How to Improve Yourself Gradually

When we crave change, we often want the end result now. You want to be thin NOW! You want to be rich and successful NOW! You want to be an expert in something NOW! What you don’t want to do now, though, is any of the in-between work. It’s like you want to start the race at the finish line.

In my recent interview with Kristy Victor, she touched on this idea of wanting the end result immediately. She describes it as a recipe for failure. For me, it was the most important point she mentioned in the interview:

Expecting immediate change sets you up for failure. You need to take everything one day at a time. You didn’t gain the weight overnight and it most certainly will not come off overnight. You must set small and attainable goals for yourself so you’re not overwhelming yourself with the final “big” goal.

After she mentioned it, I started thinking about the notion of gradual improvement. For example, since I started going to the gym almost a year ago, I’ve gradually worked myself up to the point where I can run all out for 15 minutes straight. Although it’s not the most impressive physical feat ever, it is something I couldn’t do a year ago. I slowly gained the ability by increasing my endurance gradually.

At first, it was a painful process. In school I was never an athlete of any kind, so I rarely ran at all. I remember some of my best times for “running the mile” were in the 11-12 minute range. Later, when I was out of school and had entered the work force doing mostly desk jobs, I naturally became less active. So when I finally made the decision to get in shape, my body seemed to fight me against that decision.

I’d warm up for 5 minutes on the elliptical, or the treadmill. No big deal. I’d use various weight machines for the rest of my workout, alternating muscle groups (upper- or lower-body) depending on what day it was. Also no big deal. When I went to do 30 minutes of cardio, though, my body reacted like it was being tortured.

Gradual Improvement on the Treadmill

30 minutes doing only a light jog was killing my feet, shins, and knees. I had always grown up with the mentality that “if it hurts, don’t do it.” This is why I was never a runner in school: if I ever started to feel pain, I’d quit. Now, as I start to grow older, and recognize exercise is a necessary evil, I needed to push through the pain in order to get fit.

I remember getting changed in the locker room after those first workouts. When I removed my running shoes, my white socks had turned red. My feet were literally bleeding from running. A lifetime of never needing to run caused my toes to grow up tight against one another, all cozy-like. Consequently, when I started running in spite of the pain, my toenails tore up something fierce.

It was embarrassing and painful, but it was par for the course. My feet always healed, and as I ran more and more they bled less and less. Now they don’t bleed at all. My body adjusted.

As for increasing the duration that I could run, I started off running for a few minutes at a time, then returning to a light jog. I think this is called “running intervals.” I’d run for maybe 2 minutes, then jog 2 minutes, then run 2 minutes, jog again, etc. I’d continue this until I was too tired to run any longer, and if any time was left in my 30 minutes of cardio, I’d walk or jog until my time was up.

As I kept returning to the gym to repeat this strategy, I noticed that I could always run a bit longer than the time before. I’d run for 3 minutes, and rest 2 minutes. Next time I’d maybe run for 4 minutes, and rest 2 minutes. Although I didn’t keep exact records of my forward progress, the important part was that I was aware of my body’s capabilities, and witnessed how I was gradually improving them. Like I indicated earlier, I can now run all out for 15 minutes straight. Furthermore, I’m starting to notice my body looks leaner; my muscles are more defined.

I want to be fit. I want to look muscular and attractive. I don’t want to do the in-between work, but there’s no other way to do it. You can’t start at the finish line, you have to start where you are.

This applies to anything worth doing. You set goals for yourself because they’re something you need to work towards. For me, gradual improvement applies to my body, my blog, my career, and my hobbies. It won’t matter if it’s piano lessons or Donkey Kong — it’s like anything else:

If you do something, you get better at it. If you do something long enough, you get great at it. And if you do something every day, you’re bound to reach the finish line.

Start today. Gain gradually, and don’t give up.

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3 Responses to “How to Improve Yourself Gradually”

#1 Lauren on 24, Oct, 2011 at 6:34 pm

You’ve probably heard of this but you should try the “Couch to 5K” (http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml). I always got sick of it by about week 3 or 4 and just went back to running for as long/far as I could without fussing over the intervals. But it seems like a good way to ease into 5K.

#2 Keara on 24, Oct, 2011 at 6:38 pm

SHAUN!!! If you’re regularly hurting your feet, shins, and knees, it sounds like you have bad running form!! I know there are a few places that offer good form running classes either for free or for a small price (there’s a running fit store in your area! http://www.runningfit.com). For me, the biggest thing that really made the difference was shoes. When I switched to a minimalist running shoe, I no longer had the huge cushy protective heel that allowed me to take huge strides and land HARD on my heels. Without that crutch, I had to either alter my form or break my feet. Now I LIKE running. I do it voluntarily! I even ran my first 5k this summer, and ran the whole way without stopping!! This from a girl who could barely finish a mile, walking most of the way. I also never ran a step without getting shin splints and aching feet, knees, and hips whereas now the only pain I have is from exercising my calves, and it’s just muscle soreness.

I basically only run now because I bought a pair of VFF bikilas. <3

#3 Scott on 24, Oct, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I second the Bikilas Shaun–bought them a couple months ago. First time I tried them I ran further than I had ever been able to run before, and for the first time had to stop because my muscles started to ache, instead of being out of breath (a good thing–goes away once you muscles are used to your new stride pattern).

Head over to REI in Northville and check ‘em out~

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