The Difference Encouragement Makes

Can you believe it’s been over a year since I started Zumba? I sure can’t. I didn’t think I’d ever find an exercise program I’d go back to twice, let alone keep attending for thirteen months. And yet, I have. What an odyssey to get even this far! And how much I have changed, physically and emotionally!

Before: Fearful, Uncertain, and Doubting

When I started Zumba back in June 2011, I was uncertain and afraid. I worried I’d be judged by my classmates, feared that the instructor would be a drill sergeant, and was scared that I wouldn’t be physically capable of doing any of the exercises. But most of all, I worried that this would be yet another notch on the “failed-exercise-attempt” post.

After all, all my other attempts at doing exercise over the years had failed. Back in middle school, I was too busy being victimized and bullied about my weight to really understand/do exercise; in high school, I avoided gym class like the plague for that very reason. And by college, my knees and ankles had taken so much of a beating that exercise was painful and frightening. Even after college, when I knew I needed to get fit and wanted to try, all the types I tried were lonely and boring (as I have written about before in October of last year and January of this year).

Why The Fear and Doubt Receded

But surprisingly, this attempt succeeded almost from the beginning, and has continued to succeed. Why? I believe it’s because of all the positive encouragement I received.

For one thing, my fellow Zumba class members are all cool people, most of them just like me, trying to get healthier instead of trying to show off perfected moves. I don’t feel intimidated by anyone else, and I don’t feel like they’re judging me, either. Instead, I feel that I’m in a class of my peers, peers who offer compliments to each other and support when needed.

Secondly, the instructor from whom I began taking Zumba classes truly took time to teach the moves rather than just expecting us to follow along. I never felt utterly lost the way I used to feel in other exercise classes. And the best thing? She offered positive reinforcement and urged us all to just “keep our feet moving,” not to worry about doing the moves perfectly. Instead of demanding we follow exactly as she demonstrated, she encouraged us to do only what our bodies were capable of, so that we would not hurt ourselves.

For me, a lifelong self-destructive perfectionist, that was a blessed relief to let go of that worry. She helped me see that I COULD do the exercises, and never let me discourage myself out of coming back to class. “You may not do these moves exactly the way I do,” she said once, “but if you’re moving at all, you’re going to help yourself feel better over time.” She was right.

The Result of Encouragement: Positive Change

Because of the encouragement I found in both my classmates and my instructor, I now believe in myself a lot more, and I’m beginning to have fun, too. It is possible to have fun doing full-throttle, sweat-inducing exercise–I never believed that before. Slowly, exercise has gained positive associations in my mind: where before it was always associated with shame, pain, and lack of ability, now it is associated with camaraderie, fun new challenges, and the thrill of being able to do more and more.

I think the lack of proper encouragement holds many people back from exercise these days. Either they try to do it all by themselves and end up feeling lonely and bored, or they try to exercise in a place that does not offer social encouragement and support. As I told my Zumba instructor, “I had to change mentally before any change could take place physically”–and I believe that. I had to feel that exercise was a positive experience worth having before I could convince myself to stay with it. Encouragement filled that gap for me.

Some Encouragement for You

I hope, if you’re reading this article and are trying to get in shape, that you will look up positive, encouraging people who know a lot about fitness and health to help you on your own fitness odyssey. Having people who can guide you as you try to get healthy makes such a positive difference. I didn’t think it would, until I experienced it for myself.

But I also hope, if you’re reading this article and know someone who’s trying to get in shape, that you will reach out to them and become a buddy to them, helping in any way you can. Heck, even if you see someone else at the gym who’s struggling along, I hope you’ll reach out and be kind to them. Positive encouragement from you could mean the difference between them coming back or them leaving and never returning. You never know!

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