A few years ago, I was determined to lose weight (yet again). I weighed almost 200 pounds and I knew I needed to do something to change it. I hired a personal trainer. I went to the gym almost every night. My gym had what they called a “Cardio Cinema.” It’s basically a mini movie theater, but instead of chairs, they had stationary bicycles, treadmills, and elliptical machines. The lights were dimmed and they projected movies onto the front wall. It was my favorite place to workout. Nobody could see me.
A few times, I tried to get out of my comfort zone and join group classes like step aerobics. I’d get to the class early to pick a spot in the back corner of the room and watch as the ultra fit and toned people filed into the room.
I was terrified.
Terrified of not being able to do the exercises, terrified of not being able to keep up, terrified of people seeing me mess up, and terrified that even if they didn’t say it out loud, they all still viewed me as the class misfit.
My fears were often confirmed. There were times that I couldn’t do the exercises or keep up with the fast pace of the class. There were plenty of times that I messed up and I was mortified whenever I stumbled over my step on a move. I would stop to sip water often and strategically, so people wouldn’t notice that I couldn’t do a pushup or that I was just too exhausted to do another jumping jack. If they offered a modification for an exercise, I immediately followed it on the easiest level. I worked hard, but my eyes were always darting around the room and my thoughts were always jumbled and racing from Did she just see my foot slip off of the step? to How do her feet even move that fast?. I was trying my best just to keep going…and to go completely unnoticed.
It takes a lot of energy trying to be invisible.
And one day, I realized just how much energy I was investing into flying under the radar. I was constantly failing because I was holding myself to the unreachable standard of perfection, not only in my own eyes, but also in everybody else’s. My fears were holding me back. I was living in a fantasy world, trying to guess what everybody around me was thinking and I was missing the reality of the situation.
People don’t care about how well (or terribly) I’m doing the moves. They’re there to get a good workout, not evaluate my performance. I’d bet that almost all of the mistakes I made in those classes weren’t noticed by anyone but me. Even if they did notice, does it really matter? Does the woman next to me really care if I can do a pushup or not?
So, I decided to break the chains of the insecurities holding me back, both in and out of the gym. It wasn’t easy and they still creep up, but it’s now 4 years later and I’m about 50 pounds lighter.
I go to cardio kickboxing classes every week now and I love it. Part of that is because I have an incredible instructor and it’s partly because I just don’t let my thoughts wander back to guessing at how others are perceiving me anymore. I hardly even notice what the people around me are doing, because my eyes are locked on the instructor and if other people are watching me, so be it! It doesn’t change a thing for me. I still prefer the back corner of the room, but that’s mostly because I’m always afraid of kicking someone doing a back kick (sometimes I forget to look first)!
Now, when the instructor offers an exercise modification, I always choose the most challenging option. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I always at least try. Every week, the class has a power session with jump squats and burpees and all sorts of other crazy things. The burpees are done so quickly that I struggle to keep up and I know my form is far from perfect, but every week I do them, I get just a little bit better and that’s something I’m really proud of.
I tried a hip hop class for the first time last night. I was the only person in a room of about 50 people that hadn’t taken the class before…and I didn’t care a bit. I gave it my all. I tried my best to follow the moves, even though I’m quite sure I looked completely ridiculous. When I moved in the wrong direction or spun when I was supposed to step-slide, I just went with it, kept moving, and jumped back into the routine when I could. I bounced around, moved in ways I’ve never moved before, let myself get into the music, sweat a ton, and I had fun.
I used to tell myself that once I lost the weight, I’d be more self-confident. It turns out, I had it backward. It was when I stopped trying so hard to fade into the background and started focusing on simply doing my best, no matter how it looked to others, that I could finally reach my full potential.
It was when I overcame my fears that I was finally able to succeed.