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Before you sign that new gym contract

02 January 2013, 11:52
Inevitably, the new year brings some sober (hungover?) reflections on how we could be better people. With a new year, comes new resolve. Before you get too carried away, though, let me tell you:
You definitely won't use that gym contract as much as you think you will.

One of the most popular targets of our quests for self-improvement is fitness. We want to be stronger; we want to be thinner. What better way to reach these goals than to join a nice, shiny 'health club' (it has a better ring to it than 'gym', admittedly) to get you going. Besides, you've always wanted to be one of those who walks into work with a cold Kauai smoothie.

Don't sign that contract (yet).

The problem is that we, as a species, are notoriously terrible at knowing ourselves and the future. We're bad at knowing what will make us happy (lotto winners and those involved in crippling car accidents show equal levels of happiness as little as a year after their respective mis/fortunes!) and we're bad at knowing what will truly motivate us (and what's really holding us back at the moment). "If only I belonged to a gym, I could get fit and lose weight!" - the problem with this sentiment is that it employs a neat trick we're all very good at: scapegoating. Here, the reason for us not doing something is pinned on a handy external factor--us not having access to the relevant tools. Take a quick mental look around your life, you should be able to find plenty of other examples. (Use the starter "if only.." and see what great sentences result).

Before you sign that gym contract...

The problem is: the reason often given in these sorts of sentences isn't what's really holding us back. Research shows that people, when asked before signing up for a gym, severely over-estimate the number of times that they eventually end up using the facility. Even with the supposed hindering factor gone, nothing changes. It's a bit of a cliché, but motivation does come from inside.

Here's what to do if you think joining a gym is a good idea. Firstly, decide on the time and days that you'd be training, whether it be before or after work, or even during a lunch break. Now, at those precise times (before you have a gym membership), go work out.

Admittedly, for many people, the desire to join a gym arises precisely because it is impractical to exercise without one--few of us have access to a safe, suburban area for a jog in the morning, for example. However, it's nearly always possible to do some form of exercise in or around your home or work. You could do calisthenics (push-ups, sit-ups, etc.), or jog on the spot. It might even be worthwhile to invest in some budget equipment (skipping rope, pull-up bar) that can be useful even after joining a gym. What matters most here is that you do a considerable amount of exercise (break a sweat!) during your designated 'gym time'.

Now, keep this up for at least three weeks. Lapses and bad days always occur, but try stay on track and be on the lookout for common excuses (lack of time or energy). If and only if you manage to maintain this schedule, should you consider getting that membership--because the excuses and missed days that occur during this trial period will certainly occur during your paid-for months at the gym. After this trial, you may even discover that you're able to work out adequately without the membership!  Whatever the outcome, remember that the bigger part of your resolution should be: know thyself. 

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