- What drives you to go to lift weights at the gym?
- How do you decide what exercises to choose once there?
- How long do you stay at the gym?
- Do you have a planned workout that you take along with you?
- How do your eating habits before or after the gym influence what you do there and how you feel afterward?
- How do you feel after you leave the gym?… Happy, sad frustrated?
What influences many of these, and other decisions you make regarding your physical fitness, are your beliefs and the emotion that you attach to them.
The School of Hard Knocks.
As a psychotherapist, I know this, but sometimes, even I still need to learn my life lessons in a very up-close and personal way. I’d like to share some stories from my life that helped me to understand this concept better.
Before I started back to the gym, I avoided it like the plague. Every morning, I told myself I would go and then I found every excuse not to. No parking space nearby? “I’ll try again this evening.” Gym hot or stuffy? “The ventilation is bad and I can’t finish my workout.” Other excuses? Low energy. IBS. Arthritis. “I just don’t feel like I can make it in today.”
These things were all part of my reality, but I was using the feelings as excuses for stagnation in my life. I was driving myself deeper and deeper into a self-made prison of physical and emotional weakness, and I was allowing the circumstances of my life to control me.
One day, I had a shift in my perspective. I felt more determined and asked one of the gym workers if they could turn on a fan or open the door. They were happy to oblige, unlike the previous time when I mustered up the courage to ask and was told, “No, that’s just the way it is here.”
After that moment, I finally understood something that I honestly already knew. I was creating my own roadblocks to advancing my workouts and reaching my fitness goals.
Why was I choosing to sabotage myself in this way? It’s not an easy question to answer.
Why Do We Choose to Sabotage Our Own Health?
Why do we make poor choices where exercise and even food choices are concerned when we know better? Here are some common reasons:
- Poor self-esteem
- Lack of self-confidence
- Feeling overwhelmed with life
- Maybe a little depression
This is an emotionally toxic cocktail. It can lead to isolation and eventually absenteeism from the gym for at least a month or more. Often times, this may lead to canceling gym membership for some people and/or drowning in piles of seeming healthy “treats” for others.
My self-sabotaging feelings caused me to disconnect from myself. I felt I was not in control of my body or my life. I told myself that there was nothing I could do to change my life story in any way, shape, or form. I took solace in hiding from the solutions I could have created for myself.
What shifted my perception of reality? I can assure you it was not winning the lottery (much as I wished that this was true). Arthritis and IBS did not suddenly disappear. On the contrary, I’ve had a host of other physical and emotional challenges to grapple with these past few years: glaucoma and the painful surgeries that accompany it, an extremely painful emergency surgery for a blocked tear duct, and the aftermath of being the single mom of a cancer survivor.
Here are some of the insights I made after a long period of introspection:
1. You cannot change your reality. You must embrace it and move forward.
Sometimes, going with the flow of negative life circumstances can cause a person to drown in the tears of their own sorrow. There is no point in allowing that to occur unless a person has a true death wish, which I did not. I remembered how I reacted when I was told that my son had a HUGE tumor growing inside his chest cavity. I allowed myself to be shocked for about ten minutes flat and then shifted into warrior mode, determined to save his life or die trying.
To move past of my exercise funk, I channeled that warrior again.
2. Without caring for yourself, you can be of no use to care for others.
A few years after my son’s initial cancer diagnosis, I found myself depressed in trying to cope with the devastating aftermath of living through his cancer battle. I knew I needed to snap out of it and find a way to heal myself or I would succumb to my own disease and surely die. The very thing I had fought so hard to prevent in my son’s life was about to take over and finish me off. Cancer had not beaten my son directly, but I was allowing it to win by succumbing to the emotional after effects.
I realized my son needed me to live in order to heal and thrive in his own life.
My despair distanced me from his healing journey. It was slowly killing me physically and emotionally. I was still able to function enough to return to work as needed to support our daily life, but my authentic soul was not grounded. I was a shadow of my former self and felt like a functional robot. I hardly smiled and never laughed at that time; I felt ill most of the time and was consumed with worry about making enough money to put the best food on the table to keep my son’s remission in tact. I uttered daily words of gratitude for his health, but was not able to feel them very much when my own physical challenges felt as though they were too much to bear.
3. Set the intention to persevere and give it your best.
I decided to join a local gym, knowing it would be a sure way to start combatting the physical devastation of arthritis in my hips and legs. I was NOT about to agree to a surgery that required a huge amount of rehabilitation. A botched hernia surgery a couple years prior almost put me over the side for several months. I was NOT going to run that risk again.
I visited the gym a couple times a week at first and “did what I could,” but was not putting the same amount of intention into my workout as I had when my son and I would go to the gym every morning prior to his radiation appointments. I sat and encouraged him to do his best at each machine after a trainer at the gym was kind enough to set up a program to help him regain his strength.
I would always empower him by saying, “you can do this, I know that you can,” when he felt defeated and wanted to give up and leave. A couple of times, he did get frustrated and run out the door. Facing the reality of what cancer treatment had done to his body was too much for him to bear at sixteen years of age. Prior to diagnosis, he was quite strong and “ripped” as they call it, but cancer treatment and the cancer itself had robbed him of his strength and ability to breath well during exertion.
I hung in there with him, and little by little, he came to understand that he had to force himself to accomplish these daily workouts to fight his depression and recover at least a little bit of the physical strength he had prided himself on prior to his cancer diagnosis. Indeed, it helped him to overcome some of the most challenging moments of the disease.
His courage has always been mind boggling to me and he is always quick to remind me that my presence and perseverance is what saved his life and keeps him alive to this very day. How could I allow myself to drown in a similar sort of depression that cancer patients are faced with? For several years, I felt as though my circumstances were larger than my ability to overcome them, but my son’s courage helped me to break past that mindset.
4. Stop making excuses. Start simple and just do it… and then do it again… and again.
Until recently, I felt that my life was still out of control. I knew I needed to stop and be still for a while. I wanted to feel more alive and to do that, I needed to strengthen my physical body. That’s when I finally stopped making excuses for not going to the gym on a daily basis. Whether I wanted to go or not (other than a couple legitimate IBS-related occurrences), I started to hit the gym 6 days a week without fail.
I created simple workouts for myself, at first, and learned to master them along the way. Soon enough, I was able to ride a bike for a full hour and accomplish approximately ten miles.
I also began resistance training. It may not sound like much, but I had to start small with only two pound weights and even that was a challenge. Now, I can lift 30 lbs easily and 12.5 lb dumbbells in each hand feels quite manageable. Every improvement has merit, no matter where you start, but make sure that you do start… period. Don’t let your ego stop you if you think you aren’t lifting enough. Don’t let your self-esteem stop you if you have to start small. Trust me, if I can do this, anybody can, and I mean anybody.
It’s not easy for me to share my personal story, but I’m hopeful it will help anyone who is not convinced their daily life habits and workouts are indeed influenced by personal beliefs, both for the positive and for the negative.
Now that you have this information, I invite you to take a good look at your own personal beliefs and examine whether they are helping or hurting your fitness goals.