20 Aug The Challenge: How an Exercise Program Changed Me
by Chris S., a Psych Choices client
Exactly 51 days ago I decided that I would begin to work out again after about 2 months of barely exercising at all. During those 2 months I felt a lack of motivation and a lack of a good reason to exercise. After watching a motivating YouTube video from an exercise/lifestyle guru named Elliot Hulse, I decided I would get up and start again. Specifically, I would exercise my core, starting the next day. This decision turned out to be very important.
I received a Facebook message from my friend the next day letting me know he started something called The 30 Day Ab Challenge the day before and asked if I was interested in doing it with him. The 30 Day Ab Challenge, from the website 30dayfitnesschallenges.com, was a bit of a sensation as millions of people were doing it (and probably still are). Each day of the challenge details a set of ab workouts you’ll have to do that increase in quantity as the days pass. Coincidentally (or perhaps not, depending on your view on this sort of thing), my friend also hadn’t worked out in about 2 months until he chose to start again the day before. When he asked if I wanted to join him, I was hesitant, since I’d never been one to commit to any kind of exercise regimen, but I agreed. Looking back, I doubt I would’ve said “yes” had I not made the decision the night before to start working out again.
I was unusually determined to do this challenge and really took it to heart. I sat down on my bed and wrote out all the reasons I wanted to commit myself to doing it and what I was looking to gain in the end. Some of the things I wanted to gain were: A sense of pride; character, knowing I continued to do something even when it got tough; a sense of accomplishment; satisfaction, knowing I put my potential to use (something I scarcely had done); and overall betterment from working my body.
Writing it all down proved to be very important. I got the idea from Brian Tracy, author of Accelerated Learning Techniques. In his audiobook, he speaks about how in writing our goals down, they become more assimilated into our consciousness than they would otherwise. Creating a physical copy of what we want to achieve makes it feel more real to us. I recall how I felt a bit scared as well as determined while writing it all down – scared because I had never done something like this before – I had never taken it upon myself to commit to something for 30 days with no external force pushing me along. This whole process brought up excitement as well as nervousness as it indeed became more real to me. I concentrated on every word I wrote and recited them to myself. I then grabbed a bunch of flash cards and made a timeline. I drew four segments on each side of every flashcard, signifying four days worth of workouts on each side. Every day I would write down the workouts as I did them as a sign of progress.
Keeping track of my progress and affirming my goals in this way proved invaluable. I know I would’ve faced many more problems had I not done that. So every day I did however many workouts I needed to do, affirming beforehand that even when I didn’t feel like working out, I would anyway. I’d say this attitude made up about 90% of what carried me through.
I began to realize as I continued that I was gaining even more from the challenge than what I’d initially planned. The first thing I noticed was that it was a good way to initiate conversation and connect with people. My everyday life became a little more social because of it, and because engaging in this kind of challenge gave me a bit more confidence, I found it easier to interact with people in general.
The next thing I realized was that I was no longer only doing it for myself. My friend and I would give each other updates through Facebook as to how we were coming along, which was a great source of motivation. I found about halfway through the challenge that I felt totally invested in him. At that point, even though the workouts were getting more and more intense, I simply wasn’t going to stop, because to me that would mean letting him down. It wasn’t even an option; I was going to finish it. Additionally, I realized that I was inspiring my mother and sister to start workout out too. This in turn motivated me even more to continue the challenge.
Physically I felt stronger as I was able to do more workouts more easily. When it got difficult, I would sometimes look back to the first flash card I filled out and recall the first workout day. I would feel surprised that I needed to take 3 breaks to get through the first set of sit-ups! Seeing the progress right in front of me felt good, like I was clearly getting somewhere.
I remember during the last 10 days of the challenge how I seemed to randomly feel energized as I took out the trash. This was abnormal for me, as I’m assuming it would be for most people. I was literally jogging back and forth to drag the trash cans to the front of the house. Needless to say, consistent exercise made me feel more energized. Perhaps what is even more interesting is that I also started to feel more mentally energized and more focused. As they say, “A body in motion is a mind in motion.”
I got to the point where I would look forward to my workout days, and on my “Rest Days,” which were every other three days, I found myself actually wanting to work out. I think a big reason for all of this was that I had something to look forward to.
As the challenge drew to an end, I knew I wanted to continue exercising. I believe it was the yoga master Yogi Bhajan who said that doing something consistently for 40 days will rewire parts of the brain to adapt to the new behavior; 90 days will create a new habit; 120 days will confirm the new habit; and 1000 days will master the habit. As I continued to work out, my new goal was to do it for 40 days. Now 51 days in, my current goal is to get to 90 days to create a new habit.
As I’ve taken up this challenge I’ve learned many things and have changed in many ways. I know now that my fear in the beginning was one that often came up for me, and still does sometimes, but at the time I wanted to challenge myself more than I wanted to run, and so I did it.
I must give much credit to my friend who presented me with the challenge. Had he not offered it to me, I wouldn’t have done it and probably the majority of good things that have happened to me wouldn’t have, or at least not as quickly as they did. Thinking back to even before that, I doubt that I would have taken him up on the challenge had I not made the decision the night before to start working out again. I probably would’ve felt too intimidated and left it up to him had I not already made that conscious choice. Decisions are powerful.
Feeling motivated is a great thing to feel, but it is secondary, as I’ve learned. I’ve been seeing more and more that the most important thing to do to create a new positive habit, whatever it may be, is to do it even when you don’t want to. That is about 90% of the challenge. You don’t even have to do it 100% correctly; what matters is that you show up. That is what builds character and that is what will propel you forward into accomplishing your goals.
As a final thought, I feel that goal achievement is great when done for reasons that will aid in our growth, but more importantly is to be able to utilize our potential. I hope I helped someone by writing this.
Here are some references that have helped me along:
Accelerated Learning Techniques by Brian Tracy (Audiobook)
Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein
The Jillian Michaels Show Podcast