What Going To The Gym Taught Me About Achieving My Goals
Several years ago I signed up to a local gym. My attendance was patchy, despite all my best intentions, and it took a further two years and changing to a different gym, before I finally got into a regular exercising routine. There was even a period where I tried to do it at home, with cheap gym equipment that’s still taking up room somewhere.
Looking back, I think a lot of the problem was that I expected immediate results. I tried so many faddish routines both at the gym and at home, from attempting to go for regular jogs to simply doing pushups every morning, only to ditch them within a month. My motivation would disappear because it was so heavily dependent on short term results. I wanted to bulk up, and after each exercise I’d look in the mirror and see… no change. It was always the approach I took, rather than the fact I was giving up too early.
This short term attitude stopped me from doing so many things for so many years, particularly when it came to writing my book. Because a particular approach I took didn’t necessarily ‘click’ with me straight away, I’d put the notepad away in frustration and forget about it until some other method occurred to me. A bit like what I was doing at the gym and what I was doing with healthy eating and dieting. I could go on and on…
It turns out that our brain has two sides that are constantly competing between satisfying short term rewards and long term gains (I’m providing a simplified description here, so if you want the science read this). If you’ve ever been on a diet and walked past the cake display in a shop, you’ve probably felt that battle raging inside of you. The problem is, modern society makes it so easy to satisfy those short term impulses, and there are so many temptations put right in front of you by money-hungry businesses and advertisers, that this internal battle going on in your brain has become distinctly one-sided.
While doing my thing on the exercise bike, I came up with a few ways to regain the balance:
Be aware of that internal battle
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re always impulse buying, why you can never say no to a cigarette, or why you ditch your latest diet after a week, now you know what’s going on in your head. Being aware that there really is a short term versus long term battle raging, gives you a new perspective on those daily challenges you have to face. Remind yourself of this fact constantly!
Break your work down into bitesize chunks
Short term rewards, whether it be that cigarette packet in your coat, the doughnut on the table or that nice shirt on the clothes rack, are often tangible and right in front of you. Long term goals are generally anything but, and encompass all sorts of planning, tasks and projects to achieve. So, make those goals tangible somehow. Break them down into actionable, bitesize chunks of activity. My focus nowadays is less on becoming super healthy – vague and confusing and far off in the future – and more on doing X minutes on the treadmill each week.
Remember what it’s like when exercising. You won’t see results immediately, and you’ll probably find it tiring and hard work (if you’re doing it properly). You won’t get a muscled or toned body in a few weeks no matter how hard you exercise. But if you go regularly and consistently, eventually it will happen and you will notice a difference. The same applies for whatever goal you have. Whenever, you feel like you’re wavering, remind yourself that persistence wins out over short-term fixes everyday. And don’t dismiss the value of doing something, anything. Going to the gym and doing fifteen minutes rather than your usual sixty, is far better than simply not going at all.
Focus on today rather than next year
If you’re thinking about what you need to do today to push forward with your goals, that fuzzy future which causes us so much confusion and inaction becomes an irrelevance. Regardless of how clearly we define our long term goals, we all get de-motivated when we contemplate the year and a half it will take to do this or the six months it will take to do that. If I have to do a particular workout for six months to see results, of course I’m going to struggle to do it. But, what if I just focused on what I can do today instead?