If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll probably have noticed me spamming your feed with my daily workouts.
As of today, I’ve just passed my 60-day streak, and I did manage to learn some interesting things about myself along the way.
And you know the first thing I’ve realised? It’s that exercising is not about getting washboard abs or increasing your bench record. Instead, it does more for your mental and spiritual growth.
But I bet you already know this. We all know this. The panacea to a good life is exercise and healthy eating. It’s just the doing that’s hard.
I’ve never had trouble with exercise because I’ve never had to think about it. In fact, I never did truly work out, per se. Before the pandemic, all I needed to do was drag myself to a jiu-jitsu class or to the climbing gym, and that was usually enough for all my physical needs.
Now that we’re in lockdown season in Malaysia, however, I’ve found myself having to adapt and turn to—gasp—exercise routines. Do you know how mind-numbing burpees are? Scratch that. Do you know how mind-numbing working out is?
Fortunately for me, I’m more averse to not working out rather than the other way around, so it’s just the simple act of choosing between two evils.
And you know what? I actually think that along the way, I’m not just improving myself, but also the world around me.
So I didn’t have a real strategy going into this. All I wanted to do was work out every day, and that’s how it’s been for about two months now.
I do lighten the load on Saturdays (technique day) and Sundays (active recovery) just so that I can sustain the daily output. The former includes form practice for exercises such as the kettlebell clean and jerk, while my recovery days involve 20 minutes of skipping or its equivalent.
On weekdays, my workouts typically look like either one of the below routines:
#1 220 kettlebell hand-to-hand swings 16 Turkish get-ups (16kg bell) #2 1 min. kettlebell clean and jerk 1 min. kettlebell hand-to-hand swings 1 min. goblet squats 1 min. leg raises 1 min. rest (5 sets) #3 30 six-count burpees 30 four-count jumping jacks 30 lunges 30 four-count flutter kicks (6 sets) #4 5 pull-ups 10 jumping lunges 20 six-count burpees (as many sets as possible in 20 minutes)
Nothing too crazy, as you can tell, but I’m usually dead by the time I’m done. Anyway, now that we’ve gone over the routine, let’s check out the unexpected lessons I’d gleaned from working out every day.
Pain is the best teacher
I know I’m lazy. I’ve spent days doing little else but scroll through social media and watch YouTube. I know that I’m totally capable of throwing my life away. And that’s as much as I can learn about myself through comfort.
When I’m in the pain though? That’s when I have all the real conversations in my mind. Fatigue has ways of convincing you that you were perhaps a little too ambitious with your workout goals. Of telling you that you’re not who you think you are.
I bet you’ve heard it before.
Hey, why not forget the last couple of sets? Nobody’s watching. Nobody will know if you don’t finish your workout.
Seriously, you can stop now. You’re way too old for this.
You feel that? I think your heart just skipped a beat. Omg you’re going to die. Stop!
These are the times when you learn what you’re made of. Every time I choose not to listen to that voice, I gain power over the mind. The trick is that you have to reach that level of suck first. There’s just no other way.
This is the easiest thing to do in your life
Not just for workouts, but self-imposed hardships in general.
Using the phone less, taking a cold shower, waking up early, eating clean—these are challenges you can introduce into your life not just for their benefits, but also to prove to yourself that you can.
They may sound like hard tasks, but are actually one of the easier things to do in your life.
Yes, I hate the few minutes leading up to my workouts, but if I can’t even make myself go through these self-made obstacles, how am I going to go through the real curveballs life throws at you?
That’s the reason why people like David Goggins find peace in pushing their boundaries each day. Because if they constantly thrive in the unknown, then the challenges of life will seem like familiar grounds.
I forget who said this—I think it was from a Joe Rogan podcast—but the more you voluntarily seek challenges, the less intimidating the involuntary ones become.
I’ve begun noticing this in recent days too. On days that I push hard, I find myself more willing to put myself out there, like speaking out in a business meeting, for example. I don’t feel as strong when I simply cruise through my workout though.
Also, there’s a magic to knowing that you’ve brought yourself closer to your life goals from 6–8 in the morning, before most people have woken up. And every time you overcome that inertia of facing the pain, you’re basically telling yourself that you can handle whatever comes next.
One day, your workout will be your warm-up
Think about this for a moment: were you able to measure your progress of learning to ride a bike? Can you write better after one practice session? Or do you feel any slimmer after a day of eating salads?
Most times, progress isn’t linear. Heck, you might even slip the other way and log lower numbers. This is why we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on the results. Instead, we should always remind ourselves that the worth is in the work.
So don’t dwell in frustration every time you fall off the wall in rock climbing, or when nobody reads your articles even after a year of constant publishing.
Just keep honing your craft and pat yourself on your back for trying for the day. One day you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come. But that won’t happen until you actually start on your journey.
My personal example is learning the kettlebell during these 60 days. I remember struggling even to rise to my knees in the Turkish get-up. Now I can do ten reps per side, and I don’t know when exactly I’d grown strong enough to do so.
One day, what you think is unachievable will be something you do just for warm-ups. And since we’re on that subject…
Warm-ups help with life
Working out sucks, especially if you do it first thing in the morning. The initial reps feel like they belong in Satan’s playbook, and for that first ten minutes, you wonder why you subject yourself to such torture just to collect material for a blog post.
But you know what helps? Warming up. Start with light exercises. Something that doesn’t require any effort. A little movement to lube up the joints. I like jumping jacks or doing laps on the stairs.
Once you get a little sweat going, you’ll find that your gruelling routines won’t look so intimidating anymore. I mean, the workouts will still suck, but at least you won’t feel like your knees are going to give out every time you drop for a squat.
I’ve since applied this to other pursuits in life. Need to clean the house? I’ll start tidying up a very small portion of my desk. Have to hop on a business meeting? I’ll talk or sing to myself to warm up the vocal chords.
It’s a great way to deal with procrastination too.
Oftentimes, the act of performing these ‘effortless’ tasks builds the momentum needed to take on the real work. In fact, I made myself get into the writing mood for this article by first writing random sentences about my living room.
Help yourself before helping others
You can’t repeat affirmations to change your mood, nor can you body-language your way to success. You can’t sustainably find happiness by shopping or turning to substances either.
But you can earn a day’s worth of optimism by exercising hard. And when you do that, you can basically change the trajectory of your life.
Imagine facing your day with more confidence and patience. Now compare that to if you don’t work out (or earn confidence from other self-imposed challenges).
The only way you can operate from a higher level of consciousness is by taking care of business, and that means nourishing yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Why is this important? Because like they say in the flight safety manuals, when the oxygen masks drop, put on your own one before helping others with theirs. And like the Buddhist monks in Thailand would say, don’t try to brighten the world if you haven’t lit your own candle.
So you see, sometimes it’s not just about exercising. It’s about being a better person so you can help others, be it by adding a smile to their day or to inspire through your actions.
And maybe during those hateful sets of burpees, you’ll find something in you to change the world.