The first time I joined a gym the trainer worked me out until I nearly died. She put me on a machine and had me lift the weights in sets of ten, decreasing the weights each time, doing as many sets as it would take until I literally couldn’t lift an empty bar. She wanted me to know what a workout felt like, and wanted to make sure the initial work out was as hard as it could be, so I’d have something to compare my subsequent workouts to. I think she hated men. The result was that I could hardly get out of bed the next morning, or the morning after that, and I hated the gym. I associated the gym with pain and emasculation. And even when I went to the gym, unless I nearly killed myself, I felt like I hadn’t worked out at all. After a year or so, I just quit going.
Years later, though, I met a personal trainer at a coffee shop. He was hoping to write a book and I struck up a deal with him. I told him I’d give him some pointers on writing if he’d reintroduce me to the gym. He agreed, and I definitely got more out of the deal than he did. My trainers name was Dave, and he was great.
For our first workout, I showed up and he gave me a tour that stopped at the exercise bikes. We got on bikes next to each other and I started to pedal hard, trying to impress him. He quickly told me to slow down, to get my heart rate up to a level where I had to open my mouth to breathe, but could still talk. I did so, and it was pretty easy. We rode for about twenty minutes and then he told me to stop. I assumed we were going to move on to the real workout, but he said we were done. He told me to go home, that I’d done a good workout. I stood there shocked, nearly feeling ripped off. After all, I’d given him valuable information about writing, like the fact that books are often broken up into chapters.
Dave explained to me, though, that if I showed up at the gym and got my heart rate up for twenty minutes, I’d worked out. He said I needed to do that every day, and if I did, I had nothing to feel guilty about. He then told me to come back the next day, and we’d do the same workout, only increase it a little bit. The next day we rode for twenty minutes and he congratulated me on working out two days in a row. Then he asked if I wanted to do anything extra. I did, of course, so we ended up doing a mildly difficult workout with weights. Within a month, Dave was working me out so hard I once had to stop him and ask if I could go out in the alley behind the gym to throw up. And no kidding, he moved the rest of the workout into the alley so I wouldn’t throw up on his floor. But he kept working me out, always reminding me that what we were doing was extra, that I’d already finished my workout.
That was three or four years ago. These days, I almost never exercise for under an hour, and I exercise at least every other day, if not more often, depending on whether or not I am traveling. I love going for long walks or hikes or bike rides. What changed? All guilt went away. Before, I’d nearly kill myself and feel guilty for not doing enough. But now, I feel like anything over twenty minutes is extra. Before there was negative association with exercise, now there is positive association with exercise.
The same technique can be used with all sorts of areas in our lives where we are defeating ourselves. The question is, what constitutes a satisfactory job? What do we really need to do to be a good father, a good employee, a good wife, a good teacher. If we do that, we’ve done a good job, and anything else is extra. What you’ll find is you’ll do a whole lot extra, and feel great about it.
Any other tips on learning to like exercise? Or learning to do the things you don’t want to do?