How to Scare Yourself Into Being Stronger, Healthier, and Happier
Getting outside my fitness comfort zone has legit changed my life.
I am a creature of habit. Of comfort. Of playing it kinda safe. I love my routines and lists. My leggings and tea. I've worked for the same company and been with the same guy for 12 years. I've been in the same apartment for 10. My grown-ass-woman heels live under my desk at work because I can't be bothered to wear them out on the weekend (I'll never quit you, athleisure!) and perhaps the greatest indulgence of my adult life is the pair of cashmere sweatpants I got last Christmas. (Life. Changing.) Let's not even start with the fact that I have a heating pad in my living room, bedroom, *and* office.
Two years ago I was also, inexplicably, the digital director at Shape and Fitness who wasn't comfortable leaving her living room and her good old Jillian Michaels HIIT DVDs. I told myself I didn't like running ("I'm just not a runner!"). Hated yoga ("I'm just not flexible!"). And that the wealth of first-rate fitness classes in New York-to which I often had FREE access because it's literally part of my job-wasn't for me ("I'm just too busy, and not into that scene.")
So much mental energy spent labeling all the things I wasn't. So many excuses. But honestly? I was just scared. Scared that when I showed up to workouts as a representative of Shape emphatically not looking like Jillian (realtalk: I've been struggling with the same 10-okay, sometimes 15-extra pounds for years), people would judge me. Scared that I'd look like an idiot when I didn't know exactly what to do my first time in [fill in the blank] class. And scared to get out of my comfortable living room routine where the only ones watching were the neighbor's cat and the construction workers next door.
First the Running
My first itty bitty baby step outside of the living room was running. Two and a half years ago, I hadn't run more than a mile or two in over a decade. Maybe longer. Who knows?! But on the weekend of the Shape Women's Half Marathon, feeling inspired by the 10,000 women coming together to run our race, I did something very out of character: I laced up my shoes, I walked outside, and I ran. Not far, and definitely not cute, but I did it. "Who cares what these random people on the street think about my tomato face-I'll never see them again," I thought. And I surprised the hell out of myself by actually liking it. So I kept running, a little farther and a little faster each month. A year later I ran my first race, the Brooklyn Half Marathon. To celebrate, I added "runner" to my Instagram bio. Silly, sure, but claiming that label publicly was a huge step. (What a time to be alive, amiright!?)
And despite knowing intellectually-and preaching all day long at Shape!-that getting outside your comfort zone and celebrating what your body can do has tons of health benefits, I was finally starting to really believe it.
Then the Yoga
A few months later, I started flirting with the idea of yoga. I ~knew~ that I'd probably love it. That I'd love the focusing and meditative aspects, the deep stretching of muscles tight from running and HIIT, even the woo-woo chanting and chakra business that's sometimes involved. Check, check, check. But I was deeply intimidated by the idea I had in my head (and, frankly, fueled by Instagram) about what a yogi was. I'm also not kidding when I say I'm not flexible: Even when I was dancing almost daily as a kid I still could barely do splits. Nothing about the YouTube yoga I'd tried in my living room was comfortable, not even Savasana. But after much dithering and dragging of feet, a colleague took it upon herself to shepherd me to my very first real yoga class at Lyons Den in Tribeca, a Baptiste-affiliated studio.
My friends thought I was crazy to start right off with hot power yoga. As I sat awkwardly waiting for class to start, where everyone around me seemed to know exactly what to do and also somehow seemed totally unfazed by the fact that it was 90 degrees and humid AF, I thought maybe I was crazy too. What could be less comfortable than forcing yourself to sweat and bend in ways that you couldn't even bend when you were 11, to do a sequence of poses you don't really know how to do, surrounded by people in cute, strappy Lulu who seemingly do all of the above with ease?
But you already know what happens next, right? I loved it. (Loved. It.) I have trouble expressing how much I still love it, but you better believe I added "yogi" to that IG profile. In a little less than a year I've been to more than 100 classes. Do I still struggle? Sure. But the community there comes in all shapes and sizes, and there are no mirrors so you have to actually, truly listen to your breathing and your body-and occasionally hip-hop if it's a beats class.
Do All the Things
Conquering my fear of yoga gave me the confidence to set an ambitious goal as part of our #MyPersonalBest campaign that kicked off this January: Get outside your comfort zone and try a new fitness class every week in January, and at least twice a month the rest of the year. So I joined ClassPass and started racking up classes: Barry's, ballet, FlyWheel, barre, CrossFit-all the things we talk about all day long here at Shape but which I had never been brave enough to try outside the house. I roped friends into my project, meeting for a Spin class instead of drinks. I started actually going to our #ShapeSquad workouts with the rest of our staff instead of begging off. (That one I'm particularly proud of.) You mean I have to try a new workout publicly ON FACEBOOK LIVE? Gulp. Okay.
By summer, I'd gotten pretty comfortable with this trying-new-workouts thing. It no longer felt so scary, and I also found I just didn't care that I might look dumb at first (or forever, if you're me in an aqua spin class). And one might think this would be rather enough personal growth for the year. But no! When Nike reached out to me to see if anyone on our staff was interested in running Hood to Coast, a 199-mile relay race from the top of Mount Hood through Portland to Seaside, Oregon, my first thought was not "Who can I pawn this off on?" It was something that would have been completely and utterly unthinkable to the Amanda of just a year before. I thought, "Hmm. This seems super scary and uncomfortable. I should do it." Without much more thought than that, I signed myself up to train with two top-notch Nike coaches and 11 other strangers for seven weeks, to live with them in two vans for almost two days during the race, to run three legs and more than 15 miles in just under 28 hours, on (generously) two hours of sleep in a freezing cold field.
What Have I Done?!
It wasn't so much the physical part that scared me. Apparently, I enjoy putting myself in kinda-sorta-extreme workout situations, and I knew if I trained I'd probably be okay. No. It was the training with other people and the documenting of the entire thing that were scary. Because despite finally liking running, I hadn't been doing much of it lately, and even when I was running more regularly it was a strictly solo pursuit for me. Having to get back up to speed by running every week with this crew of faster, stronger, fitter humans brought up insecurities I thought were (mostly) vanquished. Getting followed around by photographers and videographers so that I had to see myself sweaty and struggling, my booty jiggling and my running bitch face fierce? Well. That brought up a whole bunch more. TBH, admitting all of this to the internet? Also not comfortable. Really, really not comfortable.
But you guys. THIS. This is exactly where the magic happens. Because I found that showing up every week to train with the crew despite my discomfort pushed me harder than I would ever go on my own. It pushed us all harder. I think every member of our 12-person team ran a PR during the race. I ran the fastest 7-mile stretch of my life. And looking at those photos and videos, I see the struggle and the jiggle, yes, but I'm also so damned proud of that girl who wouldn't even leave her living room to go to yoga the year before.
Before the race, I was skeptical of people who said that running Hood to Coast was life-changing. ("Come on, it's just a race," I thought.) But you know what? It was life-changing. It wasn't just that training with coaches Jes Woods and Joe Holder improved my form and pushed me to do all the running stuff I had avoided (hi, hills and speedwork!). It wasn't just that our #BeastCoastCrew ended up being a supportive, funny, badass fam that I'm looking forward to running with on the regular. It wasn't even that the experience of the race was so powerful-the elation and exhaustion, the laughter and tears, the cheering and singing and hurting and freezing and oh yeah, the running. It was the realization that this get-outside-your-comfort-zone thing really, really works. Just like training to lift heavier or run longer, doing stuff that scares you makes you stronger. And when you realize that deep down in your gut, it makes you brave. It makes you confident. It makes you feel like a freaking superhero.
To be sure, plenty of things are still scary. I still hear that voice saying, "Wouldn't your living room and those ridiculous cashmere sweats be so much better right now!?" (No doubt.) But now I know. I know this year has changed the way I think about myself and what I'm capable of. I know that making yourself uncomfortable on purpose and pushing through anyhow suddenly makes life's true challenges feel less insurmountable. I know that I no longer assume I can't, just because I haven't. And maybe this whole epic personal revelation is something everyone else already knows. In which case, hi, I'm finally here for the party! But just in case it isn't, I'm making myself even more uncomfortable and sharing it.
It turns out that you can actually scare yourself into being a stronger, better, faster, braver human. I highly recommend it.