Monday, September 19, 2011

Mental workouts at the gym

I joined a really great gym about a month and a half ago. It’s got everything: updated equipment, a women’s-only fitness room, café, a nursery and different daycamps for kids, two pools, a hot tub, saunas, racquetball/tennis/basketball courts, massage therapy, and over 140 different classes offered throughout the week. The classes are what really drew me there. I wanted to try BodyPump because I had read so much about it on Shauna Reid’s fantastic blog years ago, and they offer it every day of the week—sometimes twice a day.

So the gym is fantastic, and here’s the (oh so predictable) catch: I struggle with feeling like I do not belong there. I feel too fat, too unathletic, too clumsy, too ugly, too shy. I compare myself to more attractive women and feel downhearted. I’d like to go to the pool, but currently am too self-conscious to don a swimsuit and strut past whatever tanned, -3% body fat, 18 year-old Adonis happens to be on lifeguard duty that day.

But I’m still going to the gym a few times a week, and still trying different things despite my mental discomfort. Oh, there’s physical discomfort as well, as I’m way out of shape and overweight. But at this stage in the game, it’s more of a mental battle than a physical one. What I want is to feel less self-conscious and timid by the end of my current three month contract. I’m not expecting a dramatic physical change in such a short period of time; I’m in this for the long haul and besides, I believe my dietary choices are going to do more for my physical transformation than anything else. (I have exercised intensely before without losing any weight, so I know firsthand that diet is key.)

I am expecting a mental change in a relatively short period of time, though, and I’m working consciously at it. When my eyes start to wander, I snap myself back to attention and focus on my form. When the negative brain chatter starts, I talk back to it, argue with it, tell it to shut up. When I feel scared of something, like the pool situation, I take note that it’s something I must do—precisely because I’m scared of it. I may not do it today, but the day is coming. I tell myself it’s inevitable and to start looking for a good swimsuit.

I am excited to see how this kind of mental work will transfer to other areas of my life. Continuing at something despite emotional discomfort, questioning my identity (in this case as “unathletic”, for starters), learning to focus, resisting the urge to compare myself to others, trying new stuff that makes me feel awkward until I don’t feel awkward anymore…it’s all highly applicable to other scenarios. Realizing that the gym can be a vehicle for mental and emotional growth—not merely a place to punish myself for being fat, or stave off disease, or sculpt myself into a shape more pleasing to others—has been a real step for me.

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