Becoming fit and healthy had always been a long-term goal of mine, one that I had never fully reached until a few years ago. In 2016, getting the motivation to regularly exercise was quite simply the hardest part of exercising! What turned it all around for me was that I feared that as a result of not maintaining a regular exercise regime, I would not be fit and healthy enough to be a positive role model for my children, and I had hopes for the future with regards to being more active and engaged with my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of my family. I started to form the belief that if I were to reach my goal, I believed I would be a lot happier in my life. I had honestly felt that by not being fit and strong, I was missing out on a fuller and more enjoyable life, both in myself, and with my family. A key issue in people maintaining a positive state of wellbeing, is that we must break away from present problems, and begin to focus on the possibilities for the future. I had often day dreamed about what it would be like to be at a far more advanced fitness level, a fitness level where I could go for longer and harder rides or runs without being held back by my physical limitations, and generally be physically stronger for my family. This day-dreaming was a strength that I tapped in to, to use as my driving force for change. Here, my strength was that I am visionary. An example of this inner strength was when I was twenty-seven years old, a time when I had a lot of personal debt and no savings. I was a young man, living from week to week, without much care for my future self. After I had met my future wife, and started to think about my future, and I reached a turning point, where I developed a new sense of drive and positivity, which allowed me to get out of personal debt and to begin saving for the future. Now, in my mid-late thirties, my wife and I have long-term savings in an investment bond and shares, and are slowly working towards providing a secure future for our children. I remember when I was twenty-seven, while spending Christmas with my wife’s family, I was reading a financial book, and I started to visualise what it would look like if we were financially secure. Here, I had utilised a technique called Solution Focused Therapy (SFT), in the form of a miracle question, where I pondered what it would look like to be in a good financial position and how I would get to that point. It was after this summer holiday that I began the process of permanently fixing our then financial problems. It is for this reason, I knew that I had the internal strength to make another large change in my life, and just like when I was twenty-seven, I needed to formulate a concrete and achievable plan for self-change. If I were to reach this goal, I would have a much greater sense of personal wellbeing, where I would be able to manage stress, sleep better, and have much more fun with my family and friends. Furthermore, I would be able to be more physically active with my children as they get older and become far more active with sporting pursuits.
In setting an agenda for change, I needed to develop specific goals, which would enable me to reach my preferred scenario. These goals must be substantive and challenging, while also being realistic, flexible, and sustainable over the longer term. Here, I needed to ensure that the goals I had set were both in line with my vision, and were ultimately achievable. I must ensure my goals are realistic achievements, rather than directionless actions based on good intentions. In the past, when I have tried to exercise, I have always used my own good intentions and actions as broad goals, where I have just told myself that I want to get fitter, but have not developed a set of specific goals that will drive a regime of regular exercise. These past attempts at getting fit have never lasted any longer than a month or two, and these failures have honestly left me feeling inadequate and worthless as a result. Here, I engaged in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), in which these disturbed thoughts were a result of my belief that I must be fit and healthy, especially when I compare myself to some of my friends and family who are fitter and stronger than I am. I needed to accept my own limitations, and to dispute these irrational thoughts if I was to achieve my goals. Not only did I have physical limitations, but I also had limitations on time. Working fulltime, studying, and raising a young family resulted in limited time and space for other activities such as exercise, so in developing a realistic goal, I needed to acknowledge the reality of my situation. I had established both long and short-term goals with regards to exercise. My long term goals I had set were to be fit enough to ride my bike for at least fifty kilometres in under two hours, and to be able to run around Lake Wendouree, in Ballarat, which is a six kilometre run, in under thirty minutes. My short-term goals were to exercise at least three times per week, where one session is a weekend bike ride, for at least twenty kilometres, and the other two sessions are either running or shorter distance bike rides. Further to this, I also established the goal of doing weights sessions at home, for at least two sessions per week. I strongly believed that these goals are realistic, achievable, and challenging.
In committing to my goals, I needed to ask myself if these goals were worth my time and energy, and what incentives were there for working towards these goals. While the process of getting fit is hard work, in the longer term, the benefits will outweigh the short-term pain. I had the central incentive of being fitter and healthier for my own children, as well as my personal wellbeing. I knew from past attempts at exercising, that when I exercised, I felt great, and generally had a heightened sense of personal wellbeing, with lower levels of stress and anxiety. Evidently, the hard work involved in regular exercise was worth my time and energy. However, it is vital to evaluate the personal costs in working towards your goals and to identify competing agendas. Here, I needed to ensure that my goals were cost effective, where I needed to take into account the amount of time required away from my family to exercise, as this can be quite significant, especially on longer bike rides, which can take between one and two hours. It was also important to consider the amount of time that I needed to recover from each exercise session, both mentally and physically. Most importantly, I needed to allow for the onset of fatigue after each exercise session. If I exercised in the morning, then fatigue would affect my ability to function at work, or my ability to spend time with my family on weekends. Moreover, I had numerous competing agendas, such as my constant desire to get more sleep, especially in the mornings, as well as the frantic mishmash of my working life, university study, regular duties in raising our children, financial stressors, as well as the time needed to manage relationships with extended family and friends. While these many factors were significant disincentives to take the extra time needed to exercise, the cost benefits in being fitter and healthier over the long term far outweighed these minor costs. In committing to this self-change project, it was vital that I understood the costs involved, but to focus on the overall positive outcomes in achieving my short and long-term goals.
In the final stages of commitment to this goal of mine, it can be a liberating experience, where a clear pathway to achieving a set goal is revealed. I brainstormed a variety of strategies, which I believed would help me to achieve my goals. I certainly found this brainstorming process liberating, as I started to feel that I possessed the necessary skillset to maintain a regular exercise regime. It was quite challenging to self-counsel with regards to probing and challenging myself to list potential strategies. In particular, I focused on strategies that would minimise distractions and excuses, such as utilising the parks and walking trails that were close to my house, which should act as incentives to exercise. I also cited my own passion and vision as a key motivator in achieving my goals, as well as the use of GPS data to instill a sense of competition and drive into my exercise sessions. Many of the ideas I produced were highly pragmatic, such as preparing a schedule, regularly getting up early in the morning, planning for changes in weather, the management of my blood pressure, networking with friends and other cyclists or runners, and to improve my diet. I also cited the need for positive self-talk, focusing on why I should exercise, such as the fact that exercise has the ability to improve my mental health, reduce stress, and to increase the amount of good quality sleep at night. This positive self-talk allowed me to gain motivation and the ability to cope with setbacks.
In assessing my brainstormed strategies, I needed to commence exercise utilising strategies that were easily achieved, including:
Despite these easily accessible strategies, I found that in my first week of attempting this significant change in my life, I lacked self-control and used procrastination to avoid exercise. Here, I engaged in a form of procrastination known as the ‘contingency manana’, where I maintained that I was unable to start exercising due to external forces, such as the weather, hectic work load, lack of sleep, other jobs such as moving the grass which needed to be done first, visits from family, and finally university commitments. All of these factors lead to no exercise in the first week. This continued for the first three weeks, where I focused on the reasons why I couldn’t exercise rather than focusing on the positive strategies I had brainstormed. Correspondingly, I discovered that I had numerous facilitating forces with regards to my family. The most vital factor was that my wife had encouraged and pushed me to achieve my goals, and as very much the case with exercise. She could see the long-term benefits, and as a result, she ensured she looked after our children at pre-agreed times when I exercised, and encouraged me to exercise when I began to procrastinate. Another facilitating force was the closeness of walking trails and ovals, which allowed me easy access in terms of running. A restraining force was the fact that the weather is highly unpredictable in Ballarat, where a planned ride or run can easily be hampered by rain or wind. Despite these restraining forces, I have been lucky enough to have plenty of places I can exercise other than the ovals, and as long as I planned ahead, I could work around weather changes. I believe having the full support of my wife was the most important facilitating force in my plans to become fit and healthy.
My overall plan of exercising three times per week, with an extended ride or run on the weekends did not become a reality until the sixth week. There was a turning point, where my family travelled interstate for a week, and I remained at home. This allowed me to focus on getting adequate sleep and forcing myself to exercise as planned. It was from this point onwards that I visualised and executed a definitive weekly plan. It was by this point in time, that I felt I had utilised REBT. Over the first six weeks, I had attempted to challenge my core beliefs, which eventually resulted in my ability to think rationally and I was then able to assist myself in commencing a regular routine of exercise.
Fast-forward to now, May 2018 – I have remained committed to exercise, although the means in which I exercise have vastly changed. I now focus on resistance training at least three times per week, and do my best to do 1-2 session of cardio per week. I have realised over the last few years, that personally, I experience a lot of fatigue after running or riding, but not when I lift weights. The small amount of cardio is for my general health, but the resistance training is definitely something that makes me feel really happy, confident, and it is easily measurable in terms of progress.
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