How I Stopped Working Out and Felt Better About Pretty Much Everything

I teach karate, for those of you who don’t know.

The chief instructors work out for two hours Monday and Wednesday, followed by a meeting that can last up to an hour. While I’m not a chief instructor, I was invited to these workouts, and subsequently have been participating for some time.

While I consider it a great privilege to attend these workouts, they put a significant strain on my Monday and Wednesday schedules. I get up at 9am, drive twenty-five minutes to Windsor, do the workout and meeting, and get home around 1:30. I need to be at my studio by 3pm to get ready for the day’s classes, which last until 9pm. That means I have a 90-minute window with which to take care of my entire non-karate life. Between showering, eating lunch, and posting something here, — not to mention my thesis — these twelve-hour days are pretty hectic.

Now, this schedule was counteracted by the fact that I didn’t teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which meant I’d have twelve-hour Mondays and Wednesdays, interspersed with leisurely Tuesdays and Thursdays. It sounds doable, but over time, the weight of Monday and Wednesday drove me to the point where I couldn’t find the motivation to do much of anything on my off days. All I wanted to do was rest.

This continued for many months, until, during a conversation about my thesis, my instructor reminded me that my attending the workouts and meetings was completely optional. If I wanted to spend a morning getting a chunk of writing done, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I was conflicted, because I value the workouts themselves, but I could feel myself getting burnt out with my current schedule. One day, I decided to take the morning off to work on my thesis. That was probably three weeks ago, and I haven’t been up to Windsor since.

Cutting out those Monday/Wednesday workouts has had a profoundly positive impact on my mood and attitude. Here’s why:

  1. I save gas. It may not seem like much, but twenty highway miles each way twice a week burns a decent amount of fuel. It’s only a few miles to the studio where I teach, so without the Windsor trips, my gas tank lasts exponentially longer. I don’t get paid to attend the workouts or meetings, so I also save a bit of money on gas.

  2. I save time. Understandably, sometimes the workout is intense and worth the trip, and sometimes we’re off our game and it’s pretty unproductive. Including travel, workout, and meeting, I might use up to four hours of my day, hours that might be used more effectively elsewhere. That ninety-minute window gives me only enough time to get a handful of things done. With the morning free, I get much more done and go into work feeling accomplished, rather than frazzled.

  3. I save stress. To be blunt, meetings usually put me in a bad mood, depending on the dynamic. In this case, even though the meetings are tailored for the chief instructors and not me specifically, I still felt obligated to participate and share the criticism when it came to discussing business areas we needed to improve. Long story short, I rarely felt energized or motivated after meetings, and more likely would feel pressured and stressed out. No longer.

  4. I save energy. Two hours is a long workout, and teaching four classes afterward — which itself is respectable exercise — is pretty demanding. I like to work out hard, so being exhausted when teaching my own students decreased the quality of their classes. I’d have low energy, be more impatient, and more likely to get annoyed with a snarky eleven-year-old. Now, I’m working out in other ways, which leave me invigorated instead of exhausted. Instead of showing up at work fried, I can have a productive morning writing or getting things done, which leaves more energy for teaching stronger and more enjoyable classes.

  5. I save sanity. The result of all this is that my mood is tremendously improved. I’m not exhausted from overtraining. I’m not stressed because I feel like I got nothing done. I’m not depressed about spending my entire day off being tired instead of productive. I’m not cranky when I teach my students. I come to work after a productive morning excited to teach class. Overall, I’m much better equipped to deal with life that day.

My point is this: sometimes you don’t realize the effect something has on you — for better or worse — until it’s not there anymore. It could be a meeting, a commute, or some other time-suck. It could be an object on your desk, or a pile of paperwork. It could be a relationship.

I didn’t fully understand how negatively my trips to Windsor were affecting me until I eliminated them. Only then did I realize how much better I felt. Sometimes the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Now, there are some things — most things — you can’t control. You can’t just stop doing your job, no matter how stressed out it makes you. (Although, you could quit.) But, it’s important that we remain aware of and examine the things we can control and change them when necessary.

If your commute involves a two-mile stretch of lights and stop-and-go traffic, then find a different way to get to work. I’ll always take a scenic, enjoyable route over a direct, but infuriating, one.

Have you been using a broken umbrella for months because you’re too lazy to buy a new one? BUY a new umbrella! You’re soaking wet all the time.

Are you sick and tired of tripping over the office garbage can every time you get up from your desk? Then MOVE the garbage can!

It sounds silly and obvious, but sometimes we become so acclimated to these annoyances, we don’t even notice them anymore. We just feel their effects. We don’t realize how little effort it would take to improve our lives in some small way. And usually it’s the little things that make a big difference.

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