The Hardest Thing About Going To The Gym
We’re going to take a little turn away from talking about Bionic Gym here.
You know we make it, you know we believe in it, and you might know that others are also seeing success with it.
Instead, let’s talk about exercise for a few minutes. Let’s talk about what might be the biggest reason for why it’s hard to go to the gym.
Many of us put exercise into the “should do” category
We know that it’s good for us, we know that we’re supposed to do it, and for some reason it just feels too damn hard to get started.
The easy way out is to say something along the lines of, “I’m too weak, I’ve never stuck to exercise, and I never will.”
The problem with that is that it reinforces a negative belief about ourselves, and it paints us into a corner from which behavior change is impossible.
There’s something hopeless about that, and that’s no way to live a good life.
If exercise feels like a hard habit with which to get started, then one place to start is to understand what we’re up against.
A lot of us think that we know what kinds of obstacles we face, but then it turns out that we haven’t thought that deeply about them.
You might think that naming your obstacles amounts to nothing more than making excuses. And that would be true if you did nothing about them.
What I propose instead is naming your obstacles to clarify your thinking.
When you have clear thinking, it’s then possible to make some kind of reasonable progress in changing your habits.
Why Going To The Gym Can Be Damn Hard
Let’s look at going to the gym.
We’ll break it down into its component parts, and this might feel silly.
First, you need to sign up for a gym membership. That usually means signing some kind of subscription contract that locks you into a commitment that lasts months at a minimum.
Making that kind of commitment when you’re not sure if you’ll even use the gym is already a point of friction.
Then, the next thing you need is to get some suitable clothes for going to the gym. The gym has an unspoken dress code set by social norms, and you’ll probably want to fit in so you don’t stick out too much. That means planning to go to the store to get gym clothes and maybe shoes too, while you’re at it.
Now you’ve got the uniform and the shoes. You show up for your first session and you realize you need to change.
The problem is, you have to change in a public locker room, and maybe that brings back very unpleasant memories from middle school. You’re already not feeling all that hot about your body, and taking off your clothes in the proximity of other strangers raises your heart rate and makes you feel stressed.
You get through changing into your gym clothes as fast as possible, and then you go out to the gym floor. You now realize that you don’t really know how to use half the machines. Plus, you’re surrounded by mirrors and you see impossibly beautiful and fit people flexing their muscles, posing for selfies, and working out in front of those mirrors.
Now you’re comparing yourself to them. Even though their attention isn’t anywhere near you, you feel even more inadequate than you did before. Your stress level rises again, your body releases more cortisol, and you hope to get through this session and leave as soon as you’ve burned a few calories.
You aim for a treadmill, because that feels like the easiest place to get started. You take one next to a 65 year old man covered in sweat and wearing a headband and seemingly jogging up Mount Everest, and you start walking.
Now you realize that your brisk walk at 3.5 mph isn’t anything when you compare yourself to the old man running at 6.3 mph next to you. You regret your choice of treadmill. That comparison knocks your emotions down yet one more notch. Now you’re feeling thoroughly defeated - like the biggest loser in gym land - and you’re just trying to do something good for yourself.
Let’s pause here.
Is it any wonder why it’s so damn hard to start an exercise routine at the gym?
The psychological pain of comparison to others can overshadow the physical pain of exercise by a long shot.
At the gym, you’re jumping into an environment that has been designed in such a way that many people will feel bad about themselves.
That’s not encouraging. And it’s also not your fault. You’re human, and you’re wired to notice those things.
Hating Exercise Is Not A Defect Of Character
If you detest exercise, it’s very likely there are good reasons for it.
It’s highly likely that you’ve had so many negative experiences with it that you are not a fan.
If you feel a deep sense of not being enough - or even shame - when you exercise in front of others, repeating that same experience of failure is not going to help you.
The next question one might ask is, “What can I do about it?”
It turns out that the key to changing any behavior, or adopting a new one, is to make incremental changes.
You take small steps in the direction you want to go.
So that then leads to another important question: In what direction do you want to go?
Is your goal to go to the gym? Or is it to lose some weight and be healthier with more energy?
Let’s say that you want some weight loss, and let’s also say that the reason you want some weight loss is because you feel some shame around having let yourself go and you know your self-confidence would rise if you took better care of your body.
Let’s also say that you don’t care so much for the gym, and after putting some thought into it, you don’t think that it’s the best environment for you to start your exercise routine because every time you come home, you feel terrible about yourself.
Hating Exercise Is Not A Defect Of Character
Then you start to evaluate your options in a practical way.
You could take up running. But the problem with that is that it’s painful on your knees and you can only go 50 yards before running out of breath.
You could do walking. Now that sounds better, but maybe it’s winter and you live in New England and you don’t want to dodge snowplows and fear for your life when you’re trying to walk a mile from your house.
You could get some kind of home exercise machine like a treadmill or a stationary bike. The issue with that is that maybe you just don’t have the room and the last time you bought something like that was a Nordic Track and you used it three times before putting it up for sale on Uncle Henry’s.
This is where you might expect me to start talking about how wonderful Bionic Gym is, but I told you I wouldn’t do that here, and disingenuous arm twisting is not a good way to change hearts and minds anyhow.
So let’s say you go through your options one by one, and then you find one thing you can do, and you can do it every single day.
So you put it in your calendar, and then you start with 15 minutes of exercise a day. And you keep that going for two weeks, and it starts to become a habit.
That’s still work on your part, because you’re committing to changing your behavior. But you’re doing it in small steps.
One of the most common mistakes people make when they start to exercise - likely because they’re driven by such a deep sense of disgust with themselves - is that they try to punish themselves into changing with inappropriately intense and difficult workouts.
What happens in most of those cases is that the mind and body say, “Hey pal, not so fast. We don’t work that way.” Then you lose your motivation, you skip a few days of your routine, and before you know it, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and you’re lost in an endless bowl of nachos with your pants unbuttoned and wondering how you got there.
The truth is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
That might be one of the most frustrating things about making a lasting change. It takes commitment on your part, and it takes consistency.
Let’s recap things a bit.
- Starting an exercise routine can be really hard to do.
- It’s not your fault if it feels terrible - on an emotional level - when you visit a gym to workout.
- Lasting behavior change is accomplished through a series of small, positive, and thoughtful steps.
- Lasting behavior change takes commitment and consistency.
In another post, I can comment on how Bionic Gym could be one answer to starting the exercise habit when you feel like your options are limited.
In the meantime, I wish you all the best on your journey to fitness and personal transformation.