How to Actually Start a Fitness Program

Exercise is effortless for some. They glide through parks, down trails, and along to gyms as if they’ve always been that way. A few are, but I’d bet you’d be surprised that a lot of them adopted this lifestyle, and you can too.

Image by Eric Kilby

Inertia is the devil in this case. The first 30 seconds are crucial! You can buy the cute athletic gear, sign up for a class, take the bike in for a tuneup, all to prepare for your fitness launch, but you need to actually get off your butt to initiate the exercise part. And as we all know, your laptop, your TV, or your great read might be a lot more enticing than the sweating, huffing, puffing, and possible pain that await you.

Tips to get started

  • Schedule it. Put it in your calendar at the very least—you’ll feel horribly guilty if you don’t go.
  • Pay someone to train you. If you hire a trainer you’ll get great advice but that’s not why I’m adding this here. A trainer will still charge you if you blow them off (we’re used to this…) so you’re much more likely to go instead of throwing your money out the window.
  • Remember the long term benefits. Exercise is always the long view while the short view is frequently a lot easier and more pleasurable. Like a smoker putting a picture of his kids in his cigarette pack, find a way to remind yourself of the long term benefits of exercise. Maybe a picture of when you were slim and healthy, or a goal dress you’d like to fit into. Perhaps you can find a reward that you earn as you exercise more and more regularly—say a favorite activity for accomplishing ten runs. Besides, you can always watch TV later.

Let me know your thoughts. I’m interested in hearing how you motivate yourself into a fitness plan so you too can be the envy of others as you glide through your workouts!

Should You Do Mind/Body Exercise?

I’m writing this as I sit in a Pilates studio. It’s what I do for a living—teach Pilates—and I love, love, love the work. I’m addicted to it, really. If something happens and I go a week without, my whole body starts to kink up and I get rather cranky. But I’m not like everybody (I write a fitness blog) so I understand that a lot of people have never tried any form of mind/body exercise.

It can seem a little hokey from the outside looking in. Plinky-plink music, soft-spoken voices, woo-woo types stretching languidly. It can’t possibly be useful for the average person, right?

You should try it

Here’s why you should try mind/body movements—anything from yoga to Pilates to tai chi (the big three): you will move your body in ways that your muscles aren’t used to, and you’ll feel so much better when you’re done.

You know that moment when you crash on the couch after a hard day’s work and you’re satisfied and happy and a big ol’ “Aaaah …” escapes your lips? That’s what it feels like right after a mind/body class. The only difference is the next day you’ll notice your butt is a little tighter and your arms a little more sleek.

First, do this

The cheapest, easiest way to start is to search online or through your cable TV provider. There are many options out there on the web or via OnDemand shows for good instructors with good cueing to give you brief ten- to 20-minute workouts. You could incorporate it onto the end of a workout you already do, or you could add it to your morning or evening routine as a way to transition from one part of the day to another.

If you get serious

After you’ve dabbled for a bit, if you’re really enjoying yourself then go and seek professional help. Take a yoga class at a studio or a Pilates mat class at a gym or join a tai chi class. These will cost you a bit, in the neighborhood of US$15 to $25 per class (or free if it’s part of your gym membership), but a good instructor will keep you safe, challenge your body, and push you a little harder than you would have pushed yourself. It’s totally worth the price you pay for the peace of mind and the sculpted body you’ll start to see.

For the hard bodies

For those of you who want the Adonis look, it is possible with mind/body disciplines. You should see the men and women sashaying out of my studio daily: no one thinks that these folks are wusses! That, plus I’d guess 50% of Hollywood does Pilates as part of their fitness regimen. It’s one of the go-to workouts for stars because it works so darned well.

Mind/body movement can be all you do for fitness or it can be part of a blend of different types of exercise depending on your preferences. At a minimum, the cross-training effect will help ward off injury and the Zen moments will help you combat daily stress. So dip your toe in the water and see how it feels. We’re a friendly lot, even though we are a little woo-woo.

Have you tried any mind/body exercise? Tell us about it!

7 Ways to Keep a New Habit

This post is by Benny Hsu of Get Busy Living.

Have you ever tried to keep a new habit only for you to stop a week or a month later? It happens to all of us.

Don’t worry—you always get another chance to start again. The next time you want to start new habits in your life, try a different approach for success.

Here are some tips to help you to keep your new habits.

1. Know why you’re doing this

Having a strong reason why you are doing something is stronger than how you will do it. Knowing why will keep you focused when you’re tempted to quit. Let me give you an example.

If there is a board ten feet long on the floor and I tell you to walk on it, will you? Of course. If I put that board connecting the top of two buildings 40 stories up, will you cross it? Most likely not. Now if your child was on the other roof and it was on fire, would you walk across? You bet you would.

The situation stayed the same but your reason for going across was the motivator. It’s what drives you.

This is why many New Year’s resolutions fail so quickly. There’s not a meaningful reason for the change. It’s just something you feel like you should be doing.

Really know why you are making this habit and want to keep it. The ones who succeed in making new habits and keeping them are the ones that have a deep reason to change. Find yours.

2. Mark an X on your calendar

When working towards making positive changes, one way to keep you going is to chart your progress. Sometimes the physical progress is harder to see because the changes are gradual. You may need a way to visually see that you are making progress.

When I was training for my first half marathon, I printed out the training calendar and put an X after each day I trained. Once I started, it was rewarding to see so many Xs and to know how far I’d progressed. I wanted to keep those X’s going. I didn’t want a blank box.

At the end of a month, I couldn’t believe how many days of running I’d actually accomplished. Seeing it motivated me to keep the momentum going.

3. Don’t break the habit

Of course that seems obvious, but it’s more than that. You don’t want to do perform your habit for two weeks and then stop for two weeks and then decide to try again. Why?

When you consistently do something with regularity it keeps the momentum going. Doing it everyday keeps you in the routine. Once you stop for a period of time it’s harder to get that rhythm again.

Make an effort to stay consistent each day. Remember slow and steady wins the race.

4. Blog about it

Instead of being accountable to just one person, take it one step further if you have a blog and post your goals on there! You’ll get encouragement but also you’ll also have report to them.

Pat Flynn recently finished a 60 day workout program with amazing results. He said one of his biggest motivations was the people checking in on his progress. He didn’t want to let them down.

5. Don’t punish yourself for falling off the wagon for one day

Earlier, I said don’t break the habit. However we are are human and good habits are not easy to keep. If you skip a day or fall off the wagon, don’t think it’s the end of the world and you’re a failure.

Look at the big picture of how you’re doing. If you are doing something for a whole month like exercising or eating healthy and have one day where you feel lazy or eat a whole pizza, don’t be too hard on yourself.

If you’re trying to cut out soda but you had one at a friend’s house, it’s okay. One day won’t ruin everything.

Focus again starting tomorrow. You’re trying to incorporate this habit into a lifetime change so you’ll have plenty of time to stay on track.

6. Get money involved

Money is always a motivating factor for most people. Here’s one way to do it.

If you want to start a new habit of reading 30 pages of non-fiction a day, four days out of the week for a month, find a friend or relative you can trust and give that person $100 at the beginning of the month.

That person will give you $25 back every week you complete your goal of reading. If you fail to complete it, the person keeps $25. If you complete a week, you get $25 back. Keep going till the end of the month.

Don’t make the amount too extravagant, but don’t make it too small, either. If you do, you won’t care if you don’t have it. Also, make sure you’re honest with your results. Lying about it defeats the whole purpose.

7. Reward yourself

Set a time frame for rewarding yourself throughout the process, not just at the end. You should reward yourself because keeping a habit isn’t easy.

At the end of your set time, say a week or two, if you’ve been doing a great job sticking to your habit, reward yourself with something you want. A day at the spa. A trip to a baseball game. A shopping trip. It’s completely up to you.

Then at the end of a longer timeframe—say a month—give yourself a bigger reward, like a small vacation. If you’ve made it that far, you truly deserve it.

Keep that habit

Studies have shown that it takes three weeks to form a good habit. Take the list above and find the ones that will best motivate you to continue. Developing better habits will lead you to more success and happiness in your life.

Benny Hsu blogs at Get Busy Living where he’s inspiring others to live a remarkable life, explore ways to help people get unstuck and find what excites them everyday. You can also follow him Twitter @Benny_Hsu.

How to Break the Downward Spiral of Negative Thinking

This guest post is by Dan Lippmann of the Mood Switch Method.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for your negative thinking to spiral out of control?

“I wonder if I’ll be able to meet that deadline.
If I don’t meet the deadline, my boss will go crazy.
He’ll give me a bad evaluation.
I’ll end up getting fired.
I won’t be able to pay my bills.
I’ll lose my home.
I’ll be out on the street with no money.
My life will be over.”

You start out by thinking one upsetting thought. In seconds, that thought leads to another, until you’ve produced a whole chain of negative thoughts. When combined together, these thoughts steal your sense of well-being, leaving anxiety and fear in their wake.

The most important thing for you to know is this: You don’t have to go along with whatever negative thoughts are triggering up in your brain. You can learn to direct your thinking in a way that will be helpful instead of harmful to you.

Breaking the chain of negative thinking

Picture your negative thoughts as a chain of associations. Your goal is to break the chain after the first link and then keep new links from being added.

This is easier than you might think and doesn’t require superhuman effort—only a little bit of awareness and practice.

You may be surprised to learn that your negative thoughts aren’t usually random. Often, there’s a specific underlying emotion (sadness, anger, jealousy) or theme (money, death, health) that triggers your negative thinking and serves to link your thoughts together. Once you’re aware of your personal patterns or themes, it’s easier to break the associations or links.

I realized this a few weeks ago when I heard on the radio that a TV personality from my childhood had died. I immediately felt mildly sad, and then I realized that my mind suddenly wanted to make other “death associations.” If I had allowed my thoughts free rein, they probably would have played out something like this:

“My mother’s dead.
My father’s dead.
I’m the same age as my father when he got sick.
I hope the same thing isn’t wrong with me.”

…and on and on!

If I had allowed this line of thinking to continue, I would have been in a down mood in a matter of minutes, and maybe spent the next few hours, or even days, feeling badly.

Fortunately, I recognized where my mind wanted to take me, and made a conscious choice to stop my thoughts in their tracks. I simply refocused my thoughts on something neutral – the tastes and smell of my breakfast – and then switched the radio to a music station that I like. I was able to stop the downward spiral before it began and to get on with my day.

So the next time you experience an upsetting feeling, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is there a benefit to thinking about this situation?
  2. Is there a benefit to following the chain of associations arising from this situation?

If the answer is no, turn your thoughts to something neutral, interesting, or uplifting. You might be surprised at how easy it is to avoid a downward spiral.

It might even save your day.

Dan Lippmann counsels clients from his two Chicago-area offices and is the creator of the Mood Switch Method, an easy to learn technique that breaks the painful cycle of negative emotions, such as anxiety, down moods and anger. Download his free eBook, Beyond EFT: 7 Steps to Banish Stress, Worry, Fear and Anxiety, and sign up for his weekly tips at

How to Right-Size Your Life

Seize the opportunity! Leave no stone unturned! These have been my mantras for the past three years as I’ve built my social media presence as a fitness expert.

“Opportunities are rare and may not come again,” I would tell myself after someone asked me to collaborate on a project. This would cause me to immediately say yes—to just about anything, really. It was about getting exposure, of course, but it was also brand new to me, and fascinating, and fun, and cool, and … you get the idea.

I realize I’m one of the lucky ones. I make a decent income from social media—enough that my family has some breathing room and we can actually afford to take vacations again. My social media career has also helped my “real” business—my Pilates studio—which has gotten more local press (which means more clients) because of the presence I have online. I am thankful every day for what I’ve built and thankful that people have responded to it so well.

But boy was I burned out

There is always a tipping point, and for me the last straw was when I agreed to take a Director of Social Media job. Here was an opportunity to show the world all I had learned, plus it paid really well. I actually think I did a decent job growing the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers for the client, as well as catching the attention of some stores who later started carrying the product and working some connections for press coverage.

It was definitely working. But my brain was goo. On top of running a studio and a blog, it was just too much. I had to pull back.

Right-sizing my life

The big life lesson that I learned here is that I was given opportunities that I didn’t seek out. I wasn’t looking for a social media job when it was offered to me, but it was so cool I wanted to try it. There were other opportunities like this that I was also saying yes to. But they weren’t in the direction I truly wanted to go.

I’m going to get all “woo woo” on you for a second, so bear with me. I’m in my 40s now and I’ve learned (and relearned) that if you don’t follow your heart, you’re not going to be happy. Yes, you need to make a living, but there are scads of ways to do that and still follow your heart.

Let’s face it: anything you put out there in social media is completely in your control. All you have is your time (hours and hours of time), so why would you spend it creating a persona or going in a direction that isn’t you? You’ll only be a big pile of goo like I was.

I realized my error(s) and started to divest a lot of stuff. I’ve pared my life down to my studio, my blog, and FeelGooder, and I’m feeling out some writing projects that I want to pursue. I’m looking forward to seeing how my career develops and I’m also looking forward to going home tonight and relaxing with my family. Boy will that feel good.

Have you ever had to right-size your life? How did you do it?

Finding Time For Me

This post is by Nicole Avery of Planning With Kids.

In a recent survey of 4,000 mums across Australia by Kleenex Mums, just under half said they could do better in terms of taking some time out for themselves. Taking time out for yourself as a mum lets you rest, recharge, and reassess. In short, it helps you be a better mother and for me, having time to myself has been crucial to me keeping my sanity in the chaos that can be life with a young family.

Image is author's own

I am a mum of five, I write a blog, and have just had my first book published. One of the first questions people ask me is ‚ do I have any time for me? And the answer is, “Yes I do!” I haven’t always though, and it has taken learning, adaption, and planning on my part to make sure that it happens.

The burned chop

Back in my early corporate days, I attended a self-improvement workshop specifically designed for women. My memory of the workshop is vague, with the exception of one analogy that the trainer made. She said mothers tend to always give themselves the “burned chop”: if they overcooked a chop while cooking dinner, they would eat the burned chop themselves. In other words, mothers put the needs of others above their own.

This analogy has stuck with me over the years. There have been (and will probably continue to be) instances where I forego things that I’d like to do in order to fit in all of my family’s needs. Compromise is always necessary within families, so I don’t expect that I always have my needs met first. Planning time for myself, however, means that my needs are not always last on the agenda, either.

Taking the burned chop every time is not the example I want to set for my kids. Setting my own goals, and allocating time for myself to achieve them, models for my kids the way I’d like them to approach looking after themselves. I don’t want them to think that, as a mother, my needs are not as important of those of other family members.

How to avoid eating the burned chop

Over the years I have worked out that just saying “I want time to myself” won’t make it happen. I have found there are three key steps I need to take to succeed in taking time out for me:

1. Set personal goals for “me time”

I needed to know what it was that I wanted. What did “time for me” actually mean? There are no set answers to this question and it is something that changes over time. Right now, for me, it means getting to the gym for an hour five times a week. Exercise has such a positive impact on my life:

  • It makes me less cranky.
  • It helps me sleep better.
  • It gives me more energy.
  • I have some time to just have my own thoughts, without lots of questions from little people!

All of these things then mean I am in better frame of mind and state of health to parent my kids and relate to my husband. So although this is “time for me” they also receive indirect benefits from it as well.

2. Set an activity plan

Once I knew what I wanted, I then needed to talk with the family about ways that we could make it a reality. There is always a need for compromise and negotiation where there are many competing needs. My husband and I agreed on my gym times: Monday to Friday from 6.00am to 7.00am.

We explained these times to the kids, so they would be aware that they will most likely wake those mornings and mum won’t be home. My husband does everything possible not to schedule early morning meetings that will cut into this time with the kids. It does occasionally happen, but he will give me as much notice as he can, so we can arrange another time for me to get to the gym.

Gaining the support and commitment of the rest of the family was critical to setting an activity plan that would let me achieve my goals.

3. Stick to it

With the family on board, it is now down to me to make sure I actually stick to the activity plan we created. This means setting the alarm each night for 5.45am. If I sleep in and leave late, I lose some of my precious hour at the gym, so I needed to be disciplined. Previously when I have been doing early morning gym sessions, if I went to bed late, I would go to bed with the mind set of “it’s a late night, I will see how I feel in the morning”. Before I had even lain down in bed, I had given myself a leave pass not to get up.

This time around I have approached it quite differently. In my mind the 5.45am wake up call is not negotiable. If I go to bed late, then I am just tireder in the morning when I get up. It is not the morning start that I need to change, it is the evening before. Through this discipline over the first few months, I have now created myself a good habit. Each night before I go to bed, I do the same things:

  • Set the alarm.
  • Get the gym gear ready.
  • Fill up the water bottle and grab the gym towel.
  • Make sure the iPhone is charged and the headphones are with it.

Having all these things ready means I have no excuse in the morning when I am tired and sometimes would prefer just to lie there! I have taken away as many obstacles as possible and I focus my thoughts on how good I feel at the end of the session. It is a powerful motivator to get me up and going.

How do you approach finding some “me time” in your life?

Nicole Avery is the master organiser behind the popular blog Planning With Kids, where she shares tips and tricks to organising the chaos of family life. Her first book “Planning With Kids” was released in May 2011 by Wright Books.

How Good Self-Esteem Leads to (Gooder) Health!

This post is by Jennifer Brown Banks of Penandprosper.

For today’s woman, there seem to be messages daily (both subliminal and overt) that suggest that we don’t quite measure up.

For example: the commercials that convince us to lose weight, strive for bouncier hair, or transform ourselves through make-overs. Messages that, like the army’s slogan, command us to “be all that we can be.”

My goal at this stage of the game? To “be all I can be” before 10 p.m.

Men reportedly don’t have it as bad. According to, they tend to have inflated egos, rather than low self-esteem.

Meanwhile, for the woman of color, it gets even tougher, as our lifestyles, diet, divine design, and body dynamics differ from other groups.

As further proof of the pressure put on African-American women, I’d like to point out a recent survey, published in Psychology Today. It sought to convince us that women of color were deemed less attractive than other cultures, according to some reported “findings“.

Really? Have you seen Beyonce? Tina Turner? Janet Jackson? Tyra Banks? Halle Berry? Michelle Obama? Hello?! (And if this is true, why is it that other groups sometimes strive to emulate our features and fabulousness through lip injections, tanning, and other procedures?) In fact, the assertion was so absurd that I wasn’t offended. I chuckled and moved on.

But, I wasn’t always this way.

There used to be a time, in my younger years, that every slight, every criticism, every rejection, was personalized and had me doubting myself and trying to “fix” whatever had been pointed out as a shortcoming.

To add insult to injury, I often felt the need to justify my actions to others, and prove myself at great lengths and with great expense to my emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

But age brings about wisdom, folks!

I now realize that true beauty can’t be bought in a bottle. That, as Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

And the pay off? I have less stress. Fewer migraines. A good blood pressure rate. More peace of mind. More focus on things that really matter.

And you can too, (whether you’re a man or woman) if you heed the following:

  1. Recognize that we are all flawed and limited by our human nature. We have little control over genetics, mother nature, or father time.
  2. Recognize that self-esteem is a do-it-yourself project. Nobody can give you self worth; it comes from self acceptance and the knowledge that no one else is like you in this whole world.
  3. Recognize that self-esteem is like a coat of armor that shields you from harsh blows and assaults on your soul and your psyche.
  4. Recognize that perfection should never be a personal goal; instead, strive for excellence.

Yep, the better you feel about yourself, and the more at home you are in your own skin, the more you can exist in a state of liberation and peace. And that truly is a groovy and beautiful kinda’ thing.

Jennifer Brown Banks is a veteran freelance writer, Pro blogger, relationship columnist, and incurable romantic. Her work has appeared extensively online at sites such as Daily Blog Tips, Technorati, WorkAwesome, Search Engine Journal and She blogs at

Body Image as Fitness Motivation

I have a very unscientific study to share with you. I regularly ask clients, friends and occasionally total strangers to think about the happiest times of their life. I pause and give them a second to pick a moment. I wait for the smile to cross their face and then I ask them, what did you look like then?

Almost always the answer is a variation of “the best I ever looked.”

Does happiness make us thin?

My follow-up question is: what did you do for exercise then? I get a barrage of answers, and almost everyone was following some version of an active lifestyle at that time.

But first they were happy. The moving was secondary—it was just part of their lives.

When were you happiest?

Lets use this now. Go back to your happy place and your happy body image. Think about it for a second. Were you in college, running around campus? Were you getting ready for your marriage? Were you starting your first job in a new city, and collecting a circle of friends, hopping from nightspot to party?

You probably weren’t slumped in your seat staring at a computer screen…

The trick is to incorporate a bit of your old spunk into your life, have fun, and get fit while you’re doing it.

Go kayaking with a friend, actually play with your kid when you go to the park, plan a shopping day with a friend in a mall with a lot of schlepping (avoid the food court!). Take a walk with your family after dinner and see who you meet. Rescue a loveable dog. Even if you’re just standing on the sidelines of the soccer game and chatting with the other parents instead of sitting on your backside, that’s an improvement.

There are 168 hours in a week. The two that we spend doing “formal” exercise isn’t going to be enough to counteract the other 166. We have to constantly choose an active lifestyle.

So what would you choose as a talisman reminder of your happiest time? When were you happy and how did you feel about your looks then? How can you get back to that place?

Staying In the Present Moment

This post is by Justin Mazza of

Letting go of the past in order to move forward is the first step to re-creating ourselves. When we dwell in the past we are giving up the precious present moment.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t reminisce about the past with your long-time friends or take time for personal reflection. But what I am suggesting is that you begin to notice where your thoughts are and bring them back to the present moment.

It doesn’t do any good to be physically present in the “now” but have our thoughts in some other time and place. We can’t change the past but we can re-frame it to something that is more empowering to us.

The past is long gone and the future hasn’t happened yet, so let’s focus where we actually have some influence.

Being present is a great way to begin to focus on and create our reality. This is how I was able to write this blog post by being present. Had I allowed my thoughts to wander, and if my actions were geared towards something else, than I would have great difficulty writing this post.

Before I wrote this post I did some mental preparation work. I made some tea, (I recently gave up coffee) lit some incense, cleared my head by doing some breathing exercises, and voila, the writing begins to flow.

This is my writing ritual that prepares my body and mind to remain present. For some of you, sitting down and writing is effortless but for me it takes a little prep work to get going. Once I am in “being present” mode I could write for hours.

You will also notice that once you master the art of being present that fears and anxiety begin to lessen, allowing creativity and energy to flow.

I remember working at a really boring job when I was a teenager. I couldn’t stay present to save my life. My mind was wandering all over the place as thoughts began rushing through my mind like a faucet turned on full blast. The flow became almost unbearable to me. I wish I had known about being present back then. Since that time I have observed some habits that cause us to stop being present.

Things that cause us to have difficulty staying present

  • Lack of sleep. Lack of sleep and adequate rest is the number one cause of accidents in our lives. Be sure to make sleeping and resting a priority. I know for some of us that this is not a problem.
  • Lack of exercise. Exercise is important for more than physical appearance. Exercise get’s the heart pumping which allows blood to flow throughout the body. This will help to make sure that your body can heal and replenish itself effectively.
  • Unhealthy diet. We are what we eat, at least on a physical level. I’m not going to get into specifics here but make sure that you are eating foods that are as close to natural as you can get.
  • Unhealthy relationships. The greatest pleasures and the worst pains are caused through our relationships. Let go of relationships that do not serve you and nourish the ones that do.
  • Stuck emotions. Emotions that are not expressed become stuck in the body and this causes emotional discomfort. It’s hard to be present if we are experiencing emotional pain.
  • Lack of variety in life experiences. Variety is the spice of life so it is important to mix it up once in a while. Routines bore me to tears.
  • Too many obligations. We don’t have to go to every social function, volunteer for every event, or stay busy all day and night. Lighten the load where you can.
  • Limiting beliefs about ourselves. Most of us carry limiting beliefs about ourselves that will diminish our life experience. Learn to let go of limiting beliefs and let yourself fly.
  • Uncomfortable environment. This can be our home, our car, our workspace. Create a comfortable environment wherever you spend a great deal of time.
  • Too many goals. I’m guilty of this one. Learn to set goals that are reasonable and allow yourself time to achieve them. We don’t have to complete ten goals a day to be happy with ourselves.

These are some things that can cause us to have difficulty staying present. If you have others to add, please do so in the comments—I would love to hear your feedback.

This post by Justin Mazza from where he blogs about personal development, health and nutrition, and metaphysical studies.

Think You’re Not a Runner? Think Again

This post is by Amy Karet of

We’ve all heard how great running is for your mind, body, and spirit. I never really believed it until I took up running a couple of years ago. I was stunned by the transformation created in every aspect of my life.

After about a year of running, I was fitter, cuter, more confident, and more energetic than I’d ever imagined possible. I was calmer, a better mother, wife, friend, and employee. The change was dramatic.

But it took me 34 years to get there. I’d always been a wannabe runner. I would see these lithe, energetic people bounding down the street and wish I was one of them. But I wrote it off, deciding I was too fat or not athletic enough to run. Plus, the few times I’d gotten over myself and did run, I wound up panting, exhausted and hurt. I decided I was not born to run.

But then, a beautiful friend helped me get started the right way, and her beautiful husband introduced me to the book No Need for Speed by John Bingham. With their support and encouragement, I learned a few things that will help you go from wannabe to runner, too.

Invest in a good pair of running shoes

I heard this for years and ignored it for years, and I wore my regular old shoes every time I started an ultimately-failed running program.

But this time, I went to a running store (I know, I know. It’s embarrassing and intimidating to step foot into a place you obviously don’t belong. But I’ve found that runners love other runners, and veteran runners love helping new runners. You will be surprised and heartened by how helpful and non-judgmental they are). They figured out what kind of stride I have and whether or not I pronate or overpronate (I do one of them, but I can never remember which one.)

They got me the right shoes, and I cannot tell you what a difference it made. You’re going to be sore when you start a running program. There is no getting around that. But you shouldn’t be in pain. The time I finally broke down and got the running shoes was the first time I was able to run without pain.

Take it s…l…o…w…

This is important for everybody, but it’s especially important if you’ve ignored step number one and don’t have good shoes. Starting out slowly will decrease your chances of getting hurt, and increase your enjoyment of the process.

As complete beginners, we try to run the way we’ve seen people running: quickly and efficiently. We race out of the gate, trying to run as far as we can, as fast as we can. We end up at the ends of our driveways, panting, flushed, knees hurting, and hoping our neighbors will buy the story that we were being chased by a killer hornet.

When I say go slow, I don’t mean pretty slow. I mean painstakingly, little-old-ladies-in-walkers-are-passing-you slow. I mean molasses. I mean you are running so slowly that you could easily get where you’re going faster by walking. Slowly. If you think you’re running so slowly you couldn’t possibly go any slower, slow down just a little.

My friends call it trudging. Because when you’re first starting out, how fast you’re going or how far you can run aren’t important. What is important is getting your body used to the motion of running. It feels like you’re going nowhere. It feels stupid and silly. You already feel dumb running in front of your neighbor’s house, and then, if you’re trudging, it takes you five minutes to get past it.

It feels dumb now, but it will save your knees and your lungs and your pride in the long run. You can take off sprinting today and spend the next week discouraged and unable to walk, or you can trudge today and the day after tomorrow, and then again two days after that. (You shouldn’t run every day—your body needs time to recover.)

Not only should you run slowly, you should not run the whole time. When I was just starting out, I would walk for about two minutes and run for 30 seconds to a minute. If you’re trudging, this shouldn’t be too painful. If you are gasping for breath at the end of your minute, you are going too fast. At the end of your minute, you should feel like you could do it for another minute. You can. Just not today.

Over a period of weeks, you will be able to slowly decrease the amount of time you spend walking and increase the amount of time you spend running.

Run your own race

My mantra for the first six months of running was “It’s not about them. It’s about me.” I was worried about what the neighbors were thinking, or what the guy on the treadmill next to me was thinking. I was worried that they thought it was stupid of me, this little overweight drama club girl, to be trying to run.

When these thoughts started taking over, I’d look straight ahead and repeat my mantra.

There is always going to be someone faster or slower than you are. There will always be somebody with better or worse form. There will always be someone with cuter running clothes. There will always be the girl who looks like she knows exactly what she is doing, and you will feel stupid.

But it doesn’t matter. You are here to run your own race, live your own life. Put on your blinders and go for it full-on.

Celebrate little accomplishments

Soon, your body will get more used to the motion of trudging, and you will be able to do it a little faster. And a little farther. Before you know it, you’ll be doing two minutes of running and thirty seconds of walking.

I live just a few blocks away from a park and I used to think to myself, “Someday, I will run from my house to here.” It is not an impressive distance by any means (I’ve never actually measured it, but I know it’s less than a mile. Probably less than half a mile). But the day I ran all the way from my house to the park, I stopped and cried. I’d always wanted it, but I never thought it would happen for me. It wasn’t a world record, I didn’t do it quickly, but it was my personal achievement, and I celebrated it.

Don’t wait to call yourself a runner

I thought I wasn’t a real runner because I was too slow. Then, I got a little faster and decided I wasn’t a real runner because I didn’t do races. Then, I entered a race but thought I was too overweight to be a “real” runner. I finished a half-marathon, but then I decided that real runners run full marathons. Who knows what will happen if I ever lose my mind and decide to do a full marathon?

But after the half-marathon, I realized that a runner isn’t someone who runs races, or runs a certain speed or distance. A runner is someone who makes the decision every day to put on their shoes and go out there and put one foot in front of the other.

A runner is someone who fights those demons in her head, heart and soul and does it anyway.

A runner is someone who runs.

I promise you, if you get out there with some good shoes, take it slowly, run your own race and celebrate yourself along the way, you will be a runner, too.

When Amy isn’t trudging or pretending to be Diego with her kids, she is learning to embrace who she really is at her blog,