I have spent much of my adult life searching for happiness in all the wrong places — people, jobs, money, even material things. I fell victim to this way of thinking (yet again) recently as I embarked on a journey to get skinny.
I thought, If only I could squeeze back into those size 4 jeans from college, then I will be really happy. If I look good, I am sure to feel good, right? So I went all-in as I searched for happiness in the number on my bathroom scale. I fully committed to a 7-week weight loss challenge — nothing was going to stop me.
I worked out 5 or 6 times a week. I cut carbs and sugar. I didn’t cheat. But I didn’t find happiness in a number on the scale or the tag on my jeans. Instead, I found so many things I was never looking for at all. I fell in love with exercise. I quickly realized that the 50 minutes I spent at the gym was the best part of my day. I was making myself a priority for the first time in over 20 years. I left the gym feeling refreshed and energized.
Apparently endorphins make me a better mom, too, because my children were loving the new me. I hadn’t realized it, but unplugging from my phone, my kids, and email for one hour a day was an act of self-care that I desperately needed. In doing so, I discovered that happiness lives someplace other than where I had expected it to, and exercise helped me to find it.
The many benefits of exercise are indisputable, but how do you begin a new fitness routine in a healthier way than I did? I reached out to Shaun Chambers, the founder and CEO of the award-winning facility BodyRoc FitLab in Connecticut to get some tips.
Exercise Your Mind
Before you put your body to the test, you must exercise your mind. Try to be positive and excited about your new routine. “You are less likely to enjoy a fitness routine or stick to it if you are not in the right frame of mind,” says Chambers. “Consider how much better things in your life will be when you can have a clear head and you look and feel better.” Stay focused on the positive and don’t tolerate your own negative thoughts. Write down your goals and read them often. Trust the process and know that your body will follow your mind. As Chambers says, “invite the progress into your life.” The mind is truly a powerful tool. Use it wisely.
Just Do It
“Sometimes the hardest part is just getting yourself going,” says Chambers. “There are many things that deter us from the task at hand,” Have a long list of excuses? I did, too. But the first step is often the hardest one. The good news is steps two, three and four will be easier, so be brave and jump right in.
“This doesn’t take hours in the gym or some intense distance race,” says Chambers. “It can be as simple as a walk/jog around the block with the dog before work, a dance-off with the kids or a few laps in the pool! The name of the game is movement.” Yes, it can be uncomfortable and scary, but you know what they say about comfort zones? Nothing great happens there. Accept the discomfort and remember it’s temporary. One of the best lessons I learned was that I could do anything (no matter how uncomfortable) for 10 seconds, then I could do it for 10 more.
You don’t have to embark on this journey alone, recruit a friend to get moving with you or consider joining a fitness studio. You and your buddy will hold each other accountable and make sure you actually get to the gym. A class will allow you to be part of a community. “It’s super empowering and offers a support system that promotes commitment,” says Chambers. “You will be surrounded by energy and people who are excited to see others in the same boat. That camaraderie makes it fun and fun makes it easier to show up.”
Speaking of fun, try to be creative and find an activity that you genuinely enjoy. Trust me, there is something out there for everyone. “Pumping iron or cycling classes are not things that interest everyone, but being in good physical and mental health is,” says Chambers. “That is why it is important to explore other activities that may interest you.” Do your research and don’t be afraid to try something new. Chambers suggests looking for obstacle course races, dance classes, boxing or rock-climbing to get you moving, burning calories and feeling great! “Finding something you enjoy improves the odds of you sticking to it ten-fold,” he says.
“Good music always helps, too. If all else fails, just dance!”
Connect the Dots
As you embark on a fitness journey, take note of the valuable connection between mind, body, and spirit. Take the lessons you learn and apply them to life outside of the gym. My trainers offer me valuable lessons that I carry with me throughout the day. The only person you are in competition with is in that mirror. Be better than you were yesterday. You are going to get knocked down, but all that matters is that you get back up. Remember what you came here for. All gas, no brakes. Finish what you started and finish strong. I hear these phrases in my head long after I have left the gym — at work, at home, and sometimes even in my sleep! They have improved my performance in the gym, but they improve my mind and spirit throughout the day.
At 41 years old, I no longer want to be skinny. I simply want to be good to my body and keep exercising. I love my body. I love how it functions, how it performs in the gym, never lets me down, accepts every challenge I hand to it, and says yup, we got this, girl. It is getting stronger, not skinnier, and I love that, too. The truth is, I am not even close to fitting into those size 4 jeans. And, that is perfectly okay, because this time, I found happiness on the inside.