The Valuable Life Lessons 28 Years of Exercising Taught Me

Vast education about nutrition and fitness was sparse when I grew up. It was permissible for me to eat and drink whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Food was reliable, consistent, pleasurable, as well as, a source of emotional comfort for me. After studying a year abroad for my first year of college, I became exasperated by the additional weight I put on. I committed to losing 40 pounds, and from that point on, decided I would integrate a consistent regimen of exercise and healthful eating.

Throughout the years, I minored in nutrition and became a group fitness instructor that helped to financially support me through college and graduate school. My health value was certainly tested with my four pregnancies, where I gained 75 pounds with each, and within a period of eight years gained and lost 300 pounds. It’s 28 years later, and I realize, besides the many physiological benefits I acquired, I have learned life lessons that instrumentally and positively contributed to my life.

These life lessons include:

(1) Although I may start out resisting beginning my workout, I have yet to ever regret it when it’s complete. Invariably, I feel proud of my accomplishments and enter my day more alert and energized.

Life lesson: This is true with most things we approach that tend to be uncomfortable physically or emotionally. Although we may start out reluctantly, inevitably we feel successful once we are able to acknowledge our commitment and observe notable progress.

(2) Although there may be multiple challenges going on for me at any given time, my workout is reliably a positive empowering experience for me. I recognize for example, that I could feel disappointed by an interaction I had with someone earlier that day and be proud that I reached a goal that day at the gym.

Life lesson: Our given day or life in general is not “bad” or “good” -- but rather we can have a “negative circumstance” in a positive day, or “negative experiences” in the course of our fulfilling lives. Broadening our perspective and seeing things fully rather than unilaterally (i.e., as all bad or all good or as black and white), allows us to be more open, curious, and generous toward ourselves and others.

(3) I always give myself choices and vary my workout focusing on what suits me and my individual needs at any point in time.

Life lesson: It’s important to widen the scope of opportunity for ourselves. That although we want to reach a specific goal, that there may be varied ways of accomplishing it and that no specific way is “better” or “worse”, as long as we get where we want and need to go.

(4) I often find myself getting rigid with my workouts and perceptions of others as I’m exercising. Some examples include, “needing” to have a certain spot in a given exercise class, or a judgment about how people “should” behave.

Life lesson: Awareness and challenging our “shoulds”, “ought to”, and “musts” allows for us to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and tolerating our own foibles and the human imperfections of others.

(5) Working out has greatly contributed to my confidence and positive self-identity. It reinforces the perception that I’m physically strong, task and goal-oriented, and have self-efficacy (i.e., the belief that if I put effort into something that I have the ability to succeed).

Life lesson: The power of the mind-body connection is unprecedented. Our mind and body directly impact one another. If we take care of our body and physiology, our state of mind and psychological well-being will benefit, and if we take care of our state of mind and psychological well-being, our body and physiology will benefit. It goes hand and hand, and it’s difficult to acquire one without the other.

(6) For 28 years, and even throughout my four pregnancies, I put in concerted effort, to show up and constantly set new goals and objectives, make observable progress, and re-evaluate my fitness needs.

Life lesson: We can use it as a metaphor regarding how to approach our core values. It signifies the need to always show up, no matter what. Rationalizations and/or fears will likely surface but should not necessarily drive behavior. Also, that effort and consistency is the key to maintaining behavior overtime.

(7) As I evolve and age, I need to vary or modify my workout to accommodate my physiological needs and changes. An example is me needing to give up running after giving birth to my fourth child because my hips were no longer able to handle the direct impact.

Life lesson: With evolution, development, and an acceptance of limitations, a shift most likely needs to happen. This allows for a realignment of values, and an accommodation of new goals. A lack of acceptance and inflexibility can result in injury, stagnation, and an overall frustration.

(8) I find myself comparing my efforts and accomplishments to those of other people. As compared to others, I evaluate whether I’m working out sufficiently, look as good as, or am as strong or fast enough as they are.

Life lesson: Our mind has the propensity to compare ourselves to others to gain validation or invalidate us and repeat maladaptive patterns of self-criticism and negative self-perceptions. Notice how those people or points of comparison are usually the ones to make us feel less than and significantly disproportioned.

The only person worth comparing our self to is our self. Even though our mind draws us away from ourselves and toward others, we must fight the urge and bring ourselves to gauge our own level of effort, commitment, and achievements. We can seek to make progress based on who and what we want to be.

(9) There are times that although I give it my all while I’m working out, I’m disappointed by the results. I recognize that the process is just as important because I took the time, worked effortfully, and tried my very best.

Life lesson: Our minds tend to focus on the results of our accomplishments and we often miss out on having gratitude for the process of how we got there. We need to make concerted effort to mindfully think of and appreciate the process, because the process is just as note-worthy as the results.

(10) I’ll become inhibited and think that “I just can’t” or “I don’t have the ability” to finish a set, push through lifting more weight, or succeeding at a new or more challenging regimen. When I work through these thoughts and barriers, I am often delighted to find that I can accomplish more than I ever thought I was capable of.

Life lesson: We often underestimate our human perseverance, strength, and resilience. It can evoke the desire to want to give up or not try at all to avoid potential failure and disappointment. We should make a concerted effort and muddle through these challenges to facilitate confidence, flexibility, and adaptive and improved coping skills.

Exercising is beneficial in so many critical physiological and psychological ways. My workouts have transformed me fundamentally. It continues to enrich my daily life and I expect will provide me with many additional life lessons for years to follow.

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