As I have been reading about people getting started on their fitness journeys lately it got me thinking about my own experience. At this point fitness just feels like a part of who I am. I don’t need to think about “if” I am going to work out; its more about when and how. However, it wasn’t always that way! I used to have long stretches with no workouts and then force myself to get back into it after awhile. It definitely wasn’t enjoyable back then! After reading Shathiso’s post last week with some tips for Getting Off the Couch I thought I would share my experience with starting a sustainable (and enjoyable) workout routine. Here is my journey about how I stayed consistent with fitness for 15 years (and counting)!
I’ve shared a little bit about my running journey before. I played sports and danced in high school, but hated running. It wasn’t until college when I started to run voluntarily, and actually liked it. I realized it was such an effective workout. I also liked that I didn’t need to go to the gym on days I ran outside.
Throughout high school I didn’t really feel like I needed to do my own workouts because of structured practices and classes. During my senior year and before college I sometimes tried to do my own workouts during the off-season. Typically, that lasted for a few days before I lost all motivation.
Here’s the thing- I really didn’t have any motivation. A small part of me knew that it was important to exercise for health reasons but at 16 or 17 I really didn’t care that much. I wasn’t concerned about body image because even when I put on a few pounds they came right off once I got back into sports or dance. I just felt like I had better ways to spend my time at that age.
The Beginning of College
When I started college I was all of a sudden eating junk every day, drinking all the time, and getting absolutely no real exercise. I would go through periods where I would work out for awhile, but that lasted maybe a few weeks (at best) each time. I remember so many weeks thinking “on Monday I am going to start going to the gym every day and start eating salads for meals” and that lasted until Thursday.
Here’s what I want to point out about this cycle. I don’t think its terrible to not be exercising consistently. I think we will all have some time periods where that happens. What I do think is that the feeling of failure can start to weigh on you when you plan to start a good habit and then fail at it over and over. I actually think I became less motivated to make good habits because I knew I wouldn’t stick with them.
Senior Year of College
I actually remember the day that I started a real fitness routine that I was able to maintain. It was the Sunday after my 21st birthday. (October 2004) After several days of partying pretty hard, I felt like I needed to get myself on track. I craved healthier foods and exercise. I started going to the gym and making some better foods choices, but I knew I wouldn’t stick with it.
I remember during my laps around the 1/10th of a mile indoor track at my gym thinking about how I was getting ready to enter the “real world”. I wanted to enjoy my senior year but I also wanted to feel good. I wasn’t about to give up drinking, or even the late night pizza, but I thought to myself “I can do those things and still exercise for 20 minutes every day”.
I committed to that and stuck with it. There were probably a few days that I missed but in general it became a part of my routine. Eventually I cut back to 5-6 workouts a week but initially the daily workout was what I needed to jump start my routine.
My Early 20s
Once I graduated I moved back home and joined a gym. I started taking workout classes that I really liked. I also began running outside more. At this point I also started eating “healthier” (in quotes for various reasons, but that’s a whole other post…) and overall I was feeling really good.
After living at home for a year I then moved back to Baltimore to start graduate school. I learned about the Baltimore half-marathon and decided I wanted to run it. I read some articles in Runners World, signed up, and ran my first half-marathon in October 2007.
3 Things that Helped me to Stay Consistent
This isn’t any sort of “special” story. It’s just an example of what worked for me. The most important part of becoming consistent with fitness was that I no longer felt like I failed every time I stopped working out. Here are 3 things that helped me to stay consistent:
- Made it a part of my routine- Some people would say that exercising every single day is an unreasonable expectation. In general, it may be. But initially this is what helped me to make it a part of my routine.
- Found something I enjoyed- Thanks to my free college gym membership I was able to try lots of different workouts. I learned that I liked running, using the elliptical, and lifting weights. Once I found what I enjoyed I stuck with it.
- Focus on one thing at a time- The “all or nothing” approach to a lifestyle change never worked for me. I felt like the times I tried to eat better, exercise, and cut back on drinking all at once I felt like I was missing out on the fun of being in college. That’s why I chose to start exercising because that fit the best into my lifestyle. I worked on the other things later.
“You make your habits, and then your habits make you.”
I remember hearing this quote in graduate school and it has stuck with me ever since. It can take a few weeks to form a habit. If you are going to work to make something a habit in your life, you might as well find something you enjoy.
I feel very lucky that I have come to truly enjoy exercise over the years. I know that not everyone has something they enjoy, or the access to the resources to try different things. I hope that anyone who is looking to make fitness a part of their daily routine can find the motivation to do so and can find something that they truly enjoy and look forward to every day.
How long have you been consistent with your fitness routine for?
What helped you create a habit that you could sustain?
Were you active in high school/college?