Getting out of your own way
I started going to the gym for the first time in years. I go in the morning before work. Some adjustments needed to be made. I gave up on recording the late night talk shows and watching them the next morning. And there are the public showers, something I haven’t used since high school. I’m still not fully comfortable walking around naked with other adult men, but the sight no longer jars me. (Being nearsighted helps.)
One thing I’ve had to struggle with is the negative self-talk that fills my head. I know others struggle with this too. Here are some of the ways I’m working through my negative self-talk.
“I’m too good for this.”
Let’s start with negative self-talk that doesn’t sound negative. But arrogance is the worst self-talk of all.
My first mental pushback when entering the gym is “I don’t want to be that guy.” You know, the guy who flexes in the mirror and admires his pumped up biceps. The one who wears tank tops saying “Sun’s out. Guns out.” The one who constantly talks about supplements and what weight equipment he “shredded on” today.
When you go to the gym, you rub shoulders with all sorts of people. Executives, construction workers, teachers, waitresses, and physical therapists. People who work out for hours and those who use the Exercycle while catching up with the newspaper. Those who use the treadmills on the left because the TV shows CNN, and those who use the ones on the right because that TV shows Fox News.
They belong there. And you realize that you belong there too.
We all have our reasons for working out, and theirs is just as valid as yours and vice versa. We’re all pursuing the same goal and facing the same challenges. This can bring us together. And when you let down your guard or step down from your pedestal, you can make new friends and find people who can motivate and support you.
You don’t have to be that guy, but you can enjoy exercise for how it benefits you. You might wind up admiring your abs and boasting how you beat your best on the bench press. But you come to appreciate this about yourself because you earned it.
“What if I can’t do it?”
As a 56-year-old man, I worry if I could handle exercise like I did when I was younger. I still have memories of my parents’ health, and I also let a lot of things slip over the years. Lifts, bends, and pushes I could do when I was younger are harder now. And I questioned whether I can push myself to be as fit as I want to be.
If you have concerns about starting an exercise program, get a checkup from your doctor. And if you’re healthy enough for exercise, do what you can and do a little more each workout.
We don’t know what we’re capable of until we push ourselves. I see people 30 years older than me or weigh 40 pounds more, but they go hard. When I see them refusing to give up, it drives me to finish that set or go another 20 minutes. You soon discover that you can do more than you thought possible.
“What if people don’t like me when I reach my goal?”
Striving for one thing means giving up others. In addition to the adjustments I’ve already made, I know I have to make changes to my diet. Instead of looking for comfort and control from food, I have to find those through fitness.
When we change how we see ourselves, it affects how others feel towards us. Many will be happy with the changes we’ve made. Others won’t. They may prefer our old fat self. The one who always joined them for ice cream. The one who can find the desk with the treats. They may feel uncomfortable that we ordered the roasted asparagus while they got nachos. Or they don’t understand why we don’t want to stay later at the bar because we have gym in the morning.
I know those who love me support my health and fitness. I don’t need to please anyone else. I have to live with this body for the rest of my life. I can’t sacrifice myself to make others feel comfortable. Whether they accept me or not is their choice. I need to do what’s right for me.
Get out of our own way
We often deny ourselves the things we want or need out of our own negative self-talk. It can come from fear, unworthiness, arrogance, and whatever other feelings we use to avoid the discomfort and risk of change. It takes work, sacrifice, and pain to get yourself in shape — or achieve any other goal you find worthwhile.
The first step is to get out of our own way and confront the self-talk that holds us back. With a clear mind, we can focus on our goals and see how far our efforts can take us.
Originally published at Matthew Arnold Stern.