Monday, March 4, 2013

choose happy

If I could give everyone one bit of advice about starting any kind of fitness routine, it would be this: do something that makes you happy! 

I’m not kidding.  I know everyone has different opinions on things like this, and this is just mine.  I’m not qualified to give medical advice, but other than talking to a doctor, I think this is the most important thing you can do to put yourself on a path to success.

I am not a “run through pain” kind of girl.   Never have been.  And I didn’t start this whole journey by lacing up my running shoes and running a 5K.  FAR FROM IT!  If I had, this whole deal would have been over LONG ago.  As a matter of fact, I only started working out because I needed to lose some weight (OK, a LOT of weight) and I can’t stand to diet!!  But before I even started working out, I had to get myself to a place where I could just make time to do something every day—something for me. 

I started out walking.  One mile a day with my kids. (sometimes more, but most days, just one was all we could squeeze in.)  I didn’t have grand visions or plans, I was just trying to do something EVERY day.  My goal wasn’t to lose weight or get in shape, it was consistency.  Some days it was a struggle to find time, some days it was cold, or rainy, and a couple of days there were even TORNADO warnings (hello, NC in springtime)  We called them “tomato warnings,” we laughed, and we walked anyway. And we’re always busy and on different schedules, but we stuck with it, and after 4 months, while I didn’t lose a single pound (in fact, I gained more weight!) it was a great “exercise” in making a plan and sticking to it!  It was also an experience in feeling good about doing something just because I said I was going to do it.  It was nice to be outside every day, it was good to be moving every day—neither of these things were part of my routine at the time.   And I got a TON of positive feedback from friends on Facebook! 

I’ll tell you this:  if you want to make a change in your life, announce it on Facebook.   Then, when you’re having a bad day and think about giving up, you also have to think about all those people who cheered you on, and know they’ll know you’re giving up.   If you’re like me, that’ll be enough to keep you going. 

It may sound silly or too simple, but all that positive feedback – first from others and eventually in my own head - was the first piece of the puzzle for me.  From there, I had just enough momentum to get myself into the gym.  And I didn’t start out with weights or in yoga class.  It was blinders on, straight to the elliptical, the only thing I knew how to do.  It had taken me a while, but I got to where I could last an hour on one (it doesn’t happen overnight, but I kept at it every day, just 5 minutes, then 15, then 30… ).  It does happen a lot faster than you’d think.   I did nothing but that elliptical for 4 and a half months.  And I didn’t love it at first—you’d see me, on that elliptical, watching Food Network, checking Facebook, texting friends, anything to keep my brain happy while my body worked.  Over time, I got to where I loved the feeling of working hard and sweating, and all I needed was music to keep me motivated and happy, but it took TIME for me to get to that point.  In the process, I lost 25 lbs. and that’s about when I started running. 

Even when I started running, it was going to be a “one-time” thing, just to get me through a day in NYC where I had no access to a gym.  I was just looking for a one-hour work out, something more challenging than a walk.  Just for that one day, nothing more.  And just to do that, I needed EXTENSIVE instructions on how I was going to do it, what I’d be thinking about, how I’d make it a whole hour.  I’m talking PAGES of Facebook messages from a very patient friend.  It took me an hour to run/walk 3.5 miles, and it never occurred to me that I’d start running.  It never occurred to me that I’d fall in love with it. 

After I started running, a friend suggested we run 5K.  Ask anyone I talked to back then—it was like I was training for a marathon—I was just that anxious about the whole thing!  I look back now and laugh, but I remember being terrified and worried about every little detail.   I remember a friend who runs marathons saying, “Oh, I love 5Ks, that’s such a fun distance.”  I could not even wrap my brain around that statement.  I was worried about where I was going to stretch, should I “taper” before the race, (I couldn’t even bring myself to call it a “race” back then!!! and taper… if you’re a runner, just try not to laugh..), what if it rained that day, what if they wouldn’t let me use my headphones, what was the crowd going to be like… (600 runners.  At my first half marathon, there were over 20,000…) But I ran with a good friend, which made it FUN!    

A couple weeks after that first 5K, I signed up for a half marathon.  And that’s when I had to change my training plan.  No more elliptical trainer between running days.  So I tried yoga.  Let me just say, for the record, if I was “not a runner”, I was even less a yoga person!  But I wanted something to do on my non-running days, and by now (this was November—11 months into this journey, 7 months of regular workouts, and 45 lbs. lost)  I was feeling much more confident about a lot of things…  Not that I was good at it—I wasn’t.  But I was in a much better place to laugh at myself.  And I had spent the last 11 months realising that I was good at some things, even if I wasn’t good at everything.  That first class, I amused myself (and some others, although there are those who are pretty serious about their yoga… I had to get it together!)  I was the clueless one in class.  But every week I came back, I got a little better.  And eventually, more new people showed up,  and after a while I wasn’t the most awkward person in the room.  In fact, while I’m not naturally very flexible, I’ve got excellent balance—better than the regular instructor.   I’ve gotten better since then, although I still have to work at anything that requires flexibility in my hips or hamstrings.  But I’m a LOT more flexible than I was just a few months ago, and tonight, I got to class a little late and happily took the spot in the front of the room (you know, the one no one else wanted). 

My point in all of this—if you’re in an exercise class and you’re just spending the whole time feeling awful, quit going.  If you’re running and you hate it, stop running.  If you’re lifting weights and it bores you, try something else.  Find something that brings you joy, and makes you happy where YOU are now.  You won’t always be where you are now, but you won’t get anywhere making yourself miserable.  I don’t believe in suffering.  You’ve got to know what makes you happy, what motivates you, what will make you want to keep coming back.  And you don’t have to do everything at once.  Find one thing.  And later you can find some other things.  Just make sure that whatever you’re doing, it’s something that makes you smile.  Otherswise, what’s the point?  

(and if there’s anything I can do to help you find a place to start, please let me know in the comments!)

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