For the last several years, I’ve had this painful up-and-down relationship with exercise.
I’m a routine-oriented person and I certainly possess the willpower to exercise every single day. When I first decided to really focus on exercise in 2008, I started on this great daily schedule that worked like a charm for about two weeks. I had a trainer who helped me to define a routine that wouldn’t overwork specific muscles but instead gave all of my major muscle groups adequate work. I was loving it.
About fifteen days in, I strained a back muscle. I could barely walk. I remember rolling out of bed in the morning very, very slowly. It would take me about three minutes to move to a kneeling position beside the bed, from which I could slowly raise myself up to a walking position.
It was back to the drawing board. I waited until I was healed up from this to start a new daily routine. Again, it seemed pretty light. Again, I ended up straining something and having to go on a break.
On the occasions when I would put together a great chain of exercise, I’d have some reason to miss a day (usually a family trip or something like that) and I’d just beat myself up over it. I’d go out there like Rambo the next day, drastically overdo it, and, inevitably, pull a muscle or sprain something.
(I seem to be incredibly good at causing muscle pulls or strains.)
Several months ago, I more or less gave up on it. I realized I was never truly going to be able to adopt a daily workout schedule of any kind, so I just stepped back from it for a while.
That was in January. In April, I woke up one day and it was beautiful out, so I decided to put on my shoes and take a quick walk around the block. I genuinely enjoyed how it felt, so I just kept going and going. When I got home an hour later or so, I felt like a champion for the rest of the day.
The next morning, my legs were sore. I didn’t go that day because, honestly, it didn’t sound appealing.
The next day, though, I woke up, saw the nice weather, and I thought about taking a walk. Rather than telling myself I had some schedule to keep up with, I just decided to go outside and walk while it felt good and, if it didn’t, I’d turn around. I walked for a long while, came home, and felt great again.
I did that for a few days in a row, then I missed a couple of days. I decided, right there, I didn’t care about it.
Instead, once the freak snowstorm melted, I decided to go on another nice walk and, again, it felt really good. I didn’t feel bad about the days I had missed. Instead, I just felt good – really good – about the days I actually walked.
Since then, I’ve slowly added other aspects of exercise to the mix. I’ll try them and see if I like them. If I don’t, no loss. If I do, then I add them to the repertoire and do them every few days when I think it would feel good. I’ve discovered, for some reason, that I particularly like doing halos with a kettlebell – passing a kettlebell around your head over and over for a certain length of time – so I do it pretty much every day.
I’m not training for the Olympics. I’m merely making choices in the moment that feel good and leave me feeling good for the rest of the day.
After some reflection, I’ve realized that I’ve applied this same tactic to almost every area of my life where I’ve been successful.
With spending money, I strive to make the good choice when I have an opportunity to spend money. I feel good when I do, because I know the long term benefits I’m buying. I don’t always make the right choice, but the reinforcement of that good feeling makes it a lot easier to make that good spending choice.
With my marriage, I strive to be honest and open about my own mistakes and feelings. Again, I feel good when I do, because I know the long term benefits I’m buying. I’m not always as honest and open as I could be, but the reinforcement of that good feeling of making the right choice makes it a lot easier to make the right choice again.
I can repeat the same thing regarding how I eat, how I parent, how I spend my time… the list goes on and on.
If you push self-improvement into the realm of self-punishment, it’s hard to succeed long term. Instead, you’ve got to strive to find that point where self-improvement feels good for you in the short term. Often, that short term feel-good is because of the good feeling you get for doing the right thing for your life, but often it’s even more than that. It’s pride from finding a healthy meal you enjoy or finding a better way to spend your money or from connecting with your spouse or your child on a deep level.
You don’t have to hit a home run every time, but if you get a few successes under your belt and see that you don’t have to succeed every time, you’ll want those successes and you’ll enjoy them.
I like to call it inconsistent consistency. If I can find ways to keep my life arrows generally pointed in the right direction, the joy of making good choices will often drive me where I want to go, even if I’m not perfect.