10 Lessons From 10 Years of Exercise – What I Wish I Knew Then
I’ve been going to the gym every week for ten years now, and there’s a lot I wish I would’ve known back then.
Originally, I started working out because I hated how I looked (a pretty typical story).
Eventually, it became something that was inseparable from my day, where I felt like absolute crap if I didn’t exercise.
And now, in retrospect, I realized there’s lots I would do differently.
Here are those lessons I wish I had known, where I could’ve achieved in three years what took me ten.
10 Lessons From 10 Years of Regular Exercising – What I Wish I Knew Then
1. Every Goal You Want is on the Other Side of a Couple Thousand Repetitions – Just Start
The biggest mantra I have in my life now is this: I can get anything I want, if I show up every day (even in a tiny way), and am patient.
Here’s what I’m talking about, visualized:
When I talk to people and hear things that hint, “It’s just not the right time,” I share with people the fact that this philosophy is entirely flawed.
Let’s say getting your “dream body” requires a few thousand repetitions of a few key habits – eating home cooked meals, drinking smoothies, and going to the gym – for example.
And let’s say that means you need to eat roughly 5,000 home-cooked meals, drink 1,000 smoothies, and go to the gym for 500 days before you get to where you want to be.
And you have to get all the way down to habit # 5,000, so the 5,000th time you’ve done it. Doesn’t it make sense then that the sooner you start with the first repetition, the sooner you’ll get to habit repetition #1,000?
Well, that’s how it works. The sooner you start with #1, the sooner you arrive at #5,000.
2. Have Your Own Vision (For Your Body & Life) and Ignore Everybody Else
For example, I just really wanted to be bigger, but I didn’t want to look like one of those 220 pound bodybuilders, since that made no sense to me.
I wanted to be able to still be flexible, fast, strong, light, more like an olympian’s body than a strongman. I didn’t want to have to get stuck eating every few hours just to keep my size up.
And the biggest thing was that I wanted to just be fit, I couldn’t have cared less about being able to bench press 400 pounds to impress my buddies.
So if you’re a woman, maybe you just want to lose twenty pounds and get a bit “tighter” looking, and you don’t necesarilly want to look like a fitness model with muscles.
My point is the same: when I started working out, all these guys were trying to persuade me to turn into this meat head that weighed 220 pounds, walked like he had a banana in his butt, and had to eat eight times a day.
But that wasn’t wanted I wanted, and still isn’t what I want.
The danger is if you lose sight of your own vision, and fall into someone else’s plan, that’s when it becomes the direct path to unhappiness.
You have to work tirelessly to protect and preserve your own vision.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when the world is trying to get you to go in a million different directions.
3. It’s Not About Working Hard, It’s About Being Consistent
Like everyone else in the gym, at the start, I just found myself working hard and pushing non stop to see results, but the problem was that you can’t necessarily speed up your muscle growth or your fitness by training 2x as hard – it’s partially a patience game.
And it was funny, most of the people I see now in the gym working out the most hours, have the most mediocre results.
I recently did a series of free calls with people, and I was surprised to find that several of them were spending up to 2 hours a day in the gym, and weren’t getting good results.
Well, if two hours a day is twice as much as one hour a day, they should be getting twice the results right?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. It’s more about getting 1% better, slightly increasing the difficulty and intensity, and pushing yourself (over months and years, honestly) to get better.
4. Pick Your Vital Few Habits, and Just Do Them
Another important thing I realized here is that all of the following have the same success principles:
Losing weight & getting fitter
Improving your marriage
Becoming a happier person
Becoming more spiritual
Having more financial success
And here’s the underlying principle: the vital few habits.
Losing weight, getting fitter, or really being successful at most things is not complicated, at all.
Its about understand that almost anything comes down to a few vital habits, the trick is to figure out what those habits are, and then make sure you actually are tracking them on a daily basis.
When I realized that for me, how I physically looked came down to a few habits, all I did was track those habits and forget about what weight the scale said, or how I looked. I knew that if I persisted long enough, I’d get there.
I ended up coming up with three habits:
Habit #1: Workout 4-5 days a week, 45 minutes with weights
Habit #2: Track my daily food (I needed to have slightly more calories + more protein for my goals)
Habit #3: Patience
Then, I just tracked those. On the years where I tracked them religiously, daily, I saw the best improvements and results.
They would say things like “you’re such a gym rat now” or “live a little, just have a slice of cake.”
But the reverse is also true, when you’re not doing well and you’re looking to get fitter, everyone still has advice on losing weight and getting fitter.
And the reality is that most of the advice flat out sucks.
When it comes to health especially, since we’ve all dealt with health issues, everyone has an opinion, which ranges from going on a grapefruit diet to just starving yourself.
So here’s how I evaluate whether or not I should really listen to someone’s advice:
1. Have they lived it?
2. Have they helped other people through it (like a doctor who has never had an illness but has helped cure patients)?
6. Do It The Healthy Way – Seriously
Listen, there’s no shortage of weird or harmful diet fads that we want to try in the pursuit of getting faster results.
Believe me, I get it – I get it 100%.
Don’t you think I would’ve rather gotten the physical results I’ve gotten over three years instead of ten?
Obviously, yeah. And there are plenty of young guys that pack down McDonald’s and sugar in the quest for gaining weight, only to destroy their health (or die) in their 40s, 50s and 60s from heart disease.
Here’s a little truth: shortcuts will always exist, and most of them won’t be healthy.
That’s just the name of the game. And the amount of success stories I’ve heard versus “I lost weight and gained it back” stories is 1:10 – more people pick shortcuts, see a little progress, then regain it.
In the long-term, not only does this potentially mean a messed up metabolism (including changed hormones from crash dieting), but it also means a messed up mindset, since we yet again ingrain the idea that “we always fail.”
7. The Smaller & Easier The Habit + Less Friction = Better
Another realization I recently had was simple: I’ve been doing this for ten years, ten years! That’s a long time to be going after one goal, and I don’t think I’ve ever pursued another goal in my entire life for that long.
One thing I pieced together was that if this took tons of mental energy, the chances that I would actually stick with it were pretty slim. In other words, the less energy the habits took, the easier they were for me to actually do them.
Think about the difference here, mentally:
– I’m going to workout 2 hours today
– I’m going to workout 20 minutes today
One feels like it takes a lot of mental energy, right? It feels a bit mentally exhausting.
The other one just sounds easy. Way easier.
The easier you make your habits, the greater the chance you’ll actually stick through long enough to see yourself reach the goal you want.
For me, I do that in two ways:
Make the habit smaller. For example, if I procrastinate on a one hour workout for more than three days, I turn that into a 20 minute workout.
Make it more enjoyable (easier). I hate running, so I don’t do it. I like lifting weights, so I do it. As a result, each of those requires a lot less mental energy to get started.
8. Do It For Yourself, Not Somebody Else
Let’s say you’ve gone through a recent breakup, divorce, or major life change. And now you’re ready to get fit again to look good for the ladies or the guys you’re going out to see. It’s totally understandable and natural.
So you get fit in order to look good again, to attract a partner, or to prove to your old ex boyfriend or girlfriend or whoever that you’re all sexy now.
But what happens once they’re out of the picture?
What happens once you get into a relationship and you’re happy?
And what happens when everything is going well again?
If you’re doing this to prove it to someone else, or show others how good you are, your source of motivation is gone once they are.
But if you do it for yourself, and you do things you enjoy, you’ll have a nuclear reactor of motivation inside you every day.
9. Do What You Enjoy, And Don’t Just Focus on The Outcome (Otherwise You Won’t Get There)
The reason why this principle is so powerful is simple: look at the calendar above.
That’s a really busy schedule – but more importantly, each one of those tasks there (work, family, reading, with my girlfriend) is comprised of many small habits.
And the reality is that there technically are goals for each of those – get to a certain weight and flexibility, have a certain amount of financial success, have an amazing relationship, have a strong family relationship, be happy, etc.
And imagine showing up to do this hour after hour, day after day, week after week, if you hated doing the exact habits that were going to get you to where you wanted to be?
First, we probably wouldn’t reach our goals.
Second, if we did, the entire process would suck.
What’s the point?
If you’re a lot less likely to reach the goal, and the entire process is awful anyway, what’s the point? That’s the power of choosing tiny daily habits that you enjoy.
10. The Most Painful, Truthful Advice: Be Patient.
There’s another thing here: be patient.
It took me ten years to get from here:
Alex at age 18. Close to 120 pounds, freshman year college.
Alex at age 27. Close to 170 pounds, on vacation in Thailand.
Why so long? Half of those years, I didn’t know what I was doing. And then the other half of them, I wasn’t consistent because it took a lot of focus, discipline and good habits to track my food daily and make the right choices.
But when I did, I saw results.
In other words, only 3/10 of those years were the ones where I actually saw the growth and progress, and it was the years where I was the most consistent on a daily level with my habits.
Bonus: What Most People Won’t Tell You
Here’s another truth: most of those physical improvements happened in just 3 years. Three out of those ten years.
It’s simple – like everyone else, I had no idea what I was doing for half of those years. And for the other half of those years, I knew what I was doing, but had a hard time staying consistent while trying to juggle life, work, happiness, and my relationships.
That’s realistically how it goes for just about anyone.
Your Tiny Habit For Today
So – ten revelations from a decade of exercise, which hopefully aren’t things that you’ve thought about before on a daily basis.
Or, maybe these ideas have helped you confirm some suspicion that there may be a better way to get to your goals.