It's been more than four years since I made that resolution, and I'm proud to say, I've kept it. And over those roughly 1,460 workouts, I learned about myself, the world, and work. I'm better because of it. And because every individual has the potential to grow, because you can reach higher too, here are the indispensable gems I have taken from every drop of sweat.
1. What's hard doesn't have to stay that way.
When I first started exercising, I was so out of shape I barely made it 20 minutes. Weights heavier than 10 pounds? Pffft. (You're funny.) But eventually, 20 minutes was doable. Then 30. I had to buy more weights. I ran half marathons. And sometimes the whole reason something in life is hard is because you simply haven't done it before. But as you learn and get more information and practice, you get faster and more productive, and suddenly what seemed so difficult doesn't scare you anymore. Ease comes with experience, and your perception of what's challenging depends on how much you've been willing to face.
2. Willpower isn't a guarantee you'll hit a target.
I have had many days where, mentally, I was right on it. I had a plan. I knew what I had done in previous workouts. But when push came to shove, when I hit muscle failure, I hit muscle failure. No amount of positivity, no number of mantras was going to substitute for rest. I couldn't do another rep just because I wanted it to happen. So it's not about what you "should" be able to do--that's preconception, construct. It's about pushing the limits to find what you actually can do--that's reality. And what you can do might vary from one day to the next. That's Ok. Don't be disappointed in yourself or feel like you're not strong or committed enough just because those variations come up. Just give it everything every time, whatever "everything" might happen to be.
3. You don't have to be a sheep and follow what everyone else does.
I'm a little person. I don't let that stop me. But the reality is, machines and equipment designed for larger individuals don't fit me. I could get hurt if I use those tools. So I improvise and modify. And if the 10-pound weights a crew uses in a workout video don't feel difficult enough for me, guess what? I pick up the 15's. We compare ourselves with others because we want to feel like part of the group and have a sense of normalcy, but adhering to the norm doesn't always help us move forward. It even can put us at risk. So look in the mirror. Acknowledge what you need and who you are. Find your own way to work and assess progress based on where you were, rather than based on where others are.
4. Being present matters.
When you've exercised 1,460 times in a row, the odds are pretty darn good that you'll be coming back to a move you've done dozens or even hundreds of times before. And familiarity makes it oh-so-tempting to zone out. But zoning out is a mistake--don't do it! Maybe you have done 8,349 pushups. But how does this one feel? You will never experience it again. Analyze it. Feel it. Savor it. Whether you're scrolling through Facebook, scarfing your usual from the drive-thru or just being lazy on the couch, recognize the purpose and importance of what you're living.
5. It's OK to take a break.
Did I really do 1,460 workouts, day after day after day? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean I didn't hit the pause button. It doesn't mean I didn't opt for yoga sometimes instead of high-intensity intervals for an hour. Because that's the way we're made. To break ourselves down a little, rest, and build up. Rinse and repeat. In fact, even the brain works that way, operating in cycles and requiring routine downshifting to function at its best. We forget that in a culture that encourages hours of overtime, that sees busyness as a sign of status and security. But if we don't stop, eventually, our hearts will break. That's as true in the emotional sense as it is the physical.
Only about 24,000 more to go
Consistent exercise has taught me to do my best, pay attention to myself and others, and be brave enough to embrace individuality. It's taught me to absorb and appreciate as much as I can and not take anything for granted. It's taught me courage and flexibility. And I go back to it every day to reconnect to those lessons and let them shape what I do, to remember who I am and what I want to be. There's more than enough value in that to encourage me to put on my sneakers, and it feels incredible to know that, 1,460 workouts in, I'm really only getting started.