Tag Archives: Motivation

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 Documented My Progress More Thoroughly

Those of you who have known me a long time probably won’t be surprised by the first item on this list. For everyone else, let’s just say that I find a lot of joy in keeping track of all kinds of statistics for the pure pleasure of being able to go back and look at them on occasion to see how they’ve changed over time.

Today I’m going to ignore the unwritten social rule about women refusing to talk about their weight. It’s a silly prohibition, and I don’t see any reason to follow it when part of this post is about how that has changed for me since 2013.

I weighed 143 pounds when I first began focusing on improving my health. Last year I bottomed out at 118 pounds, but I’ve since purposefully moved up to 124 pounds as of yesterday’s weigh-in. I like the way I look at this size, and I’m planning to stick with it for the time being.

Other than the approximate weight I had four years ago, I didn’t bother to take note of anything else that I could have recorded about my body at that time. Now I wish that I had kept track of everything from the circumferences of my waist to exactly how many minutes of the exercise videos I could do when I first started looking them up on Youtube.

While I do have recent statistics for some of these items now, I would love to have charts showing my weekly or monthly progress over the past four years as I lost weight, toned up, reduced my body fat percentage, and slowly began moving into more and more challenging workouts.

There was a time a few years ago when I wasn’t strong enough to do a single pushup. Now I can do them, and I’d love to know exactly when that changed.

I Wish I’d Paid Attention to My Diet Sooner

Getting into a regular workout routine was easier for me than adjusting my diet, but I didn’t start losing weight until I took a closer look at what I was eating and changed it. I don’t believe in the concept of “forbidden” foods, but there were some tweaks I needed to make in order to become healthier in general.

My diet was actually fairly balanced back then, but I did have dessert a little too often and I wasn’t eating as many servings of vegetables as Canada’s Food Guide recommends.

Along with adding more vegetables into meals I already knew I liked and having dessert a few times a month instead of a few times a week, I switched from drinking rice milk to drinking almond milk. Switching to almond milk was something I originally did to get some of the unnecessary, hidden sugar in it out of my diet, but I later learned that rice milk is about 100 calories per cup while almond milk is only 30.

All of these small changes added up over time. I wish I’d known how simple they were to make and how quickly my palate would adjust.

I Wish I’d Done More Than One Type of Exercise from the Beginning

Nearly all of the workouts I did at first were cardio, and many of them were of various types of dancing. As much as I enjoyed it, I wish I’d started weightlifting regularly sooner than I did.

Being able to switch between a few different forms of exercise makes my current routines much more interesting than they used to be. It’s difficult for me to grow bored with it because my routine shifts regularly.

Weightlifting has also improved my health in all kinds of ways that aren’t at all related to how much I weigh. For example, last year I noticed that the groceries I carried home weren’t feeling as heavy as they used to be. I wasn’t needing to stop and rest like I did in the past when I wanted to buy a whole bunch of heavy stuff like watermelon, canned goods, and multiple cartons of milk.

This happened so gradually that it took me a few trips to realize what was happening. I love the freedom that comes with being able to buy more food at once instead of breaking my trips up when a great sale happened.

With that being said, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far with my physical fitness and general health. I’m looking forward to seeing what my life is like four years from now.

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