Going to the gym is hard for me. Not only is it intimidating to try new things and get sweaty in public, but working out and using equipment in front of others is absolutely terrifying. What if I embarrass myself? What if people make fun of me? What if I get judged? All of these questions are irrational, but that hasn’t stopped them from preventing me from going to the gym.
Especially the gym at Emmanuel’s Jean Yawkey Center. With a massive window putting gym-goers on display to the entire quad, my anxious thoughts about being humiliated are made exponentially worse. I’ve been able to force myself to go to the St. Joe’s gym when sports practices aren’t being held and work up the courage to try out the newer area in St. Julie Hall (New Res), but I was never able to bring myself to stand in front of those windows.
That is, until last week.
It was terrifying at first, I admit, especially as someone who overthinks everything, but when it came time for me to leave, I had totally found my groove. Here are some of the strategies I used to get myself to go and stay in the JYC gym, and I hope they can work for you too!
- Bring a friend- even if you’re not work out buddies.
One of the hardest parts about motivating yourself to go to any gym is the actual getting there. Even on a tiny campus like Emmanuel where the longest part of my commute is waiting for the St. Julie elevator, actually getting dressed, filling a water bottle, and exiting my dorm feels impossible when my destination is the gym.
The problem is, I don’t like working out with other people: I get distracted and more self conscious than necessary. So I figured out a solution: I would go with my friend to the gym, but we would part ways and ignore each other once we got there. That way, we would motivate each other to get ready and out the door, but we wouldn’t have to deal with social interaction later on.
Having someone to go to the JYC gym with helped me push past the initial fear of going, and knowing there was somebody I trusted and felt safe with in the room relieved some of my less rational anxiety.
- Know what you’re doing
Part of what stressed me out initially before going to the JYC gym was not knowing how to get in and how to use the newer equipment (namely the fancy-looking treadmills with way more buttons than my ancient machine at home). I was worried about making a fool of myself in front of my peers.
But here’s the thing: nobody will ever think less of you for asking questions! People love to feel helpful, and desk workers would much rather you ask a question than make a wrong assumption.
So, I just asked the JYC desk worker for help, and they let me know how to swipe in at the desk (FYI, you don’t need to swipe out, they just want to know who was in there at all). I asked my friend who came with me how to use the treadmill buttons; it was simpler than I thought, but again, asking for help and finding out the answer was way preferable to falling on my butt by accident.
- Have a plan
Nothing feels more stressful than entering the gym and having no idea what you want to do because you’re overwhelmed by the options. The JYC gym has a lot of equipment, so it’s easy to get decision paralysis!
I find it helpful to go in with a plan of what I want to focus on, what machines I want to use, and how long I’m going to use things so I don’t feel awkward wondering if I’ve been using something for too long. Plus, knowing what you’re going to do can help you feel more confident in what you’re doing.
- Start small
The main way I was able to actually be productive while feeling anxious the first time I made myself go to the JYC gym was to set a small, gentle goal for myself that I could meet.
My intent wasn’t necessarily to have the best workout of my life or try out every piece of equipment, but to get myself in there at all. I’m working on exercising self compassion as much as my body this year, and since I knew that being in front of the window for a more active workout would make me even more anxious, I set a goal of just walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes.
I was right for that; even though it got easier the longer I was there, I was definitely a little frazzled from just being there. But by not forcing myself to do something that made me unnecessarily uncomfortable, I had a positive experience that was still outside of my comfort zone.
It’s okay to not jump immediately to the hardest thing to do; even pushing your boundaries a little and being just uncomfortable enough to learn and grow is effective, and it will make you more likely to return in the future. I’m able to go back there now because I don’t have a negative association of feeling overly anxious and out of control.
- Self Compassion
One of the biggest things keeping me from the JYC gym was my fears of being looked at, and that derived from some self esteem issues in the past. It’s important to not see yourself as someone who others are going to judge; you wouldn’t tell a friend you care about that everyone at the gym is going to laugh at them and think they’re doing things wrong, because it’s not nice, not realistic, and doesn’t create a foundation for success.
You deserve the same support from yourself that your friends receive. You also wouldn’t be mean to a friend who felt anxious about going to the gym, even if you were firm in supporting their goals; don’t judge yourself for your anxiety. I used to think it was silly to be nervous, but when I realized I would validate a friend’s feelings of anxiety, I was kinder to myself, and it made it easier to work through my emotions and reach my goals.
Overall, going to the gym, especially the Display Window gym in Emmanuel’s Jean Yawkey Center, can be intimidating. But I was able to get over my fear by getting support from my friends, knowing what I was doing and asking questions, going in with a plan, starting small, and being self compassionate.