Shaking Off “Gymtimidation”

If you’re making a new commitment to exercise, you’ll probably be active around other people, and that can cause anxiety. You may worry because you have a large weight-loss goal, get winded easily, or you can’t lift much weight. You may even have been the target of mean-spirited comments from others.

Unfortunately, the world has a generous helping of jerks in it. You still have to look out for yourself, and that may mean getting a little uncomfortable. Here are some suggestions to ease the way:

  • Wear earphones while you exercise: Well, not if you’re riding a bike outside, but then you’ll be sailing past any haters, anyway. Especially in the gym, though, earphones — plus favorite music, a great (or just plain fun) audiobook, or some podcasts from a favorite show — can help you tune out the world and focus on your workout. Music has even been shown to enhance performance.
  • Map out a plan before you hit the gym: Know exactly what you’re doing before you get to the gym. It could be as simple as a list of exercises you want to do, or as complicated as the order and other details about them. Bonus: you have a checklist to help you see what you’re accomplishing while you’re there. (And keeping a log of your activities, even if it’s just dated lists in a manila folder, can help you stick with your plan and improve it, too. Here are some ideas for things you can keep track of.)
  • It’s really true: the people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter. Sometimes the gym seems like an obstacle course of people who are better at everything and eyeing you critically. Appearances can be deceiving. The most capable, consistent, and knowledgeable gym-goers are almost always friendly, enthusiastic, and interested in helping others share their enjoyment of exercise. In other words, the best people help build others up — they don’t tear others down.

Exactly how fast you move or how much you lift doesn’t mean much outside of formal competition. For almost all of us, the most important part is whether we can do more — or feel better — than we did yesterday, or last week or last year. No human will ever beat a cheetah in a sprint, but that’s OK, because our job is being good humans. (And when the distances get longer, the tables turn!) This is one reason it helps to find activities you enjoy. Enjoying your exercise makes it easier to focus on what’s really important: how you are getting better over time.

This is clearly an image from an ad campaign (others in this style include a swimmer racing a dolphin and a soccer player facing off against a spider goal-tender), but I don’t know the source — please let me know if you recognize it!

Do you have some favorite tips and tricks for keeping your focus?


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