How I Got Back in the Gym After YEARS of Sedentary Living

As ya'll know, I am in the midst of a rough patch. I'm working through it, and I'm doing it in a variety of ways. Last week I talked about how I'm working through some mental struggles regarding conceptualizing my future. This week I'm talking about my struggle to get active.

Your brain does stuff to make you move, and when you move, it does stuff to your brain. I forget this a lot because most of the time I consider my body to be just two things:
  1. the container/vehicle for my wonderful self, which mostly means my heart + soul + mind
  2. the display mannequin for my cute outfits
That said I have not really put much into fitness in the past. Granted, I am a black belt, but I haven't trained in years. Or even hit a gym. Which is why even when I think about self-defense scenarios, I never plan on out-running a mugger or assailant-- I aim to injure severely enough to disable them until I can get help and get safe. But fitness is incredibly important, and I have wanted to make it a bigger part of my life. Not only is it good for your general health, but it improves your mood, makes your brain function better, and helps you get more out of sleep. These are all things that I want in my life. But working out is scary.

I have never been athletic, and in fact am really really bad at things like running, lifting, and even stretching. This led to Physical Education classes in school being humiliating, demoralizing, and full of negative feelings. I have pretty high self-esteem, so for me to feel genuinely bad about myself (and not just something I did and can learn from) is a big deal. 

So I, like many people in this country, was deeply put off by the idea of working out. I consoled myself with thoughts about how I was focusing on more worthwhile pursuits like my education and spending time with friends and writing. These things are all noble, but I would also quiet thoughts about how I had indeed also put a lot of time into less important things... like binge-watching shows on repeat, for months on end. I was not good at working out. I did not enjoy it. It would burn my time and money. I had other things to do. I felt negatively about gyms. 

I know a lot of people have been in my shoes.

But I am making a change for real, and it seems that however slowly this change is coming, it is coming firmly. Here is how I got set myself up to go back (or for the first time ever) to the gym, and actually made a real commitment to get stronger and fitter.

Set your intentions deliberately.

Active 265. When I made my goals for the year, I decided that one of them was to be active 265 days this year, which my friend Yena inspired me to do. She told me that she had decided on that goal because she wanted to be sure it was something reasonable for someone who is not very in-shape to do, but it also was a strong commitment. It wasn't something she could fail at early on and give up on, but it also gave her a good amount of work to do. It also was a flexible goal, because being active doesn't necessarily mean going to the gym-- it could mean walking for 30 minutes, or going dancing with friends. This seemed like a goal that was very much my speed and I loved it. 

Get clear on your whys. I needed to know why I wanted to get fit, so that when things got hard, I could remind myself. I wanted my brain to be happier and more efficient. I wanted to be physically stronger so that I could feel as confident and capable physically as I am in other respects. I wanted to have an outlet that didn't require so much mental and emotional capacity as all my other ones did. I wanted to not be tired all the time. And to be honest, I knew I was on a steady pace toward sliding into the grave. I am not athletic, strong, or flexible, but I wasn't going to be satisfied staying that way forever. I don't want any of my whys to be about how I look or how other people feel about how I look. Most of the time that's pretty easy for me to do, since those are not generally things I think about, but for other people they are. If those are part of your whys, make sure that you want them to be your whys... otherwise they might actually be bullshit.

Get clear on your bullshit. Fun fact: we all have bullshit. Some of it is pretty harmless, but some of it stops us from doing the stuff we want or need to do. I don't have to get over my bullshit (and even when I get over it, sometimes it doesn't stay gotten over) but I do have to recognize it. Surrounding fitness and going to the gym, I had bullshit like, "I'm doing other things that are more worthy of my time" but obviously not all my time is used productively and quite frankly my health has to be a priority. I also thought things like "it's too expensive" when really my health is a great investment to make, and there are cost-effective ways to be active. So many thoughts and fears I had surrounding gym going were bullshit, and I had to confront that instead of allowing those thoughts to have sway over my decisions. 

Give yourself tools and support.

Invest in gym clothes and other essentials. I decided that if I was going to do something that I dislike, I was going to minimize any negative feelings around it as much as I could. For me, this often means feeling prepared. While I could not do anything to change what body or skill level I went into the gym with, I could minimize my feelings of self-consciousness and uncomfortableness. I bought some sports bras, a lightweight trainers, athletic pants, and even some athletic jackets. I got myself a bag for the gym, a water bottle, some small towels, and those "sport" ear buds that wrap around your ear so they don't fall out as you move. (Shout out to TJ Maxx for being there with price cut athletic wear and equipment!) This was a really important step for me, because as someone who is already uncomfortable and fish-out-of-water-y at gyms, I could at least know I came prepared.

Eliminate barriers and excuses. Research gyms in your budget-- I found Planet Fitness to be a great deal. Find a gym in your area so that you'll go. Go with a friend if that is important-- for me, I wanted to not go with anyone because I didn't want to start relying on anyone else's presence to get me to the gym. I knew I was too scared to go to the gym to sign up, so I signed up online. Once I put my payment information in, I knew that I couldn't get out of going. After getting clear on my bullshit, I worked to eliminate any excuse I had to not go. I tried to make going to the gym the most convenient it could possibly be. 

Tell people what you are doing. I'm really trying to be open about my experience trying to get fit, and also being depressed. Like everyone on the internet, I'm no stranger to posting a thing on my profiles in order to get supportive feedback. The honest to goodness truth is that even though my body is the most "mine" and "for me" thing in existence, I still can't get it together enough to actually take care of it. I need support and I need accountability, whether it's asking someone to hold me accountable or just feeling like people are watching (passive as it may be). I posted this on instagram the day I decided I was going to finally go to the gym, and I got so much support that it really helped me keep going.

Make it feel weird to not work out. As humans, we actually are not as free-willed as a lot of people think we are, and you can use that to your advantage. A lot of our decision making is based on what we feel is and isn't acceptable, and that's a social thing more than it is an individual thing in many cases. If you hang out with people who don't work out, never hear conversations about working out, etc. it's a lot easier for you to feel okay about working out than it is if you are around people who talk about going to the gym, read about people who work out, etc. Working with people who go to the gym really helped me realize how everyone made space for this in their life and I had failed to. I also am working on reading a book by a business person I admire and he talks about working out often throughout his book. Suddenly the gym was not just some vague notion I had tucked away out of sight and out of mind. Expose yourself to more people, TV shows, and books where people make work outs a part of their lives and you will find your reservations around it begin to crumble.

Create systems that work for you.

Track your progress. I'm coloring in a box in my Active 265 Bullet Journal page for every day I am active. I've also got a fitness journal in my gym bag where I write about my work outs, and how I feel about my fitness journey. I also post here on my blog (starting now!) and on Instagram and Snapchat about these things. I like to do all this because it helps me feel accountable to myself, and also allows my to track my progress and growth in ways that make sense to me and benefit me. 

Find ways to reward yourself. Fitness should be its own reward, but if you're like me, you are just not there yet. That's okay! I'm trying to give myself as many reasons to be active as possible. One thing I'm doing is using an app called Charity Miles when I take walks. You select one of the partner charities to donate to and then it tracks your walk or run via GPS. The more you walk or run, the more money you raise for that organization. I always choose GirlUp, the UN initiative to close gender discrepancies in access to education, healthcare, and opportunity around the world. 

Find ways to do it together. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't like the idea of having a gym buddy, because I didn't want out-of-sync schedules to become an excuse for me-- but I did want a group of friends I love and trust to be there with me as I worked on building fitness into my life. Not only did I turn to Instagram, but I created a plan for myself and some friends to run a 10k in 2018 in DisneyWorld! I have never felt I could to a 10k, but I'm going to do it with my friends and have the excuse to go to DisneyWorld with them. I started a Closed Facebook group just for us to swap tips, encouragement, and check in on each other. We're scattered across the country, but this

This is still an ongoing process for me, but I feel really good about the direction I'm going in. For the first time I actually feel like I want to go for the right reasons and I've minimized the bad feeling surrounding the gym as much as possible and that feels so liberating. It's still intimidating, but I feel so much better now that I put the work in to feel prepared and good about what I'm doing. 

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A Pause on Forward

I'm not sure what it is-- maybe it's the come down off the holidays and New Year hype. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe I caught something from someone on the subway. Maybe it's depression. It's probably a combination of those things. I've been feeling ill for a while and it's been slowing down my blog posts and my videos. Thanks for bearing with me during this slow down.

Even at the pits of my depression in college, it was much less about sadness, or worthlessness, and more about losing the will to do anything both physically through immense exhaustion, and emotionally. I was tired beyond belief. I had a dull hopelessness that felt less like a dramatic tragedy and more like a surrender to mundanity, mediocrity, and boredom. As a ridiculous weirdo, these are the sadnesses that felt most profound-- the feeling that there was no hope or will or energy to fight those things, and that even the most profound moments of joy and excitement were fleeting.

I like to think of my depression like allergies. Some allergies are seasonal. Some allergies are triggered by specific things being in your presence. Some allergies are only triggered when you do the wrong thing with the allergen-- for example, eating a food you are allergic to, but can still be around, or not taking allergy medication before taking a walk in the park. Sometimes you can minimize your exposure to an allergen, and sometimes you can't and you just gotta roll with it. Thinking about it like this instead of "my brain is broken" is really helpful. It means that I can do things to manage my depression, like not forcing myself to go out if I think it will only make me more upset, and it also means that when I get depressed, it's not necessarily my fault. It's an annoying and often terrible condition, but it's nobody's fault.

For the past week, I've been horrendously fatigued, sore in the back and joints, chest pain, had brain fog and massive, long head aches, and for some stretches, could not stay warm, even indoors, in my massive comforter. My weekends have been spent indoors, alternating between sleeping and watching TV online. My energy is spent trying not to suffocate beneath unshed tears. I had to bail on a friend's housewarming. I am trying not to be upset at myself for all of this.

I think I am sick with something, but if my Psychology degree has taught me anything, it's that the mind and the body are not as separate as everyone constantly thinks. And if I'm honest with myself, I am depressed, and there are definite mental hurdles I need to overcome to get out of at least the mental/emotional component to whatever is going on with me.

I'm not suggesting that you can think yourself out of sickness, because sometimes our bodies get attacked, or aren't perfectly calibrated-- let's be real, had it not been for medical interventions over the last few centuries, plenty of us would be dead. I'm saying that things are not always purely one thing, and that the mental impacts the physical. Stress can slow healing, and not just physical use of muscles, but stress from jobs or finances. Things interact and compound. We are tangles of many, many things.

As I consider the way that I have been feeling, not just my aches and soreness, but my exhaustion, my emotional state of lukewarm anxiety and heaviness, I know that there are certain things I need to work out.

I'm struggling with this feeling of being in the weeds of things. I find myself talking myself up, telling myself and others about how I am processing this bulk of information or that-- but in all honesty, I am having a hard time sifting through such a massive mess of future. I felt incredibly prepared for job hunting, for example, because I had years to prepare. I read all I could about career success, interviewing, job hunting, and did plenty of "practice" by way of internships. I took all of that in over years before I was in the thick of it. Now I'm in the thick of it... all of it. I didn't expect how uncomfortable I would be with this feeling of no longer being on top of things. I'm not a mess, by any stretch, but I find myself missing the benchmarks that school offered-- this much left, this far to go, you got through that project. In school, I disliked the pointlessness of it all, but now that the stuff I do has meaning, I'm missing that feeling of progress.

I suppose the best way to articulate it is that when I was in school, there was a mountain, and there was a summit, and there were mile markers. Now, in adulthood, there is a mountain, there is fog, and there are no mile markers. I cannot see the summit.

I have to define success for myself. I have to create benchmarks for myself. As an ambitious person, I need to have next steps! I don't need to always succeed, but I do like to feel like I know where my energy is going, and stand behind that. At this point in time, I don't know if I am able to set realistic goals and timelines for myself. I am in so many new situations now, and I am trying to get a handle on them.

On the one hand, I feel like realistic is such a dirty word. The best and most important things I have done in my life would not be considered realistic by most people. The moments that have felt most like success fell in line with who I am-- a ridiculous, eccentric, magical weirdo.

On the other hand, I want to work towards meaningful goals-- not necessarily on the scale of all humanity, but things that are meaningful to me. I have a few set up for the year, but I'm not sure that's enough for me. Part of having meaningful goals is about making sure that they are things that I can work toward attaining, so there has to be a dose of reality in there.

I have an unknown amount of time, but I think it is a lot, and that is really confusing my brain. I no longer have 4 year blocks slotted out. There is a lot of structure that is now missing from my life that helped me think through my future. My future used to feel like sunlight and lightning ahead of me, that was a really great, energizing albeit sometimes frightening feeling. Now it feels like a fear caught in my throat, slinking about inside of me and unable to reveal itself in the open. I'm trying to find new ways to conceptualize it that don't feel as overwhelming.

I feel adrift and I am struggling to gain my bearings. I am working through this, and maybe you are going through something similar. I know I will get there but for now I am in the weeds of it, trying to sift and sort. The only way out is through, so I will journal and meditate and cry and laugh until I feel that I have gained conviction in my future and goals again.

If you are also in the weeds, know that you're not alone, and that we can go through together.

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