t that many years ago that I was one of them!

Here are a few things that used to be barriers for me when it came to getting healthier and stronger.

Feeling Disconnected from Fitness Culture

How I Dealt With It: I stopped trying to connect with it.

I’m tentatively hoping to write a couple of posts about my impressions of fitness culture in general later on this spring, but for now I’ll say that this is a complicated topic that I have a lot of thoughts about. There is absolutely nothing wrong with structuring your life around becoming as fit as possible…but that sort of strict attention to detail doesn’t work for me personally.

Yes, I eat a healthy diet and have found several forms of exercise that I love. These are interests I deeply enjoy discussing with people who share them. There are so many different workout routines and diets out there that I always enjoy discovering what has and hasn’t worked for other people.

With that being said, I do not want to filter every morsel of food I eat or every other decision I make through this lens. This technique seems to  work beautifully for some fitness enthusiasts, but I’m the sort of person who needs to have those occasional breaks – and I’m not only talking about food here – in order to stay interested in following my diet and exercise plan the rest of the time.

Hating Exercise

How I Dealt With It: I drilled down to what it was exactly about working out that made me dread the thought of it and chose alternative forms of exercise.

To make a long story short, it turns out that competition is my kryptonite, I do not enjoy running at all, and I’ve never met a team sport that I found enjoyable.

Kudos to those of you who like them. They’re simply not stuff that appeals to me personally.

Since at least one of those three things were present in the vast majority of the workouts I did in gym class, it took a long time for me to tease them away from my thoughts on exercising in general.

Once I realized that I enjoy dancing, lifting weights, and brisk walking, it became a lot easier to fit those things into my regular routine. I’m always open to trying other forms of exercise, too, now that I know that my dislike of this activity isn’t universal.

Not Wanting to Start

How I Dealt With It: I agreed to do some sort of physical movement for five minutes before re-evaluating how I’m feeling that day.

This isn’t a mind trick, either.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, there have been times when I stopped after five minutes of exercise and decided to take the rest of that day off even if I wasn’t injured, sick, or in pain.

By skipping that one session every once in a great while, I maintain the motivation to continue working out the other 99% of the time. This seems like a fantastic trade-off to me.

Perfectionism is a trap.

Five minutes of exercise is better than zero minutes.

Not only that, but I’ve found that the hardest part of any workout is actually getting it started. If you can convince yourself to start the routine, it often feels much easier to finish it than to stop partway through.

Feeling Frustrated with My Progress

How I Dealt With It: I set goals and made observations about things that had nothing to do with the numbers on a scale, measuring tape, or body fat percentage.

This isn’t to say those numbers are unhelpful, but they’re far from the whole picture when you’re trying to figure out if your fitness program accomplishing its goals.

One of the first changes I noticed when I began exercising regularly again about five years ago was how much more energy I had.

Suddenly, I was sleeping better and not feeling so drowsy in the afternoon.

That wasn’t something I’d anticipated at all when I first began working out, so taking note of it was a sign that I was moving in the right direction.

A reduction in the amount of anxiety I was feeling was the next helpful sign. This happened weeks before the numbers on the scale nudged down enough for me to realize it wasn’t a fluke and I was slowly losing weight.

What are your ghosts of fitness past?

What Should You Do When Meditation Isn’t Working?

Lately, my meditation sessions haven’t been doing much good for me at all.

I sit for the usual amount of time and do my best to exist without entertaining any stray thoughts that might pop up, but at the end of it I don’t feel any different than I did before. My brain is still churning out images as regularly as ever, and I don’t feel any more relaxed than I did when I began.

It’s frustrating.

I remember what it felt like to open my eyes and feel refreshed and relaxed after previous sessions. It would be so nice to get back into that habit, especially as we move into the holiday season and I begin to need the peace that comes after some meditation sessions a little more than usual.

The good news is that this is completely normal.

There’s no such thing as constant progress in life. Everyone eventually reaches a point where they face a setback, appear to be plateauing in their skills, or need a break in general.

I can’t give you a sure-fire list of steps to get back into your meditation routine, but I can give you a purposefully contradictory list of ideas to try based on the research I’ve been doing on this problem.

  1. Focus on maintaining the habit of mediation, not on what you get out of it.
  2. Try another form of meditation.
  3. Stick with it and see if you can push past it.
  4. Remember that everything ends eventually. This, too, will pass.
  5. Take a break. It can be a long break or a short one, but sometimes it’s easier to find the motivation to meditate if you can reset your habits.
  6. If you’re following some form of guided meditation, listen to the session without trying to follow along with it.
  7. Choose a different position. I find it easier to mediate while lying down on days when I’m having more trouble with it than normal.
  8. Spend some time reading about meditation.
  9. Move to a new location. Last spring, I had a lot of luck with walking mediation in the park. It’s too chilly to do that most days now here in Toronto, but you might find renewed motivation if you’re in a less familiar environment in general.

I’ve been spending plenty of time on #1, #6, and #7 myself. There is something to be said for going through the motions if it keeps you in the habit until meditation becomes easier for you once again.

Today’s post is purposefully short because this is still something I’m trying to figure out. I hope I’ll be able to write a follow-up post soon that details how I began getting more out of meditating once again. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away at it. If you’re having trouble with your meditation, I hope you also figure out a solution for yourself soon.

What I Love About Weightlifting

Last Thursday I blogged about the parts of weighlifting that I hate.

Now it’s time to dig into all of the reasons why I love this form of exercise. Today’s post will be longer than the one that was published here last week because there are far more things I enjoy about bodybuilding than there are things I don’t.

If I had known how much I was going to enjoy it, I would have started doing it much sooner in life!

Growing Stronger

I know I’ve mention this several times before in previous posts, but it is incredible to see how much easier all kinds of tasks are when you’re physically capable of lifting heavier loads.

The first time I noticed I was growing stronger happened when my groceries began to feel lighter. Since I don’t own a car, I need to carry home everything I buy. There was a time a few years ago when I had to plan ahead for shopping trips that involved buying a few litres of milk, canned goods, and other items that weren’t light.

Often I would break this errand up into two trips to make it easier on me. If I had several heavy items on my list that had to be purchased immediately, sometimes I’d also need to pause and rest for a minute before picking up my load again.

I slowly became capable of bigger loads over longer distances, though, and now I rarely think about what I’m putting in my shopping cart as far as its weight goes. Unless I’m sick or injured, I can carry home just about any combination of ingredients I might need for my small household.

This spilled over into other ordinary parts of daily life, too, like bringing a bottle of detergent and a large hamper full of a few loads of dirty clothing and from the laundry room. I was always able to lift that stuff, but it definitely feels lighter than it used to.

Having More Energy

When I began working on this post this past weekend, I’d just arrived home from a long, brisk walk outdoors that lasted about an hour. The weather has finally grown cooler here in Toronto, and I was soaking up every bit of mild air I could before I jumped into writing.

There were many things I was hoping would happen when I first began lifting weights, but having more energy wasn’t one of them. In fact, I didn’t think about it much at all back then.

It wasn’t until I began to feel more energetic that I realized how much my life was changing for the better. I was never so tired that I thought something might be medically wrong with me. This was a mild symptom of my fairly inactive lifestyle back then that I didn’t really notice until it began to fade away.

It simply never occurred to me that I could get a burst of energy from exercising or that someday I wouldn’t be so sleepy every night before bed or after a long, brisk walk.

Sleeping Better

Speaking of sleep, it is much easier for me to lie down and get a good night’s rest when I’m in my regular routine of lifting weights.

Exercise in general does wonders for my ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep all night, but weightlifting in particular has had a positive impact on how I feel every night when I go to bed and every morning when I wake up again.

I have no idea why or how this works, but I notice a reduction in the quality of my sleep every time I have to temporarily take a break from lifting weights due to illness or injury. It always feels great to get back into my regular routine and then begin falling asleep quickly at night as a result of that.

Losing Inches

While weight loss was one of my original goals when I first began working out again, I didn’t realize how much my body would begin to change as a result of lifting weights in ways that had nothing to do with how much I weighed.

This is another one of those situations where I wish I’d snapped pictures, taken measurements, and otherwise kept a closer eye on where I started out and what I look like today.

I didn’t need those measurements to start noticing a difference in the way my clothing fit, though. Pants that had been a little tight in the past suddenly began to feel looser even during times when my weight itself wasn’t changing at all. The same thing happened to a few other articles of clothing as well.

A pound of muscle is much denser than a pound of fat. Over time even small changes in what percentage you have of each can lead to big changes in how you look and feel.

As my body fat percentage slowly began to drop, I started to look and feel better in clothing I’d owned for ages.

The interesting thing about this is how my goals have shifted over time. The fitter I become, the bigger my goals become for the future. I rarely think about how much I weigh anymore. There are far more interesting goals to pursue these days.

Reducing the Risks of Certain Diseases

I’m going to be honest with you here. This wasn’t something I thought a lot of about when I first began lifting weights. It’s a benefit that I only realized was happening after I’d gotten into the habit of including this form of exercise in my regular routine and began reading about the benefits of staying active in general.

With that being said, I do have relatives who were diagnosed with certain diseases that have been shown to happen less often among people who lift weights and otherwise exercise regularly. There are no guarantees in life, but I’m glad that I’m helping to reduce my risk of developing these diseases.

Nobody can choose what genetic risk factors they were born with, but you can control many other risk factors like diet, alcohol consumption, and exercise.

Seeing What My Body Is Capable Of

I was never one of those kids who excelled at or looked forward to gym class. The schools I attended focused very heavily on team sports for physical education. While that may have been motivating for students who enjoyed and were good at basketball, football, or volleyball, I sure wasn’t one of them.

One of the best parts of becoming an adult has been gaining the freedom to explore many different types of exercise and discovering what actually appeals to me. It has been especially interesting to see what my body is capable of as far as weightlifting goes.

I never would have imagined that I’d love lifting weights or that I’d become as strong as I have. There are so many goals I still want to accomplish, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ll be able to do next.

If you haven’t begun lifting weights yet, I can’t encourage you enough to give it a try. It is such a fantastic way to get into better shape and, as I hope this post has showed you, the benefits of it can affect so many different parts of your life.

Getting in Shape Is About Small Decisions, Not Big Ones

One of the things I found most surprising about improving my fitness was how much the small decisions I make every day can accumulate over time.

The first fitness goal I set for myself a few years ago when I decided I wanted to get back into shape was to finish a 30-minute cardio and weightlifting video I found on Youtube. I didn’t even have a pair of hand weights in the house back then, so I improvised with canned food to get myself used to those moves at first.

There were times in the beginning when I could only get about 10 or 15 minutes through it before I needed to take a break to catch my breath because I wasn’t used to moving my body in certain ways. Nevertheless, I persisted. 😉

This was also the only change I made in my daily habits for those first few weeks. My diet remained the same, and other than taking some walks I wasn’t active during the rest of my time.

Getting In Shape Is About Small Decisions

The interesting thing about small decisions is how they build on each other when you’re least expecting it. Once I started making it all the way through that video, I decided to start using an actual set of hand weights during the weightlifting portions of it. I’d previously loaned a 4-pound pair of weights to someone I knew, so once I got them back I began using them instead of lifting tonight’s dinner over my head. Ha!

Suddenly, my routine became challenging again, and I reveled in the idea that those little weights would someday feel too light for me. This was about the same time that I made the commitment to take a walk every day no matter what else I did. Sometimes those walks were a light, 5-minute stroll around the block, and sometimes they lasted an hour or longer and left me sweaty and out of breath by the end of them.

The act of taking the walk was much more important to me than how strenuous it was or how long it lasted.

Once that habit had been formed, I started to take a closer look at my diet and other lifestyle habits that needed to be tweaked in order for me to become healthier. There was never a point when I quit eating anything cold turkey or when I suddenly jumped from not really working out at all to doing something active every day of the week.

It was gradual. One good habit encouraged me to build another. Now I walk or do other cardio exercises for about an hour each day, lift weights for about a hour each week, and have averaged 15,000 steps per day over the last year.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I’m writing this portion of today’s post with the knowledge that some people want to quit certain habits cold turkey and leap into long, challenging workouts right away. If that’s what works best for you, great!

It’s been my experience, though, that breaking unhealthy habits and building better ones takes far more time and effort than you might imagine at first.

Most of the people I’ve known who were successful at reaching their fitness goals over the long term were folks who focused on one habit at a time and committed to eliminating (or adding) it to their daily routine before choosing their next goal.

Change is difficult. I won’t sugar-coat that for you. There were – and sometimes still are – days when I don’t want to move a muscle for reasons that are completely unrelated to needing time off to heal from an injury or illness. If I had tried to change everything I wanted to do differently in the beginning, I think I would have had a very hard time sticking to my resolutions.

By focusing on one small goal at a time, I was able to build the habits I needed to take on more challenging stuff in the future.

The Difference Between Simple and Easy

Getting into shape is simple in the sense that you will become healthier once you’ve committed to a workout or diet tweak and stuck with it over the long haul.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. To give you an example of what I mean, I’ll tell you the story of what happened when I first decided to switch from drinking rice milk to almond milk. The rice milk I used to drink was sweetened. The almond milk I decided to switch to in order to cut some unnecessary sugar out of my diet was not. It was a simple decision in the sense that both of these milk alternatives are sold in nearly all of the grocery stores close to my home.

I was not a big fan of the almond milk at first because my taste buds were so used to sweet beverages. It took a while to adjust to the more subtle flavours of almond milk, and I definitely had my fair share of gripes about the process in the beginning. I didn’t realize just how much my taste buds had adjusted until my local grocery store temporarily sold out of unflavoured almond milk a few months ago and I had to buy a jug of the stuff I used to drink.

Wow, was it sweet! It tasted like a dessert to me instead of something I’d put into my morning oatmeal or add to a savoury recipe. I honestly didn’t like it at all, and was very happy when my almond milk was back in stock again.

Simple choices aren’t always easy ones to stick with, but if you keep going you’ll be surprised by how much your body can adapt to new routines, foods, workouts, and so much more.I hope this post has encouraged you to find one small change to make in your daily routine. If I can do it, then so can you!

How to Tell If You’re Getting Stronger

One of the things I found most frustrating about lifting weights in the beginning was how much time it took to notice any tangible results from my workouts.

My body didn’t look any more toned when I stood in front of a mirror and the weights felt just as heavy in new sessions as they had in the ones before it.

Looking back, there were several reasons for this:

  1. The workouts I did back then were shorter and less challenging than my current routine.
  2. I wasn’t doing them as regularly I as did now.
  3. I didn’t know how hard to push myself or when to move up to heavier weights.

By far the biggest reason why I was frustrated, though, is that these kinds of changes take time. Nobody goes to sleep one evening after lifting 2 pound weights and wakes up the next morning suddenly able to lift 20 or 200 pounds. Strengthening and building muscles requires longterm effort and dedication.

There are no quick fixes, but there can be telltale signs that you’re on the right track if you pay close attention to what you’re currently able to do and how those limits evolve over time.

For example, go take a look at this exercise video. It’s one I’ve been using for a while now, and I’ve been able to do every move in it successfully and with good form except for the one that begins 8 minutes and 50 seconds into the routine:

 

If I balanced my lower body on my knees, I could always lift my upper body up with one arm. That was never too difficult for me, and it’s been downright easy for a while now.

Despite giving it multiple valiant efforts, I was never able to do the advanced form of this exercise until a couple of days ago. I was so accustomed to not being strong enough to do this move that I was shocked into a short burst of quiet laughter when it suddenly worked. How in the heck did that happen, I wondered?

My form definitely still needs work, but I’m thrilled to finally have grown strong enough to do this move. My new goal is to do it for the entire amount of time and with the correct form from beginning to end. If I can do a wobbly version for two or three rounds now, I have high hopes that I’ll grow even stronger in the near future and soon make my goal. After that happens, I will look for a new, more challenging upper body routine and start the cycle over again.

I kept going in the beginning before I saw any real results because I knew that regularly lifting weights would do wonders for my muscle and bone health. Now that I’m seeing external changes that matched the internal ones I trusted were happening, I’m even more motivated to continue lifting and pushing myself to be better in the future.

Celebrate Every Success

I’m a firm believer in celebrating every success if you’re having trouble perfecting a specific move or need some encouragement as you grow stronger and fitter.

Not every goal needs to be related to a specific number like your weight, how many pounds you lift, or how many minutes you can workout in a session.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping track of those things and celebrating when you reach numerical goals. I keep track of them for the sheer joy of seeing how they’ve changed over time.

With that being said, Sometimes success comes in quieter ways that are every bit as encouraging like:

  • Improving your form.
  • Suddenly noticing that the weights feel lighter.
  • Being able to do more repetitions of a move.
  • Finding difficult moves easy, and formerly impossible moves only difficult now.

Even very small changes can lead to huge results over the long haul. Every time you take note of something like this, know that you’re a little stronger than you were before and that it’s only a matter of time before you’ll notice even more exciting changes in what you’re capable of.

Honestly, most of the notes I’ve taken about my workouts have been mental ones. While I have begun spreading my general love of spreadsheets to include facts about my workout routine, this is really only necessary for those of us who are self-described Numbers or Excel nerds. Haha!

Mental notes honestly do work well if you pay attention to what you are and aren’t able to currently do and take notice when those limitations begin to change.

The important thing is to pay attention. If you put in the work and figure out a health and fitness routine that works best for you, you will almost certainly be rewarded in both big and small ways.

My Biggest Health and Fitness Mistakes So Far

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has been slowly changing for me from a health and fitness perspective over the last four years. After mulling it over for a while, there are three things I wish I would have done differently when I first decided to start working out regularly again. I Wish I’d… Read More

How to Encourage Someone Else to Start Exercising

No, this post isn’t about cajoling, bribing, manipulating, or otherwise pushing people to do what you want if – or even because –  it will be good for them in the longterm. Not only is this kind of behaviour completely ineffective, it’s also destructive regardless of whether it’s happening between friends, relatives, or romantic partners. The decision to… Read More