This upcoming Sunday is my birthday, and somehow I’ll be turning 27 years old.
Seriously, where does the time go?
And while in all honesty I feel no more than about 15 most of the time, I have to admit that I’ve learned a lot so far on this journey I’ve had.
I’ve grown as a person in so many ways, and pushed myself past countless mental and physical challenges.
I used to eat mac & cheese, sugar cereal, and candy on a near daily basis. Now I can’t go a day without mounds of fresh veggies without feeling like crap.
And the most important thing I’ve learned is that I’ve learned that health and fitness is a lifestyle—and once you embrace it, you never go back.
I still have a long way to go and a lot of growing to do. But here are 27 lessons I’ve learned about life and fitness in the last 27 years—lessons I wished I’d known earlier, and ones that I hope might help you on your own life’s journey:
1. The only person stopping you from getting in shape is you. Screw genetics, busy schedules, and lack of athletic abilities. You may believe you’re too far gone to ever be fit, healthy and athletic, but you’re wrong.
Change your mindset, start believing in yourself, and you’ll get in better shape than you ever thought possible.
2. There’s no better feeling than feeling strong. I was the weak girl for way too long—and I refuse to ever go back to feeling that way. Not only does physical strength lead to more kick-ass workouts, it can affect you in so many other ways, making you feel more independent and confident in all areas of your life.
When you get physically stronger and accomplish something you never thought you could do in a million years, it’s at that point when you realize you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to.
3. There is no such thing as perfection. Seriously. Even the most perfect seeming person has flaws. Flaws are what makes us unique and interesting as people. Flaws are what gives us personality, what makes you different from the person sitting next to you. In fact, stop thinking of them as flaws at all—love yourself and everything about who you are. Plus, confidence is more attractive then perfection anyway—be confident, love yourself, and the world will love you back.
4. Always strive to live up to your potential. Reach for the stars, and never stop challenging yourself, whether in fitness, business, or life. If you always keep pushing, you’ll be amazed at how far you end up going.
5. If you hate it, you’re not going to keep doing it. Find something you actually enjoy. I’m the perfect example of this, since for years I thought running was the only form of exercise (um, yeah, I was wrong). But I hated it! I would dread my runs for days, and work out less because of how much I hated them.
Yet when I found things I actually enjoyed—HIIT, boxing, gymnastics, outdoor activities and more—my entire view on exercise changed. It suddenly became fun. Not that it still isn’t challenging and (incredibly) painful at times, but overall, I look forward to exercise, rather than dread it like I used to.
And if you hate your current treadmill workouts, group classes or whatever type of exercise you do, it’s time you took the same approach. Try different things. Find something you like (or at least don’t hate). Fitness should be fun, not complete torture.
6. Strive for balance in all areas of your life. I strongly believe that balance is the key to long-term happiness, although I’ll admit I haven’t quite figured out how to stay balanced 100% of the time—but I’m constantly working on it.
Be it work, play, fitness, health, indulgences—it’s all about finding a balance that keeps you healthy, happy, and driven. Skimp out on one thing and you’ll likely pay for it in some way or another later.
7. Once you create an exercise habit, it’s nearly impossible to go back. I used to think I was one of those people that hated exercise—and would hate it forever. Wow, did that change. Once I found something I actually enjoyed doing, then started incorporating it into my daily life, it became such a part of who I was that there’s absolutely no way I could go back to being inactive and unhealthy ever again.
It may take a while, and you may have some ups and downs, but once you create an exercise habit, or any other habit you value above all else, it’s there for life.
8. Age is a mindset. I know, I know, I’m only 27, who am I to talk about age? But I see it all around me in those that I admire— the 80-year-old who goes skydiving for his 80th birthday, my 64-year-old father who is always learning new things, challenging himself, and staying playful.
If you stay active, keep learning and have a sense of humor about life, I truly believe you can stay youthful even into old age.
10. Life isn’t all about the number on the scale, or your body fat percentage, or your waist size. You need to have fun. That means trying new things, constantly seeking out adventure and new experiences, and yes, indulging once in a while.
Because really, on your deathbed, are you going to obsess about whether you could have managed to lower your body fat percentage by a few points, or are you going to think about all the fun you had in life? I’d hope the latter.
11. Fail. Often. Most people avoid failure as much as possible, but what most people don’t understand is that anyone who has been successful—any athlete, or entrepreneur, or author, or small business owner—has failed in some way or another. In fact, they’ve probably failed a lot.
But that’s the great thing about failure: it usually leads to success. That is, if you don’t give up.
So try new things as often as possible. Follow your dreams. Fail. Then learn from your mistakes and move on.
11. Travel whenever and wherever you can. Traveling opens up your eyes to the world. It lets you experience new things, new people, new tastes, new sights. When you travel, you will be changed forever.
12. Never stop trying to change the world. Most of dreamt of changing the world when we were younger—then grew up to feel jaded and helpless about what our impact could really be.
But the truth is, we all can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how small, how few people you effect, you can do something great and have a positive impact on others’ lives. It may be only a small slice—but you can still change the world in a small (or big!) way if you finally give yourself permission and really put your mind to it.
13. Never, ever stop learning. There was actually a point in my life (after high school, go figure) that I actually believed I never wanted to learn anything new ever again. But what I soon realized is that I just didn’t want to learn stuff other people (a.k.a. my high school teachers) wanted me to learn. I wanted to learn what I was interested in.
And I’ve been learning nonstop ever since. I’ve learned about fitness, and nutrition, and business, and writing (funny enough, despite always getting A’s in English I had to completely reteach myself to write after college), and a million other things. I’ve learned how to do burpees, how run a business and how to get around in a foreign city with no iPhone, no internet connection and no language speaking ability whatsoever.
In fact, I’ve learned more useful stuff post-college than I learned in both high school and college combined. It’s opened up so many doors for me and given me so much hope for the future. Because now I know that I can do anything, as long as I commit to learning it. And so can you.
14. Do something active every day. While getting in a workout 3-5 times a week is great, it’s the stuff outside of your planned workouts that really makes a difference. Whether it’s walking to the store instead of driving, going for a lunchtime stroll instead of sitting with your colleagues, or choosing to go for a hike on your rest day rather than sitting around and watching TV all day, it all adds up. Aim to do something active every day, no matter what.
15. Eat healthy. You’ll feel better. Yeah, yeah, that basket of french fries may look good, but how does it make you feel afterwards? That’s what I thought: crappy.
On the other hand, if you load your body up with fresh veggies, good proteins and unprocessed foods, you’re likely to feel more energized, have better digestion, better skin, less bloating, etc. Try it, and before you know it you’ll start craving that feeling of feeling good so much you won’t want to go back to eating crap.
16. It’s not all about looks. While it’s certainly nice to feel more confident about your appearance after pushing yourself in your workouts, there’s so much more to staying healthy than just looking good. Being fit and eating well will help keep you independent and mobile long into old age, and help you avoid really un-fun diseases like diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease and dementia, among others.
Plus, staying fit now means you’ll be able to keep up with your grandchildren later and keep doing all the things you love to do for a long, long time.
17. Learn to motivate yourself. While it’s all well and good to read motivational blogs, watch inspirational movies and call up a friend for a much needed push, in the end, no one can force you to work hard and meet your goals but you. Learning to motivate yourself and kick your own ass is one of the most invaluable skills you can have in this lifetime.
18. Never stop challenging yourself. The only way to keep growing as a person is to constantly challenge yourself. What does this really mean? It means that when you meet your goals, it’s time to make new ones. It means you should keep trying new things, no matter how difficult they are for you. It means you should always be pushing yourself to do something new, to step out of your comfort zone, to keep growing and improving no matter what.
19. Read everything you can get your hands on. Just like your body, your mind needs to be exercised too, and reading is an incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling way to do so. So read great fiction. Read self-help books. Read business books, and biographies, and true stories. Read whatever you’re interested in, and then read some more. You’ll be a more well rounded person because of it.
20. Have a mantra. In fact, have multiple mantras. Mantras are a funny thing that may make you feel ridiculous when you first start saying them, but end up tricking your mind into believing the mantra is true. Create one whenever you need a little extra confidence, and it’ll do wonders for you.
Some of my past mantras have been: “I am a writer,” “I am an athlete,” and “I love myself.” Create your own, and watch as the world responds.
21. Break difficult things down into steps. I’m one of those people who can get extremely overwhelmed at accomplishing something—whether it’s a new exercise I want to be able to do, a product I want to create, or even a vacation I want to plan. If I think about the thing as a whole, I start to get so anxious I begin to shut down and want to give up on the thing altogether.
And the best thing I’ve ever learned on how to get things done is to break the challenge down into steps. Then, you can look at the individual steps, and it no longer seems that overwhelming.
For example, if you want to be able to do a handstand push up, you should start with pike push ups, then go to a modified handstand push up, and eventually to a wall handstand push up (read more about handstand push up progressions here). But if you start with the wall handstand push up and you’re not even strong enough to hold yourself up in a handstand, you’re probably going to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and want to give up. Breaking it up in steps makes the entire process manageable.
22. Believe in yourself. No matter what. You are awesome. You can do anything you put your mind to. In fact, your mind is the only thing truly stopping you from doing anything you want to do. So push through your mental blocks and start believing in yourself. You might just surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
23. Do not try and eat perfectly 100% of the time. It will backfire, trust me! Humans only have so much willpower, and if you try to deny yourself of everything you love, you will end up binging on those very things you were trying so hard to avoid in a moment of willpower weakness (I speak from experience here). Try sticking to a 80/20 diet instead, and you’ll end up healthier and happier because of it.
24. Work out harder, not longer. I learned this one the hard way. I used to work out for hours at a time, just because I thought it was the only way to get in shape. As a result, I was injured all the time, completely fatigued, and had no energy (or time) to do anything else. Shorter workouts keep me in better shape than I ever was before—and give me more time and energy to do all the other things I want to do in life.
25. Play. Often. Play keeps us young. Play lets that childhood desire to change the world and do awesome and adventurous things stick around. Play keeps us active, curious, and full of energy. It’s what helps us keep a sense of humor, helps nurture lifelong relationships, and helps us feeling happy.
So no matter what your age, run, jump, climb, discover, play. You’ll have fun, I promise.
26. Ditch the excuses. Excuses won’t get you anywhere in life. Action is the only thing that gets you there. Stop making excuses, and just do it.
27. Never, ever give up. No matter what you do, keep pushing forward in everything you do. It won’t be easy, but if you stick with it, success will come.