Living a healthy lifestyle is about so much more than eating healthy foods and exercising. It's about finding joy in life and using that joy to propel you forward.
Ugh, you say. This sounds so cheesy and woo woo and I just want to live my life and not be a Pollyanna about it. I hear you. I used to think people who said things like, "Just learn to make your own happiness!" were people who had never experienced true suffering and therefore had no understanding of the realities of life. But here's the thing: I've been through some shit. I've had weeks, months, YEARS when all I could do was numbly go through my days. I know the pain of loss and depression. I know what it's like to feel completely overwhelmed and unmotivated. I've nursed heartbreak. I assure you I'm not coming at you as some cheerleader chick who's never experienced true unhappiness. And I know there are certain times in life when the idea of finding an abundance of joy in everyday life is all but impossible. I get it. I do. That said: Finding the joy EVEN on the days when you feel like crap will help you move forward.
Let's start here: What's joyous about exercise? Isn't it just some tortuous movement designed to make us feel fat, sweaty, out of breath, and on the verge of death? Sure, it could be viewed this way -- and in the past, this is exactly how I've viewed it. But then I learned to see the fun in it. Here's the trick to making exercise fun: You don't have to do things you hate. You just don't. If you hate running, then for the love of God don't go running. If you prefer yoga, do yoga instead. If you wouldn't be caught in a yoga studio if your life depended on it but you enjoy the rush of rock climbing, make rock climbing a part of your regular routine. If taking a brisk walk after dinner is as far into the exercise ring as you're willing to step, THAT'S OKAY. Taking a brisk walk after dinner is a great form of exercise.
Do you know what's a terrible form of exercise? Sitting and doing nothing all day. That's what I used to do -- day in and day out. Writers and other people who sit at desks all day can easily fall victim to this lifestyle. You're sitting for hours to get your work done, you're exhausted at the end of the day and don't feel like working out, you end the evening on the couch by the TV, and then you go to bed, lethargic from a day of inactivity.
This is not the part where I tell you to set your alarm for 5 a.m. and start the day with a 5-mile run. Honestly, there are many days when I've done just that and it works for me -- but I know it doesn't work for everybody. And I know that by working from home and not having children yet, I'm afforded the luxury of time and space that others don't have. So I'm not going to tell you to do what I do because you're you and you need to do what works best for you.
So what's best for you? Maybe it's that brisk walk after dinner -- plus a brisk walk after lunch. Maybe it's a bike ride. A long weekend hike. Maybe it's an exercise video or a group class at the gym. How will you know if it's right for you? You'll know if you don't dread going to it. You'll know if it feels like the time goes by quickly. You'll know if you like the feeling of accomplishment you feel afterward. Some people like to push themselves hard in the gym. Some people like to light candles, relax, and unwind with some light yoga. It doesn't matter which camp you fall in or if you're somewhere in between. What matters is this: Don't let an entire day go by with no activity. You'll feel so much better if you move, even just a little bit.
Here's a fun trick I learned from Fit Girls Guide. At various points throughout the day, stop and do ten of something. This can be 10 push ups, 10 squats, 10 calf raises, 10 lunges, 10 crunches, 10 whatevers. Just do 10 of something and you'll notice a difference in how you feel. Your heart rate will come up, you'll feel less sluggish, and your body will appreciate the break from sitting. When I started my fitness journey, I set the alarm on my phone to go off every hour during my 8-hour work day. Once an hour, I did ten of something. Does that sound completely overwhelming or does the structure of your office make something like that impossible? Try setting your alarm five times during the day. Try three. If you're still like No way, not happening, try doing ten of something ONCE a day. It could be when you first wake up, right before you take your shower, during your lunch break, right before bed -- whenever it's convenient for you. And remember what I said earlier about not having to do anything you hate? It applies here, too. You don't HAVE to do push ups or squats. Do ten or whatever YOU want to do. Have fun doing it and be proud of yourself for finishing it.
Torturing yourself is never going to help you get where you're trying to go. If you hate something, change it. If you like something, keep doing it. It's that simple. I sure as hell did not progress from where I was in the first picture to where I am in the second picture by eating foods I don't like or doing exercises I dread. I frankly don't see the point in that at all.
I also didn't get to where I am by hating myself along the way. Everyone starts somewhere. For me, I couldn't do even one full push up. I couldn't run one block without getting winded. I couldn't work out for ten minutes without getting drenched in sweat. That's okay. There is no shame in starting from wherever you're starting from. Don't get frustrated because you're not where you want to be yet. Be proud of yourself for taking the steps to get there. Celebrate every tiny accomplishment. Every time you do ten of something? Write it down. Give yourself a sticker. Reward yourself after a certain number of stickers. This is exactly what I do. Fifty cupcake stickers equals a treat for myself. Fifty cupcake stickers have helped me get new clothes, nail polish, haircuts, massages, and other fun things that enrich the quality of my life. There's nothing wrong with bribing yourself and there is nothing wrong with allowing yourself to celebrate the small things. The small things, over time, add up to something big.
Conclusion: Don't torture yourself. Have fun. Start small. Feel proud. You've got this.
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