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Commentary: Setting Goals in a Place I Used to Hate

ELIOT SCHIAPARELLI, BYLINE: I always wanted one of those perfect gym bodies you see on the cover of a magazine. Anytime I decided I was going to start exercising - to get one - I would go to the gym for a couple days and then quit. I couldn’t motivate myself to be there, it was boring. The rows of silver cardio equipment were uninspiring and the large black weights were intimidating. My visits to the gym lacked the structure I needed to get started.

Then, about six months ago, a friend asked me to go to a workout class with her. I showed up for the class and was suddenly surrounded by people either sprinting on treadmills or squatting with dumbbells. The lights were dim, pop music was blasting through a speaker, and an instructor was barking orders. It was hard. I was winded and walking while everyone around me breezed by with what looked like 50 pound weights and 50 mile per hour sprints. I swore I wouldn’t be back. But a few weeks later my friend talked me into buying a discounted starter pack of classes. She promised that if didn’t use them, she would. She kept dragging me back and by the fourth and fifth time I didn’t mind it as much. After about 10 classes I found myself signing up even if she didn’t. At first I was motivated by all the other people in the room. I wanted to be the hardest working person there. But the more I went to the classes, working out became less of a thing on my to do list and more something I looked forward to at the end of a long day.

I feel like I’ve rarely set goals for myself, just because I wanted to. When I was younger, I liked high school and I did well in it, but I got out of bed in the morning because my parents told me to. I played lacrosse in school, and I didn’t mind being on the field, but what I really liked was the praise from winning. Even now, If I get harsh feedback in grad school I wonder if I’m good enough to be there. But if I go to the gym, nobody cares if I go except for me.

I don’t think of myself as “someone who works out." I’m still one of the slowest runners in the room and I still lift some of the lightest weights. But I’ve found a new sense of accomplishment. I enjoy it, and I’m proud of myself for going. No one knows I lifted a heavier pair of weights than last week, or that I ran a tenth of a mile further, but I do and it feels fantastic.

Over Spring Break I set a goal to run three miles. I was visiting my parents in Florida and I set off down their quiet suburban street. It wasn’t a difficult run by most standards but the furthest I’ve done post pandemic. By the second mile my legs were burning - sweat was dripping in my eyes and I desperately wanted to stop and walk. But I kept going as if everyone had burst out of their front doors to watch me finish. But they hadn’ was just me.

Eliot Schiaparelli, Columbia Radio News

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