Updated: Jun 4, 2020
It was when I felt a bead of sweat journey down my forehead to my chin and onto my shirt, heart pounding out of my chest, legs flooding with lactic acid and seconds from giving out that I realized how powerful the mind is and the immeasurable potential we possess if only we have the willpower to keep pushing. (Are you inspired yet?!) Apparently spin class does more than make you drown in your own perspiration after 50 minutes of what very well might be hell on Earth: it also reveals the role of the mind during any task that seems difficult or even impossible to accomplish. I decided in that moment, when my body was screaming to stop but I told it to keep going, that our minds give out long before our bodies do. I’ve heard this said before, but spin class made me understand it on an all-too real level. And I think this can translate into pretty much every aspect of life.
First off, let me make a disclaimer that spin class is not for everyone. I cannot stress this enough. I know this because the first five spin classes I ever attended were a nightmare and I could not for the life of me understand the hype around it. The whole time I was wondering why I paid my own hard-earned money to suffer for what felt like the longest 50 minutes of my life. And then, somewhere between my 5th and 10th class, a miracle happened: I fell in love with it. Don’t ask me how – this baffles me to this day. I suppose there is a fine line between love and hate when it comes to exercise. You see, spin is hard, hard work. It is gruelling, intense, heart-racing, leg-destroying work that leaves you in a bath of your own sweat, but as soon as it’s over you feel like you’ve conquered Everest… sort of. I wouldn’t know what that feels like, nor do I ever intend to find out, but it is the mini equivalent in my life. Sorry to everyone who has ever climbed Everest; I mean no disrespect and I am well aware that summiting the highest peak in the world requires slightly more physical effort and mental dedication than a 50-minute cycling class, but for a non-extreme-hiker like myself, a spin class feels pretty damn close. And once it’s over, you feel like you can do just about anything. Maybe it’s those endorphins flowing furiously through your body or just the feeling of knowing you tackled a super challenging workout, but you can’t help but think that if you mentally and physically got yourself through that, there’s not much you can’t do. Heck, you probably could conquer Everest with the high you’re on after a good spin. (Warning: this short burst of blind post-spin ambition might not be enough to actually get you up Mount Everest, so attempt at your own risk.)
All of this led me to ponder the connection between perseverance in a workout and perseverance in life in general. I decided there must be a correlation. (There are probably already many studies out there about this but for the sake of making me feel special and intelligent we will pretend this is a groundbreaking revelation made by yours truly.) The thing about working out is that it’s more of a mental game than a physical one, so if we are able to push our minds to the limit in a workout, shouldn’t we be able to do the same with our non-fitness-related goals? I think yes, and I also think working out consistently helps us maintain this motivation in other facets of our lives. It’s true that starting a day with a good sweat, a refreshing shower, and a healthy breakfast will instantly make the rest of your to-do list feel achievable; you’ve already accomplished a difficult task that required a heck of a lot of energy and motivation, so you can use that to fuel you throughout the rest of your day. Even if working out in the morning doesn’t work for your schedule – it sure doesn’t for mine right now – getting in a few good sweat sessions at any time of day is just as beneficial. No matter the hour, a little movement to get your blood pumping is guaranteed to make you feel better and improve your mood. And that’s just science, my friends. Those good ol’ endorphins, remember? I’m no science expert but I know a thing or two about health and hormones and whatnot… You should definitely listen to my health advice!
Now, most times, it’s the convincing yourself to get up and do the workout that’s the hardest part. But once you’ve shown up to your class, gotten your butt in the gym, or turned on your at-home workout video, half the struggle is already over. Then it’s just up to you to continuously make the decision to keep going, even when your body is screaming that it can’t go any longer. Because guess what? It can! (OK please don’t take that so literally that you send yourself into cardiac arrest and drop dead mid-workout. Listening to your body is very important, but I’m just saying that while the last 3 reps may be the hardest, they’re also where the most change happens, and you definitely can get through them if you don’t give in to the voice in your head that just wants to sit on the couch and eat donuts.)
Once we are able to master our minds in something as minor as a workout, we can learn to be disciplined in countless other aspects of our lives. Like studying or writing an essay, for my fellow students out there. Procrastination and laziness get the best of everyone at some point or another, but the successful people are the ones who know it’s merely a matter of the mind; you just have to start typing and decide for yourself that you will not stop until you’ve completed whatever you told yourself you would accomplish that day. Of course this applies to work too, but we all know I don’t have a very difficult or demanding job at the moment, so I can’t relate or even begin to understand what that might look like. I can assume, however, that there are deadlines to meet and projects to complete and meetings to prepare for, all of which can be performed efficiently with the same work ethic and dedicated mindset required to knock out a good workout.
The cool thing about all of this is that it can also go the other way too, for those who are dedicated workers and students but struggle to stick to a workout routine or to push themselves in the gym. Just as you are able to mentally commit to sitting at your desk until you’ve finished an assignment or perfectly polished a presentation, you are capable of grinding through a tough workout. No matter which side you lean towards, it all starts and ends with the mind. It’s no easy feat to train yourself to keep going when every other part of your body wants to give up, but once you push that boundary the opportunities are endless! Or as everyone’s favourite protagonist Cady Heron would say: the limit does not exist! If you don’t get that reference, you can’t sit with us! If you don’t get that one either, I’m so sorry that you hate yourself and I hope you can find joy again by watching one of the most quotable movies of all time aka Tina Fey's masterpiece that is Mean Girls.
So, there you have it! Get out there and try some form of exercise that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Or don’t. I don’t really care. I’m by no means saying everyone needs to kill themselves in a spin class or attempt a high intensity circuit training session, because going on walks and bike rides and practicing yoga are all amazing ways to get your body moving. But if you’ve been trying to commit to a workout routine or achieve a fitness goal and you just can’t seem to find the motivation, remind yourself of all the times you’ve pushed your mental limits and know that you can apply that same discipline physically if you just learn to ignore the voice in your head saying you can’t. Tell it you can sit on the couch and eat donuts some other time, but that right now you have five more push ups to go and you WILL NOT QUIT!
Happy fitness-ing, my friends! Don’t forget that exercise is the spice of life (along with many other things – feel free to ask my dad for a full list)!