Greatist Journeys explore amazing stories from extraordinary people. Jonathan Angelilli is a New York fitness trainer, board sports fanatic, and writer. The views expressed herein are his. For more from Jonathan, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
I'll never forget the first time I sniffed an illegal substance up my nose; I was 17 years old, angry at the world, and in my parent's basement with friends. The bathroom has this marble counter top and a very distinct smell, which to this day still brings me right back to my dark teenage years. My life back then was out of balance and out of control, and my only way out ended up coming from an unexpected source of empowerment.
The Path of Self-Destruction
Growing up in Queens in the 90s, ecstasy was the drug of choice. Unfortunately, it wasn't even the natural stuff from the plant, but a more common mix of cocaine, heroin, and speed. At least I think that's what it was, I had no idea where it actually came from except my friend's pocket. We chopped up the pills carefully with a razor blade, split the powder into two small lines, and sniffed one each.
I was a good kid, got straight A's, and all that jazz, but drugs helped fill a deep hole in my life; they added excitement and social connections, even meaning, to my otherwise angry existence. My memories of these years are quite hazy, for good reason, but I'm quite sure I was an addict by the time I was 16. Months of getting high and laughing until my stomach hurt, telling myself "I can stop anytime I want to, I just don't want to" turned into years of "Oh my god, I can't stop..." I have no doubt now, after years of therapy, meditation, and self-inquiry, that my drug abuse was a form of self-medication, a way for me to avoid my anxiety and anger.
It wasn't until I went away to college that I was able to stop my self-destructive habits. Back home, there were too many familiar friends and places that coaxed me back into my addiction; a change of scenery and people was exactly what I needed to start fresh. But I don't think that would have been enough on its own. There were two major practices that I started my freshman year of college that ensured my ability to quit for good: exercise and meditation.
Exercise for Love (And By Love I Mean Sex)
A new college friend down the hall, who was a football player, started taking me to the gym, leading me through workouts, showing me how to keep track of exercise programs, lift with good technique, and safely push my limits. My motivation to exercise was not to quit my drug addiction, but rather to look better for the ladies. My high school crush was in love with this guy who was both jacked and ripped, an unstoppable combination that left me feeling puny and lame. I had to get big muscles, and fast, otherwise I was never going to be able to compete for her love. I worked out non-stop that year, trying new exercises, keeping an exercise journal, and committing myself to a goal like never before.
When I came home for the summer after my freshman year, I already felt like a new person; bigger, stronger, more confident, more in control, and happier. I had a new addiction that added meaning, social connections, and excitement to my life: exercise. I never did win the affection of my crush, but I discovered something inside myself that was way more important: the ability to fulfill my mental and physical potential.
Working out added structure to my life and gave me a sense of purpose. Every day, I had something to do that felt satisfying; the workouts may have been painful, but the sense of accomplishment afterwards was intoxicating.
And I just loved the idea that I could get better and better (and stronger and stronger) with practice. Before I had felt chronically powerless and low energy; working out regularly gave me both power and energy, literally. With each success, I rededicated myself to the process, carefully tracking my workouts, always trying to squeeze out one more rep than before, pushing myself and my limits,and experimenting with different kinds of programs and exercises.
Overcoming Common Obstacles
You might be reading this article and say to yourself, "OK, but you love working out; I hate it! I don't have enough time. It hurts and is frustrating/embarrassing to exercise!" If that is the case, well then good, you are just like the rest of us. I always liked competitive sports, but for most of my life I hated exercise for the sake of exercise. Only when I connected my primal motivations (sex) with my daily commitment to exercise, did I get hooked on exercise; it gave me hope and motivation. Honestly, it was like rocket fuel for my motivation and will power.
Ask yourself why you want to be fit. Then ask yourself why. Sure everyone wants to "look better naked," but be honest with yourself and ask why you want to look better naked. Do you want to find a life partner, or just an awesome boyfriend/girlfriend? Are you looking for more confidence with your body? Do you need more energy for work, life, or your family? Be truthful with yourself and keep asking "why?" until you get to the primal motivations: food, success, shelter, companionship, family.
Our ancestors weren't working out to look better in a bikini, they were working out so they could survive and thrive. You should, too. It wasn't until I tapped into my "reason why" that I found myself prioritizing the gym and wanting to workout, instead of prioritizing everything but the gym and not wanting to workout.
The King of All Excuses: "I Don't Have Enough Time"
The most common obstacle, of course, is the self-deception that you "don't have enough time." We all get 168 hours each week, so time isn't the issues, it's priorities. Training smart just three hours a week is a tremendous investment that insures the other 165 hours are as productive, joyful, and healthy as possible.
Connect with your motivations, and then schedule your workouts, so that they are prioritized this week. Then keep the commitment to yourself and get it done! One little tip I use with my clients is telling them to "talk out loud" when it's time to go to the gym. Many people talk themselves out of going to the gym, in their head, so I ask them to say those thoughts out loud. "Oh, I'll just go later today or tomorrow" or "I don't feel like working out," or sometimes "I hate working out, I am not going." Something about taking those thoughts and speaking them out loud automatically allows you to register them as false. No, you will probably not workout later, you scheduled it now so the time is now!
Exercise Your Power to Create a Happy Life
I have no doubt about that power of exercise to transform you — physically, mentally, and spiritually — because I am living proof. I've been blessed to personally witness my clients transform themselves through exercise over the last 11 years. Here I am today, drug free, happy, healthy, and as passionate about exercise as ever! I can run to the top of the Empire State Building in 13 minutes, rock climb 5.12/V5, run a 5K in 19 minutes, and do a 540 on my snowboard. Most importantly, I've learned how to tap into my personal power, allowing me to create the best version of myself, my life, and my body, no matter what the circumstances or challenges.
I consider myself truly blessed to have made it through my turbulent teenage years and am deeply grateful that sharing the transformational power of exercise is my life's work. Now it's your turn to commit to the process and see where your fitness journey will take you.
Have any thoughts, questions, comments, or a personal journey of your own? Share in the comments below!