How Completely Failing an Exercise Challenge Actually Changed My Life

Okay so I’m going to be really real upfront and say that when I pitched this article, I was envisioning it going… ahem… a little bit differently.

Let’s take a quick detour for some background on yours truly. Hi. I’m Kelly. Thanks for being here. (It’s at this point that you, my audience, are nodding sagely like “welcome, friend” and waving your hands subtly as if to say “do go on” so here we go.) I’ve always been slightly — let’s call it suspicious — of physical activity. My mom has an anecdote she likes to tell about my brother and I that really sums this up. My brother — let’s call him Dan as that is his name —  was not about being in his stroller as a child. He was constantly wanting to walk and be out in the world and explore, even before that was a feasible thing for him to be doing. On the other hand, I looooved the stroller and requested to be wheeled around (like the queen I truly am) for absolutely ages until my mom finally was like ARE YOUR LEGS PAINTED ON GET UP YOU LOON.

 

I’ve always been slightly — let’s call it suspicious — of physical activity.

 

What I’m hoping you gleaned from the above story is that — along with being incredibly high maintenance — I was more of an ~indoor~ child and am currently quite a homebody adult. Exercise has never been high on my priority list. I solved this growing up with ballet — which catered to my romantic ideals and fascination with tulle while also providing an after school “sport” of sorts. In college, walk-sprinting to all my classes covered a lot of bases and I took full advantage of the university-provided facilities (I’d title this chapter of my autobiography “Elliptical: A Love-ish Story”). But after college, everything sort of deteriorated.

Which brings us to now (or, more accurately, about three months ago) and our plucky heroine (me) at a very low point in her life. It’s the point in the movie right before the inspirational montage (“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!“) where everything is BLEAK AS HELL.

Okay, I might be exaggerating a tad (It’s at this point my audience gasps with crushing sarcasm, “No?? You?? Exaggerate??”). A lot of things in my life were going really well, but my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I felt gross in my own skin and just horribly out of place everywhere that I went. I would open Instagram and immediately start comparing myself to the tiny squares I scrolled past. Inevitably, I would close the app — depressed and lonely and off — and wander to the corner store on my street to buy Diet Coke and a KitKat bar to make myself feel better.

 

I felt gross in my own skin and just horribly out of place everywhere that I went.

 

I was living a 90% sedentary lifestyle with little to no physical activity basically at all. It was a cycle that fed itself viciously and I knew that I wouldn’t feel better until I took critical stock of what I was doing. I needed a shakeup.

It’s at this point in our story that the original idea for this article took shape — I would force myself (an OG lazy gal) to work out every day for three months and write about the experience. It seemed like a flash of perfect inspiration at the time. I thought in my head — in huge, bold, flashing neon letters as one does, “IF I WRITE AN ARTICLE I’LL HAVE TO STAY ACCOUNTABLE TO MYSELF.” In a tizzy, I messaged my editor and she scheduled the piece (It’s this piece that you’re reading now! Hope you’re enjoying it!) for three months down the line. Now all I had to do was work out every day for three months. SIMPLE.

Narrator: It was not simple. It was not simple at all, obviously. 

I started off strong by immediately downloading the Sweat app and purchasing a subscription. I thought that an at-home — yet guided — workout would be perfect for my purposes. There was no way that I could fail.

Narrator: There were, in fact, many ways for her to fail, obviously. 

I managed a week and a half of workouts with the BBG program in the Sweat app. Here’s a selfie of me during that period cause ~visuals~.

 

 

I was riding an endorphin high, but it felt tenuous at best. Like walking down a hill and you start tripping faster and faster and you know it’s not sustainable but at least you’re getting somewhere. I thought that changing my routine and getting my body moving would change my mindset and overhaul my entire life in one fell swoop. And wouldn’t it be nice if things happened that way?

Narrator: We’re with you on this one, sister. 

 

I thought that changing my routine and getting my body moving would change my mindset and overhaul my entire life in one fell swoop. And wouldn’t it be nice if things happened that way?

 

It was during this period that I vividly remember having an assignment for work and having to take a photo of myself in a dressing room. I thought that my workouts (still only a week and a half old at this point) would help me see myself in a better light, but I still felt so wrong in my skin. I texted my friend, desperately needing an outlet for some of my distress, with a snarky comment about my body. She responded immediately: “Please be kinder to yourself.”

I felt chastised and frustrated. I needed to shame myself before someone else did — to verbalize what I thought everyone else was thinking. If I got ahead of it, I felt safer somehow. Like I had control of the narrative, even if it was a narrative that I hated. Not staying on track with my everyday, all or nothing workouts only fueled my feelings. Why couldn’t I do anything right? 

 

Please be kinder to yourself.

 

The Dressing Room Incident put all that negativity right back at the forefront of my mind. I started catering to my worst impulses again. I already felt bad, and I wanted to do something that I knew would make me feel better. Something easy. I wanted to coddle myself — rather than challenge my routines.

You know what I’m about to say, right? I stopped working out every day with BBG. My burst of motivation — to stay accountable to the article I was writing — petered out and I was left right back where I started. I hadn’t addressed the root cause of all of my angst — my own self-image.

Looking back — and seeing it all written out — reinforces how much my negative self-image had infected my thoughts and actions. No wonder I felt so beaten. My inner thoughts were a maelstrom. I was undercutting myself at every turn — not exactly the way to inspire a daily workout routine.

 

Source: @wearetriibe

 

After The Dressing Room Incident, I kept ruminating about my friend’s dictate to be kinder to myself. I knew I was in the wrong, which is why I felt so taken-to-task by the conversation. Something needed to change.

I started with something easy: removing any of the immediate triggers I was using as self-flagellation of sorts — mainly innocent Instagram accounts that I couldn’t stop comparing myself to. I knew that just deciding to stop thinking negatively about myself was not a sustainable goal. So I told myself that whenever I was having a negative thought about my body or my appearance, I would try to recognize it and label it for what it was and try to distance myself from that negativity.

I was going to stop believing everything I thought about myself. I was going to stop beating myself up when I made a mistake or had a setback or didn’t fulfill my goal of working out every single day in an attempt to “fix” my life.

 

I was going to stop believing everything I thought about myself.

 

So to recap (lol what a journey we’ve been on together here amiright), this article did NOT end up being about how I magically went from lazy girl to fitness model and on-top-of-it person. This certainly isn’t a roadmap to getting healthier or a diatribe on how to live your life. I’m not saying that working out every day is a bad goal or that you will fail at it. I’m not saying that we should just “give up” on being healthy and taking care of ourselves.

Instead of an article about exercise, this is really an article about body image and inner monologues and treating ourselves with kindness because that is what my whole ~journey~ with exercise these past three months has taught me. I’m still pretty lazy. I’m still the kid who didn’t want to get out of the stroller. But I’m in such a better place than I was three months ago.

Sometimes you just need to try and fail at something to push yourself out of a cycle that you know is bad for you. Failure isn’t a bad thing. It’s an invitation to try again with a better perspective.

And I have been trying. I’ve been attempting meditation a few times a week in order to help myself get some much-needed distance from my pesky inner demons. I’ve started following accounts on Instagram that make me feel inspired and hopeful and seen — @i_weigh is an incredible one that I highly recommend.

I’ve been going to barre classes (I’ve discovered, also from my BBG experiment, that I work out better in a class setting — I need the community) a few times a week. Everything is not perfect, because (spoiler alert) I am not perfect. I’m taking a trip in a few weeks where I will need to be in a swimsuit and I’m working on not feeling anxious and hideous about that prospect. It’s a work in progress.

 

Sometimes you just need to try and fail at something to push yourself out of a cycle that you know is bad for you.

 

If you’ve made it this far, first of all, you are incredible and let’s be friends. Second of all, I promise to stop soon. Third of all, to all of you out there who are feeling insecure or defeated or in that no good, very bad place right before your movie montage moment: I see you. And I hope this long-winded story of mine helped you feel less alone and more ready to put your dukes up against those a**holes inside your head. Those guys are jerks. Don’t let them try to tell you who you are. Listen to your friends and the people that love you and the good voices in your head that tell you you’re amazing and badass and allowed to fail once in a while.

Fourth of all, JUST KIDDING LOL this article is finally over.

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