“Just as a lack of physical exercise has negative effects on our bodies and mood, a lack of mental exercise is bad for us because it causes our neurons and neural connections to deteriorate—and, as a result, reduces our ability to react to our surroundings.” — Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
Long before I began lifting weights, I was devoid of self-confidence. Having suffered from clinical anxiety during my teenage years, I didn’t believe in myself or my own abilities. I didn’t even see myself as someone who has potential to do meaningful things. I felt inadequate and alone in my shell and I always looked for outside affirmation to survive the day. I didn’t want to engage with people because the thought of them having negative opinions about me scared me. In school, I was too shy to raise my hand for fear of being seen as inadequate. Overall, I lacked the will to learn. I was stuck in a quagmire. It was a painful chapter of my life that proved to be pivotal looking back.
I didn’t believe in myself, period. Worse, I was defeated within.
I knew I needed to fundamentally change something within me in order for me to begin a new chapter in my life. I needed to muster self-confidence or at least have the will to do things in a radically different way. But what is self-confidence and how do we even begin to have even a grain of it?
William Hazlitt said that “As is our confidence, so is our capacity.” When I began my fitness journey, thanks to the prodding of my teenage buddy, Kevin, I found myself pushed out of my comfort zone and thrust into an unfamiliar arena. I had absolutely no prior knowledge about dumbbells and barbells. I started from scratch. However, this unfamiliar territory, this new activity, this new environment did me well. It shook me out of my self-destructive routine and forced me to build my body and rewire my mind. I became a student of fitness in the body as well as in the mind. And when my body began to develop, when I began noticing the gains and even the littlest progress that I had made, something clicked within me. I realized that if I could change my body, then maybe I could also change my mind and my dreary perception of the world. I began to feel a certain kind of confidence grow within me—the kind of self-confidence that grew from persistent training. For me, self-confidence is about being able to trust oneself about one’s capacity to learn new things. More importantly, it is also about having the sheer satisfaction that progress has been made. Ultimately, it is in the actions we take and the things we choose to do or refuse to do that could either set our self-confidence on fire or douse it.
Lifting weights and exercising taught me this. The dumbbells became the plough that sowed the seed of learning. I started in the gym as a skinny and awkward teenager who didn’t know what he was doing. I was constantly pushed around and embarrassed but I just kept showing up. I did have a training partner who helped me but what he taught me really was to stand up on my own. And so day by day, repetition after repetition, I learned to trust the process in spite of the difficulties along the way. Little did I know, I was already learning the process of self-efficacy.
Working out first thing in the morning is hard. Getting a workout in after a long day may even be harder. Learning a new movement is never easy. Just like how change is hard, reforming my lifestyle and self-belief was one of the most painful experiences I had to endure. I had to modify almost all exercises because my body couldn’t do the prescribed movements. I was so skinny and weak, I had to start with 10 lb. dumbbells in the bench press. I had to speak up when the movements didn’t feel right. I had to force myself to ask a lot of questions because I had trouble picking up the pace of my workout buddy. All these were very embarrassing for the anxious teenager that I was but I just kept on keeping on. I knew it was the right thing to do because I didn’t want to ever go back to where I was before. It was a choice between a life of painful progress versus a life of meaninglessness.
Learning is the key to unlocking confidence which is an important ingredient that helps you rise to the challenge. Believe in your ability to figure things out. Keep showing up. This is how you become competent at something. It enables you to take on more challenges. Just like in the weight room, when you keep putting in the reps, you get stronger. This allows you to increase the load, take on bigger challenges, and repeat the whole cycle again. This is the story of my fitness journey where I began from scratch–from having zero strength in the body and mind, to having the resilience to carry on amidst challenges while remaining a forever student of life.
Always learning, always doing, always becoming.
“You begin exercising your brain by doing a certain task for the first time. And at first it seems very difficult, but as you learn how to do it, the training is already working. The second time, you realize that it’s easier, not harder, to do, because you’re getting better at it. This has a fantastic effect on a person’s mood. In and of itself, it is a transformation that affects not only the results obtained, but also his or her self-image.” — Collins Hemingway and Shlomo Breznitz