My Barrier to Fitness

In an attempt to get back into an exercise habit, I joined another fitness challenge. Fitness challenges are starting to feel like the new crash diets, anytime we’re inspired to get our act together we sign up for something that overhauls our routine to push us to better behaviors. Instead, we miss a day or two or we get sick or we eat poorly and we lose motivation to get back on the horse because, well, what’s the point if you don’t get a perfect score on the challenge?

You would think, knowing me, that the perfectionism is what gets me. But my barrier to good fitness habits starts well before I miss I day. My barrier is in the story I tell myself about who I am as a person.

Growing up, I wasn’t the athlete. I loathed team sports almost as much as I hated doing group projects, for the same reason – why should I be judged on the performance (or lack thereof) of others? Besides, my brother was the athlete – I was the brain. While my brother was pushed into a year-round schedule of sports, I stayed focused school and only took part in sports when they seemed like fun.

I should also point out that I’m quite possibly the least outwardly competitive person ever. If we’re all playing a game, I want us to all have fun above all else and will help people cheat so they still feel like they’re in the game. But – when it comes to competing against myself, well… it’s brutal.

Anyway, I was never the athlete, so when it came time to doing sports, I used this lack of title to be lazy and as a crutch when things didn’t go my way. I’m not good at this… because I’m not an athlete. I suck at this… because I’m not built that way. It was the perfect excuse not to push myself.

Back in 2014, I was introduced to the athlete within when I decided to train for my first big race – a 10k at Disneyland. I joined a fitness and nutrition program and was led down the path of satisfaction that came with achieving goals and fitting into smaller clothes. It was glorious – I loved working out. I loved the compliments I got. I loved feeling like an athlete.

Feeling being the operative word because the reality was I still didn’t truly believe this was who I am. I was doing all the outside stuff to show I was an athlete – I have a full display of race medals to prove it. But inwardly, I was an imposter. And that lack of believing came at a cost.

I was on the fitness challenge crash cycle. Getting excited to start, buying all the healthy (but gross) food, keeping a super tight regime, and then falling off and into a spiral of “This isn’t who I am.”

My self-talk during workouts was brutal. “I don’t have strong abs so I’m never going to be able to do this move.” “My center of balance is too low to do this move correctly.” “Did they consider real women when they designed this workout?!” My mindset with fitness was fixed – if I can’t do it well now, I’ll never be able to do it.

When I signed up for this most recent fitness challenge, I did quite a bit of reflecting on this. Why do I give up? Why don’t I workout as hard as I know I can? What could I change?

The first change I made was releasing myself from the meal plan. To be completely honest, I eat pretty damn healthy as it is. I actually like salads. (I know, eyeroll.) And I do know how to fuel my body so instead of feeling guilty about not sticking to their meal plan or having a day that has a bit of indulgence, I released myself from any expectation whatsoever.

The second change I made has been the most powerful – tackling self-talk straight on. Transparently, I’m not a big fan of mantra or affirmations, but I needed to find something to focus in on when my mind starts to looking for a way out. I need to give it somewhere to go. So I zeroed in on the phrase “I am. I can.” I don’t bother filling in any blanks – it’s just simply “I am. I can.”

Now, I’m only two days into this challenge, but I can feel a difference. I’ve dove head first into using “I am. I can.” multiple times over the past two days’ workouts and my self-talk has been nothing but positive. I’ve even congratulated myself on getting stronger with a move – out loud! Harnessing this optimistic energy has also pushed me to work harder. I’m actually sweating during my workouts, which is not something I’ve ever really achieved before because my excuses stopped me from putting in the hard work. So, overall, the outlook is good.

I don’t know that I fully believe yet that I am an athlete, but I am actively working to rewrite that narrative for myself, and that’s what’s most important. For now I’m sticking with my mantra to keep me going. Whatever I feel isn’t for me, I simply remind myself…

I am. I can.


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