When it comes to health and fitness, we all have a choice.
Seven years ago, I made mine.
I have never been “out of shape,” but in high school, I felt extremely insecure about my body. Despite a 6ft 4in frame, I only weighed around 160lbs — something that bothered me regularly.
One day after school, a friend offered me his free guest pass to an XSport Fitness down the street. We were both on the basketball team and he said we could shoot around on their court and play in a few pickup games.
I remember walking through the door and immediately feeling out of place. The court was in the back, and we had to walk past every bench press, squat rack, and machine to reach it. People were tossing around my body weight and more with ease, staring at us as we maneuvered past them.
When we got to the court, it became evident we would have to wait at least an hour to jump in a game. The place was packed.
And then he asked the question I had been dreading:
“Hey, want to lift some weights instead?”
I didn’t have much of a choice as he had driven me to the gym and both of my parents worked during the day. The other option was to stretch on the mats, but in a room surrounded by my peers, I didn’t want to appear intimidated.
So, I grabbed a pair of 10 lb dumbells and rushed to the corner where I started doing bicep curls. I could feel my face grow warm as I struggled to move what were considered “light” weights. At one point, I locked eyes with my friend who snickered and whispered something to another one of our classmates as they laughed.
To avoid showing any emotion, I laughed with them poking fun at myself. But it hurt. And I decided right then that I had a decision to make. Either continue down the path I was on or make a change.
I’m 25 now, and unrecognizable to some who once knew me as the scrawny kid who could barely lift the bar.
Throughout college, I put on 30 lbs of muscle, joined the University’s Crew
Team, worked as an ambassador for multiple sports nutrition brands, substantially improved my stamina, and became a person who is proud of their body.
This isn’t a self-promotional pat on the back. Instead, I want to show you that if I did it, anyone can.
Here’s everything you need to know to get into better shape.
1. Get over your biggest fear
Want to know why 99% of people don’t achieve their fitness goals? Because they’re afraid.
They fear the work.
They fear the unknown.
Worst of all, they fear what people will say or think.
Fear was the biggest obstacle I had to overcome. But I quickly learned the most important step in your fitness journey: the acknowledgment of what you fear most and the acceptance of that fear.
At XSport, my biggest fear at the time came true: friends shredding my masculinity. Sure, it was embarrassing at the time. But I needed those moments. It taught me to stop seeking their permission. If I wanted to put on muscle, I had to accept that only my opinion mattered.
As Lao Tzu said,
“Care about people’s approval and you will always be their prisoner.”
Just imagine the worst possible scenario. I’ll tell you from experience, it’s not so bad. And once it happens, there is nothing left to fear.
2. Hurry up and fail
If you try to run a mile and find yourself gasping for air after two minutes, do you stop and go home? Or do you wait for your breath to return and finish what you started?
According to Tim Kennedy, humans leave a lot of untapped potential on the table and give up before trying to see how far they can go. If you don’t know who Kennedy is, you’re not alone. Before listening to an episode of the Tim Ferris podcast from 2018, I certainly didn’t.
Kennedy is a former UFC middleweight contender who simultaneously served in the US Army as a Green Beret sniper and had tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a 3x winner of the Modern Army Combatives tournament, a multi-day event that tests mixed martial arts skills among other skills.
Kennedy resurfaced on Joe Rogan’s podcast recently and reminded me of an important lesson about mental toughness and fitness.
“Diamonds don’t get made in gentle conditions. People are no different. You have to be willing to do the work if you want to find success.” — Tim Kennedy
While Kennedy has a laundry list of accomplishments, his greatest power comes from within. Kennedy calls this work ethic the “hurry up and fail” mentality.
Essentially, he pushes his body to its breaking point and then keeps it there for as long as possible. The next time he trains, his wall of physical limitations has moved and he can go a little harder. As he keeps training, Kennedy tries to reach the wall as quickly as possible. Eventually, the wall has been pushed back so far that he notices progression.
You don’t need to train your body to those extremes. But the willingness to fail repeatedly is how you breakthrough any physical and mental barriers holding you back.
3. Measure your progress in happiness
With the growing trend of personalized health technology, we want more information at our fingertips than ever before. We want to know how we can burn more calories, run faster, lift heavier, and look better.
Traditionally, those metrics are tracked in four key areas. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:
- Aerobic fitness
- Muscular strength and endurance
- Body composition
But what about the way you feel?
When I think about what my fitness journey gave me, it isn’t a quicker mile time or the ability to touch my toes.
It’s a calming sense of happiness. After months of repeated gym sessions, I started to fall in love with the process. I often found myself smiling on the drive over to the fitness center because I was excited to get started.
If my co-workers went to get drinks after work, I made up some excuse so I could get a swim in.
If I was invited to meet up with friends downtown, I based my decision on whether or not I could fit in a lift beforehand.
And I wanted it that way.
To dive deep into the world of fitness, measure your happiness. I found that keeping a journal reflecting on how I felt mentally after a gym session worked far better than jotting down how many sets and reps I did with a certain weight.
Results aren’t always quantifiable.
4. Focus on practices, not routines
Ryan Holiday once wrote, “It’s not about routine, but practice.” He goes on to explain how routines are fragile because of how quickly changes can occur. Practices are different. They are things you return to consistently without the burden of a schedule. Practices are simple, helping you remain centered, focused, and connected.
For example, going to Soul Cycle on Monday mornings is a routine. Exercising every day is a practice.
As Holiday further explains,
“One is about daily rhythm. The other is a lifelong pursuit. One can be ruined by something as simple as hitting the snooze button one too many times or getting called into work unexpectedly. The other can adapt accordingly. One is something you made up. The other is something you do.”
Fitness goers are obsessed with routines. The only problem is, this is the quickest way to burnout. According to Forbes, relying on the same exercises and rotuines over and over again can lead to exercise plateau.
Instead of hitting chest on Mondays, back on Tuesdays, etc., incorporate some spontaneity into your exercise.
The key to a sustainable fitness plan is flexibility.
Committing to the daily practice of fitness over hard fitness routines will keep your mind fresh and constantly looking for more.
Change is always going to be uncomfortable.
When I was 18, I decided to get in the best shape I possibly could.
I didn’t follow crazy diet fads or throw money at supplements. Instead, I worked on changing my mind.
I got over my fears.
I failed early and often.
I worked on aligning fitness with happiness.
I focused on practices, not routines.
It certainly wasn’t a linear path. There was plenty of frustration, injury, and inconsistency. But the obstacles and discomfort are what make your fitness journey worthwhile. Without the XSport experience, I can’t say I would have pursued fitness as passionately at such a young age.
So, if you want to explore the physical limits of your body and get into incredible shape, you have one simple decision to make.
Stay the course you’re on and live with the results or get started on making a change right now.
Only you know the right answer.
This article first appeared on Medium.