Or Learn to Love the Process
I hated gym. It scared the shit out of me. In grade 2, most of my classmates, if not all, couldn’t wait for it. They loved it! You got out of the classroom, got to play sports like crab-walk soccer and run between the trees like a frenzied squirrel. But for me it was something regarded with horror and disdain.
You see I was a scrawny kid. Short, skinny, more like a clarinet than a human child. I remember one class, the teacher wanted to split the boys into two teams — shirts and skins. This is a terrible idea. I HATED having to take my shirt off, expose my already body-shamed figure, and be vulnerable to the elements. I would cover myself up with my arms, stand in the corner and shiver as the other boys flew around me like navy seals at boot camp.
So whenever gym class was scheduled, I would face the day with utter dread. Until I found a way out.
Nothing will send teachers into response mode faster than a swooning 7-year old. And man, I got it down. The first time was when the teacher said we were going to play touch football and I was put onto the “skins” team. Are you kidding me? I’m going to run around the field half-naked while a bunch of brutes were trying to touch me and pull me down? No way.
I went down like a Jane Austen heroine.
Shortly after I found myself in the principle’s office waiting for my parents to pick me up. In fact, I remember being treated quite well in the aftermath. Time off school, ice cream, and lots of attention.
Naturally, this became a common technique for me to get out of gym class. I would faint in the hallway, in the schoolyard, sitting at my desk… even as we were being marched single-file to the gymnasium… it was like… I needed a fainting couch I went down so much. What’s more shocking is that the teachers seemed to buy it. I mean, what kind of seven-year old faints on a bi-weekly basis — apparently only on Tuesdays?
My point is, I learned to hate the gym at an early age, and managed to come up with very creative ways to avoid it. As we approach the end of January, and people’s New Year resolve starts to fade, it’s very easy to come up with excuses to not do what you know is really good for you.
As you might imagine, I am no longer that scrawny little kid. In fact, I spend a good amount of effort trying to go back there, to be that skinny. But here’s the thing — while that may be a great goal for healthy living, I’m never going to get there. Not even close. And failure to make progress is a major deterrent to regular exercise and better eating choices.
There is another way. And it’s a simple adjustment in mindset. If I’m focused exclusively on my goal, I may just pass out. But, if I’m focused on the process, on the actual exercise regimen or system for whatever I want to achieve, then I succeed every time out. Instead of saying, “I need to go to the gym every day or I will fail”… saying, “I want to go to the gym. I love going to the gym. I can’t wait to go to the gym!” then I’m more likely to remain upright and conscious.
But if you actually do hate the gym, aren’t you just lying to yourself? Well, not if you truly shift your mindset. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, suggests that while goals are great for setting direction, it’s the system behind reaching them that actually gauges progress. And when those systems become habits, they sort of become who you are, part of your identity.
“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
I can’t say I’ve grown to love the gym. Far too often, some guy takes his shirt off and flexes his muscles and I drop into fetal position on the floor with flashbacks to grade two. But I have found something I do love. I LOVE TO RUN. When I’m out on a run, I feel completely free, alive, mindful of who I am and that I’m progressing toward a greater version of myself. I don’t need to run. I want to run.
This can take time. Saying you love something doesn’t make it so. I’ve said “I love you,” a million times in my life, and only meant it maybe three. But when your goals are there in front of you, whatever they may be, by focusing on the process rather than the result, you’re more likely to succeed.