So, this particular year started on September 21st, 2015. But in all honesty, the journey – or rather the struggle to get to that stage – started years before.
On 21/09/15 I joined my new gym – and where I’m today and who I’m today is very different from who I was then. Bear with me a little, because this post is not just about fitness, or losing weight. It’s about overcoming your limits, your fears, and it’s about being the best you can be. In ANYTHING you choose. No matter how shit you think you are at it.
This is a long post, because I’m trying to share how something that holds you back for years can still be changed. If you want. So stick with me :-)
I was NEVER a sporty person. Not even as a kid. My mom tried to get to me to learn swimming, which I learned only under duress, promptly to forget it as soon as the course was finished. She tried to get me to learn to skate, and for the entire summer, I never let go of the rails, while my younger sister won medals in skating competitions. I did not participate in school sports days, beyond mandatory requirements. I got good grades in gym classes for turning up on time, being polite, and participating. I did not excel at anything physical. EVER. So I’d long since accepted that I just wasn’t a physical person. I was cerebral. As proven by my interests, my studious personality, and the fact that I love to do things that require you to sit down – like read books, write, and be hunched over my laptop. And I was perfectly fine with that. After all, who doesn’t want to be smart?
Fast forward into mid-twenties. The sedentary lifestyle, not-so-good eating habits started catching up. I started putting on weight. Every time I got to a certain weight level that made me cringe, I would sign up for a gym membership, or use Wii Fit at home, workout for a few months, three times a week, bog standard workouts. This usually happened before going away on a holiday. I would get back to relatively non-hideous level (in my opinion of my self), and then forget about the gym, the exercise, until the next time it happened.
And so the cycle continued for years. But I think at least for the last five years, I was never happy with my weight, or the way I looked. I went through phases when I would set fitness goals, keep fitness journals, and be super motivated, but then – usually during travel periods or Christmas break – I would fall off the wagon.
Moving to London and the Changes:
In autumn 2014, I started my MA in English Literature and joined the university gym because I’d returned from seven months abroad where my family had lovingly fed me, and I was the heaviest I’d ever been. I started working out 2-3 times a week, but only if I was on campus. Again, classic stationery bike for a bit, or elliptical (I was too lazy to actually use treadmill and hated cardio). But for the first time, I also used some weight machines and did free weight, and found that I actually enjoyed those. But then classes finished, I had no reason to go to the campus, and therefore to the gym. So another 3 months of break, and it looked like I was about to repeat the cycle all over again. My intention had been to start running outside, rather than pay for the gym. But I never managed. I didn’t have the will or the discipline. It was always too cold, too hot, too dark, too something. And as I couldn’t run a mile without huffing and puffing, I was too embarrassed to do it on the streets. I was 31 years old, and very unfit. But I wasn’t even thinking about fitness or health. I just didn’t like the way I looked.
Days before going away on a week-long holiday to Prague, I popped into my local Fitness First, just to ask for details. Andrew, one of the consultants there, sweet-talked his way into a sales pitch and I ended up buying membership then there, to start upon my return from Prague.
September 21, 2015 – The Journey Begins
This time, I decided to do things differently. I started going to the classes, and try new things. I started with Yoga on my first day, because I’d always liked Yoga, and at least I wasn’t shit at it, because I’d better flexibility than cardio capacity or strength. I have never been the one to diet, and I’d no intention of doing so. So I just focused on going to the gym, and in the beginning I usually did 4 classes a week, two of which were always Yoga and Zumba. For the most part, only 1 of these 4 classes was an intense cardio session.
However, after a month of that, something weird happened. I automatically wanted to eat a bit better because I didn’t want to waste all the hard work I was doing. Keep in mind that my sole motivation was still weight loss and looking good.
I was medically overweight. Not obese, but certainly not healthy. I was 24 pounds / 11 kg heavier than I’m now. That’s A LOT when you consider that I am 5″3. So I started keeping a food diary. Again, not a diet, but simply an awareness of what I was eating. And I learned a lot about food. About portions, about things I thought were healthy but weren’t. Out of that, again, I improved some eating habits, such as not ordering takeaways at home because I couldn’t be bothered to cook – except for emergencies, such as being sick. I still ate out a lot, and continue to do that because most of my social life happens over food. But takeaways at home are mostly eliminated.
Change Your Mind and Change Your Life
Meanwhile, I was really enjoying my gym classes because I was learning things. Instead of thinking about exercise, I was now beginning to focus on how I wanted to learn to dance (I’d always wanted to learn to dance, and for the first time I’d a chance), and how I wanted to be good at Yoga. So it became a mission to improve at certain skills, rather than exercise. It’s amazing how much difference word choices make. When your mind perceives something as pleasure, it is very keen to support you.
I was also being very social in the gym, talking to all the trainers, and the people. As I started to become more of a regular, more people were recognizing me, and nodding. In my second month, I was doing 6 classes a week, because there were so many things I wanted to learn. For example, I didn’t want to miss out on Yoga or Zumba, but I equally wanted to learn Street Dance and kick ass in Body Combat. So I went to the gym for 6 classes, because it was FUN! And because I was consistent, I became better. While not a good dancer by any means, I was now bit more coordinated, and could remember the routines.
And as I progressed, my focus slowly began to shift from just looking good to feeling good. For all these years I absolutely resented all those people who talked about exercise high and endorphin rush, because I’d NEVER felt that. I figured they were just the lucky ones. But my consistency was paying off. I was now feeling that rush. I also understood what it felt like to actually feel fit and healthy from the inside. Don’t get me wrong, I still care about looking good, but I care more about feeling good whereas before that consideration hadn’t even occurred to me.
What changed for me was changing my mindset. I decided at some point in this process to ENJOY exercise. I told myself to focus on the skills I was learning, and things I wanted to be able to do. I motivated the hell out of myself by spending ages on Pinterest looking at fitness related pins. I bought nice gym clothes. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of all my workouts so that I could remain consistent and not break my habit.
So What’s Changed in One Year:
Besides the actual weight loss of 24 pounds / 11 kg (which by the way happened within first 6 months, without giving up Pizza or Chocolate or indeed any food, which if you are on my Facebook or Instagram you would be well aware of) these are the things that have happened in one year:
I’m 33 and I’m the fittest I’ve EVER been
I can dance (still not well, grant you, but I can dance and I love it)
I am better at Yoga
I found that I love Boxing
I got into hiking and outdoors – which I’d never enjoyed before. As a result of this I’ve seen more parts of England this summer than in my previous 10 years put together.
I started doing indoor bouldering (rockclimbing without harness)
I ran my first 5k, and have signed up for a 10K and half-marathon
I learned how to swim (again, and willingly, and I can now swim)
I feel healthier, and I find it easier to adopt healthier habits
And yes, I do feel happy with the way I look
But most of all, what’s been very surprising and amazing and astonishing is the realization that I can achieve physical things. That I wasn’t destined to be rubbish at it. That if I put in the work, I can be good, and have fun, and enjoy it as much as I enjoy my cerebral endeavors.
This one year, pushing myself physically, therefore, opened up my mental boundaries. It allowed me to see that I’d kept myself boxed in, telling myself that I wasn’t capable of doing certain things. It taught me that in order to be really limitless, you’ve to free yourself of the limits you think you have. You have to take chances, and try things. You have to push yourself. And most importantly you have to be true to yourself.
It also allowed me to really broaden my horizons by trying new things, meeting new people, learning new skills. It enabled me to take that one crucial step towards creating my Kaizen Life where I’m not held back by my lack of physical fitness.
Dealing with Other People’s Opinions and Expectations
Any significant change is never easy. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, there will always be obstacles, and you can bet that 9 times of 10, other people will be one of them.
Other people can be supportive, but they can also be hindrance – often through good intentions. When I first started exercising, people were supportive, saying oh yeah, good, lose some weight. But then as I got heavily into fitness, more and more of my “normal” family and friends started saying I was doing too much, unable to understand that it was no longer about weight loss. That in fact, I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but rather to up my fitness levels.
People were concerned I was going to be too skinny. For the record, I’m not. I’m in fact medically at a very healthy range of weight and cholesterol levels. I also have more muscle mass. Some people told me I was pushing myself too hard. What it comes down to is this: people often respond based on their experience, their issues, and even their inner demons. When someone tell you what you should do, consider that it may actually be about them, rather than you. Each person is different, our bodies are different. What’s healthy for one person may not be the same for another. So use your judgement. Get medical advice where appropriate rather than listening to everyone and anyone.
Hear what your well-wishers have to say, but don’t necessarily do what they say. You know what’s good for you, and you know what you want to achieve and what your goals are – so stick to them. Other people haven’t been in your shoes, they won’t always understand your journey. But if they care about you, they will come around to understanding it eventually, or at the very least support you.
There is also an issue of time. Making fitness a priority in my life meant other things had to take a back seat. So I’ve to often turn to my friends and say no to social plans because I’ve to go to the gym. Everything has a price, and you need to decide your priorities and figure out what works for you. But for me, my good friends all understand. And in fact, sometimes I end up doing certain activities with them. I’ve also made new friends based on my new interests with whom I go on hikes, bouldering etc. Trainers in my gym have been fantastic – which is why they’ve been featured in this article! If you need a personal trainer, I would heartily recommend any of them. I’ve also been inspired by my fellow gym-goers, and just random people I see on the street, doing what I want to be doing – whether it’s running, or bouldering, or doing cool ninja-kicks!
Always keep your inner compass tuned, because you will need it. Do not let peer pressure dictate your priorities.
September 21, 2016
I’m currently in Granada on what is a working vacation. It’s past 11 pm, and just a little while ago, I returned from a celebratory run to commemorate this fitness journey. It was a short run – I’d no distance goals, or speed goals; I just had a route in mind, finishing at an ice-cream shop, from where I got a Mango Sorbet cone, because what’s celebration without ice-cream!!
The fact that I went out for a run while on vacation, and that at night, amazes me beyond words. It also thrills me, makes me proud of how far I’ve come. Now, when I am doing all these workouts, one of the feelings always at the forefront of my mind is GRATITUDE. Because now, I truly appreciate what a good fortune it is to be healthy, to have a body that is capable of movement. Now, when I am exercising and it’s hard and sometimes I want to quit, I remind myself that I’m lucky to be here, that I’m lucky to be capable of doing this, and I thank God, Universe, My Parents (for the genes) and smile, and keep going…
To paraphrase Robert Frost…I have miles to go before I sleep, and I intend to make the best of those miles. Because now, finally, I’ve come to appreciate that both your body and mind work better when they are kept well-oiled and healthy. So for me to be the best version of me, I need to continue pushing myself on both mental and physical front! I’ve learned a very important lesson: that I need not to be caged, even by own limiting beliefs. If I’m willing to show up consistently and work hard, then I can smash my limits to smithereens. SO CAN YOU!
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:
Think about my journey in the context of your life, and journal about the following questions. What limits have you set for your self? What limiting beliefs hold you back? What transformations would you like to have in your life?