How Changing Your Body Can Change Your Life
This is in response to Muscle for Life's latest Motivation Monday podcast episode: If You Can Change Your Body, You Can Change Your Life. In this short, yet sweet episode, Mike Matthews discusses how pursuing physical goals teaches us valuable lessons about life and how to live our best life.
For my entire life, I wanted my body to look similar to the picture above. If only I did planks and crunches and ran a mile every day, I would look like that. I believed this goal was unachievable because I didn't have the money to pay for a personal trainer or the discipline to workout 4x a week and stop eating ice cream. Even if I did exercise, I would've gone on the elliptical machine for 20 minutes, then do a few 60 second planks and call it a day.
It was no surprise that the goals I made for other aspects of my life also felt unachievable. I had no direction out of college and I avoided taking risks because of my anxiety. I was unfit, depressed, and pessimistic and too lazy to fix it. I thought moving to Edinburgh could solve all of this, but within a few months I was still the same Kelly I was before—just in a cooler place making new friends.
"Ugh, I wish I could figure out how to lose weight," I whined to my friend after learning about his fitness accomplishments. He immediately sent me a Dropbox of fitness guides and workouts. I read all of it. I paid attention to his words of wisdom. I weighed everything I ate and calculated all of my calories. I got up and went to the gym, even if it was at 7 am in the morning, and he taught me how to bench press. (Are you getting that I might've had a huge crush on this friend?) Crush or not, once I got a whiff of my body making progress, I was hooked.
Once upon a time, I wanted to look like the woman above because she was sexy and looked good in bathing suits. But that's not why I train now. I train to grow my discipline, patience, and self-confidence. Here's how training taught me each of these values and how I've implemented them into other parts of my life (and how you can too).
But first... a quick intermission with progress pictures. (The only ones I could find where I'm not half-naked.)
In my life:
It starts with waking up at 8 am and getting to the gym 4x a week. It doesn't matter if it's still dark out, or raining, or my duvet is nice and warm, I get myself out of bed and I go. Next, it's following a routine in the gym and sticking with it for weeks or months. Every time I step into the gym, I've got my program on my phone to tell me what to lift, how much, and how heavy. I can't just roll up and go "Eh, I feel like doing curtsy lunges today. Screw you, hip-thrust!" The most difficult type of discipline I maintain, or try to, is with my diet. Everything I put into my mouth must be written down and calculated. Everything I want to eat, I must check my caloric intake for the day and see if I can fit it in. Every day I have to decide if I want to risk that piece of chocolate.
I've learned to use this discipline in my PhD program. Every week day I set a goal—whether it's to write 1,000 words or to edit 2,000 words—and I complete that goal. I make sure my PhD work comes first to all else. This is especially difficult when I work entirely on my own schedule and have zero commitments to anyone else. I need to be disciplined enough to turn down any invitations that could disrupt my progress for that day.
In your life:
Learning discipline in the gym will teach you how to discipline your life and achieve the goals you keep saying you want to achieve. How many times have you said you wanted to do something, but gave up instantly when you realized it was too inconvenient for your current lifestyle of pigging out and watching YouTube after a day of work? If you implement some discipline into your daily routine, be it studying a language for 5 minutes a day or skipping out on the trip to the bar with your coworkers to save money, imagine where you'll be in one year.
In my life:
I am patient with my body. It took a long time to look the way I do now and I know I've got at least another year of hard work to look the way I truly want to. I don't expect to see my weight drop in 1 kilogram increments. It's a slow process for the fat to come off and the muscle to grow. In the gym, I am patient with my strength. I know it takes small steps to get stronger. When I first started training, I wasn't patient at all and tried to lift something too heavy. I fell, and could've really injured myself. Now I can lift 20 kilograms more than the weight I so desperately wanted to lift back in 2016.
I've learned patience with my anxiety. For years I believed that I'd wake up one day and my anxiety would be gone. That's never going to happen. The only way I can really change my anxiety is to take small steps, one at a time. I'm not going to go from being afraid to talk in front of a crowd to reading an excerpt of my work at the International Book Festival in Edinburgh. I was patient with my anxiety when I graduated my master's program. Instead of avoiding the graduation ceremony because I was too afraid of sitting in the crowd during it, I contacted the university and they helped accommodate me by letting me sit by the exit. I was able to keep my anxiety under control and walk at my graduation (something I wasn't able to do for my bachelor's program).
In your life:
This seems to be the easiest one to trip up on. Training for two years to look the way you want doesn't sound nearly as sexy as the 6-week transformation bullshit programs fitness companies try to sell us. When we are patient with ourselves, we see the best results. If we move too fast by jamming new information into our brains or training 7 days a week, we will inevitably burn out and cause injury to our bodies and our minds. Be patient and it will pay off.
In my life:
As I said before, I was scared of going to the gym. I was scared of people watching me and judging me. I used to only go to a specific room that was hidden so not many other people were ever in there. I was limiting myself by choosing to workout in this room. It had a lot of random equipment, like rowing machines, kettlebells, TRX bands, and spin bikes. I fucked around for 35 minutes in this room because it felt safe. Once I started lifting barbells and heavier weights, forcing myself to go into the areas occupied mainly by men, I learned to control my anxiety, and eventually not give a fuck. I also lost weight and gained muscle so I was happier with the way I looked and that made me more confident.
"Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" - Kate Moss
I became confident in all areas of my life because I had achieved something entirely on my own. I didn't pay anyone to make me stronger and I didn't cheat my way through it. The only person I could count on during my fitness journey was me. Now I know that I can count on me for anything. I believe in myself and I've learned to care less about those around me and their possible judgments of me. I've learned to love myself inside and out.
In your life:
We struggle with reaching our goals because doubt gets in the way. It makes us stop before we even start. We get anxious about futile things or we miss opportunities that can greatly benefit our lives because we don't believe in ourselves. Self-confidence sets you apart from the pack. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you too.
Are you happy and fulfilled in your life right now?
If yes, that's great, keep doing you! If no, then wouldn't it be amazing to one day say: "Yes, I am happy and fulfilled with my life"?
Do you believe it's possible? Trust me, it is possible. All it takes is a first step. For me, that first step was towards the squat rack. Maybe that's your first step too.
None of your excuses as to why you can't achieve your goal are valid. Make the time to better yourself and start today.
Please comment below and tell me what you want and what you're going to do for 5 minutes today to get one step closer to that goal. I'll start: I want to become a smart investor. For 5 minutes today, I am going to read a book called Get A Financial Life and highlight and take notes.