We are all riding the treadmill of life. This machine is big, bulky, and, at times, noisy. The interface is also composed of moving parts and tons of buttons: school, career, family, relationships, health, leisure, and the like. There are times when the pace is a slow and leisurely – like crystallizing moments in cafes when you are reading a book, sipping strong coffee, and pretending that you’re in some corner cafe in Europe. There are times when you briefly push the “pause” button – like warm afternoons where you get to quietly watch the sunset dust the sky with shades of orange and purple from your office pantry towards the end of a long, hard day; moments of unburdened contemplation and stillness where there is an absence of activity.
In contrast, there are times when you suddenly find yourself running at maximum speed on a steep incline. There are endless deadlines to meet, boatloads of obligations to fulfill, and countless people you can’t seem to make enough time for. The track below you is blurring and your lungs are giving out. Your knees are quivering and your breath is hitching. Your calves are throbbing along with the unsteady thump of your footsteps. Regardless of the pace, what sets this treadmill apart from all the others is that there is no large and red “stop” button; everyone is endlessly compelled to float through layers of time, no matter what the situation. It’s a perpetual forward movement. Our lives are a reflection of our choices and preferences among all the buttons on the interface, and we all know that it gets stressful to find the perfect balance. We make these choices in alignment with how much closer they bring us to happiness and the person we want to become. In the thick of all the conquests demanded by life, why should we make time for a seemingly unnecessary pleasure such as the gym? How important is this small button compared to all the others? Where can we get the strength to grind on days when we just don’t feel energetic and motivated to exercise?
Some days can be stimulating and invigorating, mobilizing us into action and productive potency; others can be draining and incapacitating, leaving us frustrated and lethargic. Even if you train hard and make a conscious effort to recover well, eventually you will encounter a really bad day. It’s like airplane turbulence – a rattler of nerves, an aggravating nuisance, yet it’s something that the aircraft can’t avoid. There’s no denying that you’ll have days when all you can think about is eating cheesecake and finishing that show on Netflix. You’ll have horrendous mornings after long nights that’ll make you want to sleep in before even considering any sort of physical activity. On such bad days, there will always be that one fleeting moment where you will derail your motivation to head to the gym because of particularly disastrous factors, and it will hit you like a beacon in the night.
“Poor night’s sleep. I had only 3 hours.”
“I haven’t eaten enough. I’ve been on-the-go all day.”
“My meal timing today is messed up. I feel weak.”
“I’m too stressed to drag myself to the gym.”
“My recovery is inadequate. I need another day off.”
“I don’t have time. I have so many places to go to.”
…and the list goes on and on. Ever said this yourself? Good! So have I. It doesn’t make us bad or lazy. It reminds us that we’re human, and the good news is that there are seven billion of us. These statements are absolutely valid. Weariness changes a lot of things, and factors that are beyond our control can lead to inexplicable moments of weakness. But this is what you should acknowledge: weariness and weakness are your two greatest enemies on dreadful days that make you want to skip the gym and linger in a semi-vegitative existence eating bags of Cheetos in one sitting while staying glued to the sofa. Weariness and weakness – two cruel forces who shake your ambitions and sabotage your confidence in your own abilities. Some days, you feel like drowning in them. They ridicule you, belittle you in all ways possible, and put you in your place. They wash over you, wave after wave, reeling your senses. The answer? Look them in the eye and ask them to leave. Drain your ever-calculating, self-evaluating, seething cauldron of stresses and go to the gym.
There is, at least there sometimes seems to be, a certain blessedness lying at the heart of every training session. On a crappy days when you find yourself too wrapped up in the busyness of assorted activities and never-ending bombardments of demands, the gym you fear and hate to enter holds all the things that you seek. Working out is the antithesis of lethargy and powerlessness.
Weariness is addressed by movement. Energy creates energy, just as friction creates fire. It seems logical to assume that going to the gym would drain your energy and leave you even more tired, but no – it gives life to your body. Your body naturally rises up to meet the challenge for more life by becoming stronger. The best part is that the restored energy stays with you long after your workout is done.
Weakness is evil. It will consume you without hesitation if you do not show resistance. At the same time, it is a blessing in disguise because it provides you with a chance to demonstrate your strength. Show weakness that you do not tolerate frailty of body and mind, and you will eventually build your immunity to it. You will develop the bravery to stare weakness in the face and shove your middle finger back at it.
Once you become comfortable with these two inevitable discomforts of life, you become invincible in a sort of underdog way, like the memorable Golden State Warriors that toppled the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks back in 2006. You get the unshakable authority that comes only from having endured and conquered adversities that you weren’t supposed to beat in the first place.
Just as planes are engineered themselves to take a remarkable amount of punishment through unusually rough air, our bodies are uniquely designed to respond to stress in certain physiological ways. When your body is stuck in a stressful situation, it responds by commanding energy-hormones to be released. The hormones epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) are discharged; these hormones increase oxygen availability to cells by increasing the heart rate, thereby allowing you to work harder in spite of the odds that are against you. Working out signals the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissue and facilitates the circulation of blood, therefore leading to greater energy levels. On top of that, it wakes up the central nervous system, the primary regulator of the fuel we use to get through our days. Maybe you burned the midnight oil at work or maybe you just couldn’t turn off your mind in bed, but what most people don’t know is that the human body is designed to absolve one night of inadequate sleep. It is a given that physical performance will dip, but nothing can cure your exhaustion more than getting to the gym, getting your prescribed reps and sets done, and getting out drunk on immeasurably wonderful feel-good hormones that’ll make you wonder why you were even tired or stressed in the first place. Some of my best workouts took place on just an hour or two of sleep. The workout will definitely be a grinder, but it’s a temporary adversity; a brief investment with a thousand fold returns. In the end, you still win the trade.
Besides, a bad day should never be blown out of proportion. You can diet poorly and miss healthy meals for a couple of days and you can go many nights without getting proper sleep. It’s temporary. All of us are guilty of self-sabotage and indulging in guilty pleasures. After all, what’s life without syrupy blueberry pancakes and good French wine? In fact, it will not significantly undo your weeks and months of hard work because the human body is the most fantastic machine in existence. What constantly terrifies me is the cumulative effect produced by the mistake of opting to skip a workout due to a bad day. It’s a mental thing: when you skip a workout, the next workout becomes a deciding factor in the balance of your life because one missed workout can easily turn to two missed workouts, which subsequently becomes a week without a workout, which, in turn, can effortlessly become an entire month without a workout. It’s a horrible chain reaction of failure. Everyone knows what happens after that. This is the hidden significance of the workout you’re planning to skip.
But let’s stop beating around the bush. On off days, we try to justify our reasons. Too many thoughts, too many viewpoints. Sometimes, you just have to pull yourself up to full stature, push up your chest, and acknowledge that there is only one thing that matters. Action. Free yourself from the shackles of preconceived limitations. Grit your teeth and pull hard against your restraints. Those who give in to laziness and fatigue are those who over-analyze the idea of going to the gym and the circumstances involved in doing so.
You do not have time for the gym. You MAKE time for it.
I know the cliché sounds intellectually lazy, but it’s the hard fact that underlies a lot of our excuses.
The necessary fidelity to our tasks is a fact of modern life. Uncontrollable variables can limit our time and resources, but there is always a way around it. It doesn’t matter if it’s just for a half hour – heck, the average person spends a total of nearly two hours on social media everyday. When you say you don’t have time or you’re too tired, the lingering truth beneath is that it’s either you don’t have the willpower or you are intentionally putting something else before your health. Shrug off the tiredness or the hangover, go to the gym, and put in the hard yards. Work out at home or wake up earlier if you have to – consistency is more important than duration or intensity. Or maybe sleep less. Make a written plan and subdivide your to-do list. Eliminate mindless activity and time spent chasing empty highs. Don’t be afraid of caffeine. Stop complaining about how unfortunate your situation is. Adopt a “Do It” mentality even when you don’t want to. A good workout is so vitalizing it’s virtually impossible to feel weakness or weariness afterwards. It will make you want to sprint in triumphant enthusiasm and find the nearest person to explain to them the many, many reasons why working out is the best stress-reliever. Best of all, it harnesses energy like nothing else can and you’ll be feeling fully rejuvenated by the time it reaches its epic conclusion. It’s a simple discipline that you can follow everyday; a way to redeem your humanity from exhaustion; a powerful invitation to be nourished by sweat and a beautiful daily practice of intention. Most of all, it gives you a chance to step off that jet-propelled treadmill of life and catch your breath.
You may have told yourself that you don’t have time to workout today.
Here’s the sneaky truth.
You do – because it is always YOUR choice.