10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Working Out

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  • Category: Fitness, Experts, Mental Health
  • Read Time: 11 Minutes

10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Working Out

I began formally working out approximately ten years ago. At that time, I started running because that is something others told me would give me fast results. At first I hated it, but I did lose a lot of weight and got encouragement from others about my appearance. However, I knew that I didn’t feel good and that it wasn’t sustainable for me. That is when I found Fitness Blender, which was the first workout platform that I enjoyed, and made me feel better and stronger. Just like many of you, I have been working out with Kelli and Daniel (and now Tasha) ever since. 

This entire story mirrors the process that many of us employ when we want to achieve something fast. We jump headfirst into something we think will help only to eventually burn out and give up. Because of this, I am now conscious about the many other life lessons that I have learned by moving my body, both within and outside of my workouts with Fitness Blender. Life becomes so much richer when we can find the transferrable meaning and find purpose in the things that we do (even the small things). So, here are 10 life lessons I have personally learned from my fitness journey. 

Lesson #1: Quality matters.
One important factor in establishing sustainable movement is the quality of the exercise. What I mean is that the form we use when lifting, running, jumping, etc. helps us to prevent injury and most effectively achieve our goals. The quality of our workouts is as important as the quantity of our workouts, hence why we hear Kelli say, “work smarter, not harder.” 

In life, the “shoulds” dictate what we do next, prompting us to move from task to task or obligation to obligation without consideration for whether those things improve our quality of life. Does it really matter how many friends we have if they don’t enrich us in some way? The quality of experiences, relationships, activities, and material goods that we have matters so much more than the quantity. 

Lesson #2: Mindset is important.
Often, it isn’t any given experience that is a problem, but rather the way we think about or approach it that causes the problems. Within my workouts, I can’t necessarily stop myself from reacting with an enthusiastic “ugh” during the last few rounds of burpees in a tabata. However, the next thought I have dictates how the following 20 seconds will go. Telling myself, “this is hard, but will... make me feel good, give me energy, feel accomplished” helps me to push through even when I don’t want to. There are many other mindset examples within exercise that transfer to everyday life; to name a few:

  • Failure is good
  • Discomfort promotes growth
  • Your ego will only hold you back
  • It doesn’t get easier, you get stronger
  • Something is better than nothing

Being mindful of the way you think about the world and your experiences while cultivating intention into our mindset can change our experience of things. For example, I have lately been thinking, “I’m so busy and wish I had more time to relax.” That statement is true. However, all the things that are filling up my life are intentional priorities and this thought has kept me from being able to fully enjoy them. Instead, I have been modifying my mindset to think, “I’m so busy and wish I had more time to relax, and this is a season in life where I get to enjoy so many opportunities.” With this, I am reminded that this is temporary and that enjoyment of what I am doing is possible.

Lesson #3: Listen to your body.
Our bodies are smart. They have adapted using years and years of data to be able to tell us what feels good (physically and emotionally), what we need to feel better, and what to avoid. Regarding exercise, our body gives us warning signs when we are about to or have already gone too far, tells us when we need rest, and even when we haven’t been moving enough to feel our best. Therefore, being in touch with and listening to our bodies helps us to be able to sustainably keep our personal wellness at the forefront. Related: How to "Listen to Your Body" During a Workout — When to Stop & When to Keep Pushing.

Our bodies also tell us all sorts of information about general life. For instance, take that sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you forgot to do something important or when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you are creeped out. Our “gut feeling” gives us a lot of information about the world around us. However, so many of us are out of touch with our bodies and therefore unable to recognize what it is trying to tell us. Personally, this is part of why my mindfulness practice is so important to me. It helps me outside of my practice to be able to recognize what I am feeling so much more quickly.

Lesson #4: Challenge myself. 
The human body is designed to find ways to make things easier. Our bodies try to conserve as much energy as possible because it has been evolutionarily advantageous to save our energy for times of danger. However, when it comes to anything in which we want to grow, we must challenge ourselves in order to see results. Want to build endurance? Want to build muscle? Want to increase focus? You have to push yourself past the point of comfort to move toward any of these. As a result, several mantras have emerged as helpful both in workouts and in life to challenge myself:

  • Breaks feel better when earned
  • You can always make it harder (or easier)
  • I have more in me than I think
  • I should probably be doing more of the hard things (for me, this is mountain climbers)

Lesson #5: Find great models/coaches.
When I think about the situations that have been most rewarding or most impactful in my life, most of those involve being surrounded by great role models, coaches, and peers. The people who are successfully able to motivate us, challenge us, and support us make that experience. Therefore, within my workouts, I surround myself with those who send the right messages (hence Fitness Blender) and I try to do the same in life. At work, I approach people and opportunities to work with people who are great models. With friends, I surround myself with people who have similar values and help me to do and be better. 

Lesson #6: Use, don’t abuse, numbers.
Data are important for helping us know where we are at any given time. Within the fitness world, knowing our weight, basal metabolic rate, and macronutrient breakdown can assist us in achieving our goals. At the same time, when used too rigidly or without consideration for how they impact our mental health can become our worst enemy. 

Similarly, there are many data sources that can be helpful or harmful in everyday life. Feedback from other people, emotions, and logic are all sources of data that need a greater context in order to use them effectively. Finding ways to take important sources of data in our lives and use them to our advantage can be important for maintaining physical and mental health.

Lesson #7: Format/structure matters.
When working out, the structure or format of the workout can significantly change my experience of it. This is why so many of you like the Bored Easily formats for days when you aren’t feeling particularly motivated. You can work the same muscle groups in different ways, producing similar results without the (potential) mental strain of having to work through multiple sets. Other days, I am looking for ways to improve my form or progression.

There are many days in my life in which I have to be intentional about the way I structure my time. I know that I am most mentally efficient and motivated to work from 7-10am, so putting my most difficult tasks during that time ensures that I get them done. This same principle applies to many areas of life and structuring your life, time, and resources in such a way to meet your goals is important. Note that this not necessarily all about efficiency, and is more about best serving our needs. Some days I have to structure and be intentional about my relaxation as well.

Lesson #8: Adaptation keeps me going.
The ability to adapt and modify our workouts based on our needs, current energy levels, or based on life circumstances is critical for sustainable movement. This goes in both directions - I adapt my workouts to be easier or harder based on what I need in any given moment. When I am not feeling well mentally/emotionally, I know that mindful movement like a walk, yoga, or pilates is what I personally need. Knowing that when an exercise feels too easy, I can make the exercise more difficult to keep myself accountable. This adaptation is what keeps me going and allows me to get movement into my days in a way that feels sustainable and good for my mind and body.

Adapting life based on our needs is also important. This is the key to resilience; modifying what we do on a moment-by-moment basis to serve us in that moment keeps us going. For example, when something comes up that throws off my planned schedule, I strive to find ways to adapt my day/week to still accommodate my priorities and also fit in this change. When I know that cleaning my bathroom would deplete my physical and mental energy for the rest of the week, I reschedule for another time.

Lesson #9: Ask for help.
My perfectionistic voice (I call her Linda) tells me that I have to do everything right and do everything by myself. It took me a long time to be able to ask someone to watch my form, hold me accountable for a workout, or even just explain how to do a new exercise. Once I did, my ego took a backseat and I knew that I didn’t have to know everything and that being imperfect is okay (and even valuable). Life is much the same way. Asking others for help can lead to growth faster than we are capable of on our own, makes our lives a bit easier, enriches our relationships, and promotes humility. 

Lesson #10: Sit in discomfort.
Finally, I try to keep in mind that I will be uncomfortable at times. Rather than pushing that away and avoiding the discomfort, I lean into it and try to find ways to cope with it. During my workouts, that means holding that static squat for the whole 45 seconds even when my quads are screaming at me. I think about running around with my dog or laying in the sand at the beach rather than giving up. Then, when I move into moments of discomfort in my everyday life, I have the tools I need to be able to get through those as well. I again think about running around with my dog because she makes everything more manageable for me! This is just one example of a coping mechanism, but there are many others you can employ to get you through times of discomfort. 

What are the life lessons you have either learned or recognized as a result of your fitness routine? We would love to hear how Fitness Blender helps you every day. Also, are there things we could do to improve your experiences?

Written for Fitness Blender by Haley S, PhD
Licensed Psychologist