The Exercise Roller Coaster: The Best Way To Start And Keep Working Out
Skip the article and get to the heart of it...
Summary: Everyone has motivation and the best intentions when starting a new workout routine. Typically, people rely on willpower to keep going with the plan. And typically, willpower is fleeting. Rather than relying on willpower, my suggestion for beginning and keeping a new exercise routine is to involve someone else. That could mean you start to workout with a friend, join a class, hire a personal trainer, etc. But you're much more likely to adhere to a program when someone else is helping keep you accountable.
The mental gymnastics of convincing yourself to start working out is usually quite the battle.
Devil: “You haven’t worked out for 20 years, why start now?”
Angel: “You’ll feel better if you start exercising!”
Devil: “You don’t know what to do.”
Angel: “Just go to the gym and do what everyone else is doing!”
Devil: “You’re not a gym rat. You don’t like exercising.”
Angel: “But your doctor said you should really start working out…”
Etc, etc, etc.
We’re fantastic at rationalizing things away.
But you hear about the benefits of exercise, and in the back of your head, you just intuitively know that you should be exercising. It’s a sixth sense.
Everyone knows that your health, at least in part, is tied to your level of fitness.
I don’t think many people are saying, “I believe exercise makes me less healthy.”
So if we all instinctively know that it’s better to exercise than to not exercise, why the battle? How do you win the battle to start exercising? And most importantly, how do you continue winning battles so that you keep exercising?
Well, let me tell ya!
But first, a quick story...
Think back to being a kid and going to an amusement park for the first time. All the smells of cotton candy, the sense of excitement in the air, the crowds of people stampeding around.
What I remember most were the rides. I loved people watching. In particular, I recall watching how much fun other people were having on the roller coasters. I’d watch over and over as they climbed towards the sky before plummeting 60 MPH down towards the earth.
But I was terrified to go on “the big rides.” All I would do is watch.
Sometimes I would dip my toe in the water with the teacups. You know, something that stayed close to the ground.
But there was no chance in hell that I was going on a roller coaster. I probably thought something like “those rides are for other people, but not me.” Even though it looked like they were having all of the fun.
Anyways, we went to an amusement park every year growing up, and I would never go close to “the big rides.” It got to the point that I was 13 years old, and I’d still never been on a real roller coaster.
That was about to change.
One day, I went to Six Flags Great America (just outside of Chicago) with my friend Brandon. I knew going in that I would have to go on some rides I’d never been on before.
I was scared.
Mind you, for a little context, I was 6-foot-2 as a 13-year-old, and Brandon was 5-foot-nothing. I was tall enough to ride roller coasters for years, I just never had someone push me to go.
So we got to the park, and of course I didn’t want Brandon to know that I was scared — my 13-year-old self was so very macho — or that it was my first time riding any of the roller coasters. So I just followed him and faked it.
We got in line for our first ride of the day — “a big ride” of course.
My heart was beating out of my chest as I waited to go on that first roller coaster. I remember seeing the same faces over, and over, and over, as the line snaked back-and-forth.
And I remember watching as people screamed going down that first huge drop. It started sinking in that I was going to be one of those people.
Everyone else looked excited. Brandon was excited. How the heck could they be excited? This was going to be terrible.
Surely, I tried pumping myself up by thinking something like “it looks like they’re all having fun, so just have fun.”
Easier said than done. It didn’t work.
Inside, I was dying the entire time we waited.
Eventually, we reached the front of the line, got strapped into our seats, and the ride started to move.
Like most rides, this one had the long “tick, tick, tick” climb to the top and a big drop to kick things off. That whole way up, I was cursing myself for getting on the ride, but externally keeping my cool.
We hit the top, there was a slight pause, and then “VOOM!” Down we went!
The whole thing was over so fast, I could hardly grasp what just happened.
Then, we got off the ride, and what did I say?
“Wow, that was awesome! Let’s do it again!”
So we went on the next ride. But instead of it being fun and easy, the whole process was repeated. I was scared, the ride went super fast, and then I had the emotional high afterwards.
It took years for my nerves to ease up and not feel so scared prior to the ride. Then, I finally enjoyed the experience from beginning to end without my anxiety wreaking havoc.
This same phenomenon can be seen with people regarding exercise.
You’re not looking forward to it, but you make yourself do it. Then, it’s over before you know it. And afterwards you feel great!
The more regularly you exercise, the less you dread it. It just becomes a habit. It’s something you do because you know when you’re finished, you’ll feel great.
So back to the original question: Why do we have a mental battle when it comes to exercise when we know it’s good for us?
Imagine being 6 years old and looking up at a huge roller coaster. You see other people riding it, and they look like they know what they’re doing. It’s scary and intimidating.
Similarly, imagine walking into a gym and looking around at all the machines. You see other people exercising, and they look like they know what they’re doing. It’s scary and intimidating.
So many people never get to the point of enjoying the benefits of working out, because they never start. They let the fear win and rationalize it away.
So how do you win the battle? What’s the special sauce?
The same way I started riding roller coasters: you need to find a Brandon.
Having the shared experience with someone else provides the kick in the pants you need to start exercising.
Would I have ever rode a roller coaster if I never went with Brandon? More than likely, no. I would have stayed in my comfort zone on the ground.
Likewise, will you just start exercising on your own? More than likely, no. You’ll stay in your comfort zone.
Now the real question: How do you continue winning battles and keep exercising?
Let’s go back to my roller coaster anecdote quickly.
For a long time after that day, I’d only go on roller coasters with friends. Going alone wasn’t for me.
But eventually, I was confident enough that I could go on my own...even though I always preferred to go with other people (I mean, I’m not psycho!). I had ridden enough that I felt self-assured I could fly solo.
So despite my preference to ride with friends, I didn’t rely on others.
It’s the same thing with exercise.
You need to build your confidence by exercising with someone. Over, and over, and over again. Eventually, you’ll be confident enough to fly solo — even if you always prefer to work out with someone. But until you get to that point, you need others.
Exercising with others could mean attending a class, going to the gym with friends, exercising with your spouse, or hiring a personal trainer (hi, I’m Steve, and I own a personal training studio).
Regardless, my advice is simple. Keep working out with other people. Eventually you won’t need to — although you may prefer to.
Don’t let fear stop you from getting in line for the roller coaster. It’ll be over before you know it, and you’ll feel great that you went on the ride.