Setting time aside each day for yourself is so important. Whether it’s a few minutes of meditation, a workout, or a walk around the block during lunch time, investing in time that directly benefits your physical, emotional and mental being sets the tone for how you go about your day, and ultimately for how you live your life.
But in our culture where it’s acceptable to work 80 hours a week and keep your phones by your bed in case the boss calls, it’s no surprise we have also accepted that taking care of ourselves is the last priority.
Twelve months ago, that was me. I was a graphic designer, working seven days a week, totally exhausted, and my health was at an all-time low. Treating myself right meant binge-watching TV on the couch.
Fast-forward a year. I still enjoy occasional TV breaks, but I am now a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer and a spin instructor-in-training.
Yes, I’m talking about the same person. And no, there was no magic trick involved. I had just finally come around to the fact that I needed to make a change.
I’m not suggesting that people need to quit their current jobs and become fitness nuts like I did to be happy. However, by doing that for myself, I learned a valuable lesson – which everyone should heed – about how important it is to make yourself a priority, specifically through movement, sweat and relaxation. So let’s back up for a second and talk about what the heck happened in the span of a year that took me from miserable to pretty darn happy, and how anyone can have the same breakthrough.
I kept myself accountable. Last April, after going through a few tough months in my personal life, I woke up one Saturday morning and, with a swift determination that came out of left field, I decided to head to the gym to start a 12-week workout program that I’d discovered through Instagram. That same day, I decided to create a fitness Instagram account, @workoutbean, in order to hold myself accountable to this new lifestyle that I hadn’t even spent 24 hours living yet.
I soaked up the awesomeness. Over the next few weeks, a few crazy things happened. I started to feel good about myself both physically and emotionally; by continuing to exercise and by sticking to the routine that I had created for myself, I felt a noticeable difference in my mood. I started making friends — thanks to Instagram, which has a tight-knit community of girls in fitness. I started to post and interact through my account, building genuine relationships with girls around the world. (Shout-out to my beloved #girlgang!) And lastly, I started to realize that lil ol’ me was having a positive impact on other people’s lives. I would get comments and messages telling me that my post motivated them to get out of bed that morning, or that after scrolling through my account, they too decided to start incorporating exercise into their life.
I reassessed my snacking habits. I’ve always been a big snacker — I am head over heels in love with food. However, before I revamped my health routine, I had zero willpower and indulged in sweets way too often. But when I started exercising consistently and becoming healthier, it changed my perspective. Though I’ve never restricted myself or counted calories, I now try to flex my willpower muscle. I still eat treats, but as a conscious choice, not just because they’re placed in front of me. When I need a quick snack, I usually go for yogurt, a banana with almond butter, or a protein shake.
I’ve come to learn that when I treat my body with respect, I feel good both inside and out. Though I’m certainly not an expert in nutrition, I know that by taking the time to choose food that is wholesome and healthy, I feel properly fueled and ready to take on the day.
I took permanent action. Living a healthy life and positively affecting other people soon became my passion. And when it hit me — like a brick wall — that this is what I needed to be doing in my life, I quit my desk job and went freelance so that I could focus on figuring out how to make fitness my full-time job.
So with my story in mind, here is how you can apply my approach to your own life and get moving right now.
Shift your perspective on what it means to work out. Treat exercise not like a chore, but instead, a privilege. It’s the opportunity to do something that benefits you physically, mentally, and emotionally. For many of us, it’s the only time during the day that we can focus purely on ourselves in the present moment.
Get dedicated. Where does one look for that fleeting thing we call motivation? Start by making a promise to yourself that you’ll create a routine and stick to it, while simultaneously understanding that most of the time, you will, in fact … not feel motivated. But once you come to peace with it and continue to push through, you’ll start to become addicted to your own dedication, regardless of motivation.
Get out of bed — it’s half the battle. When I first started going to the gym, I would lay my gym clothes out the night before, set my alarm out of reach so that I had to physically get out of bed to turn it off, and get my butt to the gym by 6 a.m. before heading to the office.
Enjoying how you move is crucial. Breaking a sweat does not mean limiting yourself to a dreary treadmill five days a week. Running outside, yoga, cycling, lifting weights, rock climbing … there is something for everyone. I personally thrive in group exercise classes, but others feel their best putting an emphasis on solo workouts at the gym. Find what you love doing, and you’ll barely think twice about it being work.
Make friends who motivate you. It’s really hard to make new friends as adults. So open yourself up to the idea that exercising can be a way to form new relationships. And here’s a secret for you — finding friends who enjoy working out is one of the best ways to ensure that you maintain your healthy routine. Before my fitness commitment, I was in a funk; I didn’t have many girlfriends. By starting this new journey, I threw open a door that has led to so many wonderful new friendships — wonderful not only because they’ve held me accountable, but also because they’ve pushed me to realize my true potential.
Create time to unwind. Rest days and relaxation are essential. Taking a day or two off from working out allows your body to reset, and treating yourself fuels the mind and the spirit. Whether it’s a hot bubble bath, a pedicure, or a really delicious nap on a Sunday afternoon, finding a way to unwind is just as important as getting in a sweaty gym session.
The best part of all this: you’ll see results everywhere. Put effort into yourself, be it through sweat or physical challenges. Push yourself out of the comfort zone. Exercise sets off a chain reaction, improving not just your own physical body, but all elements within your life: your relationships with others, your relationship with yourself, your career and your family. Start to take care of yourself, and you’ll see that something magical happens — but I promise you, it ain’t no magic trick.