Do Something And Make It Stick
The most important thing I learnt about workouts (and for most things in life), is that it isn't important how hard you go at it, but more on how to make it stick. If statistics is a guide, only 30% of people who signs up for a gym membership will make it past the first 3 months. 10% will remain after a year, and only 3% will keep the habit up year after year. It is pretty dismal, but it does line up with my anecdotal observations.
This is my 4th year working out in the gym, and it is only in the last couple of years did it feel somewhat effortless and automatic. And it is only in the last year did I acquire a dedicated approach to integrate workouts into my daily lifestyle.
As far as I know, it wasn't grim determination that kept me there. Instead it was to ignore all reasons and expectations that you have for wanting to go to the gym in the first place. I know having sculptured body and a six-pack ab is a noble goal, but you will most likely end up killing yourself at every single workout, trying all manner of insane exercises prescribed by your fitness instructors (crossfit!), from well-meaning friends, or the muscled gym rats whom you would believe to have a clue about fitness.
And only to give up after 12 weeks, where after each workout, the only thing you got was feeling sore and miserable. Eventually you'll just give up from feeling depressed and getting no results at all.
It's not that workouts don't work, but short of being genetically gifted, it is unrealistic to demand results in a short time span. The first time I recall seeing my own set of six-pack abs came after 3 and 1/2 years of training. But if that was a goal I had set from the start, it would have been a demotivating long wait to get there.
My approach is not to think about how much you are lifting today, and not to be thinking about how much you will be lifting tomorrow. It helps to not be affected by your own performance, or worse, by the performance of another person working out at a higher intensity than you. Remember, others are strong because they put in their dues. Over time, you will be there too, but you need to stick to it first.
Personally, it flips traditional wisdom on its head, but I find goal setting a major roadblock towards habit establishment. It puts you in a situation where you have to wrestle with your fears and aspirations on a day-to-day basis. Even if you'd like to do a little goal setting to chart your incremental progress, I'd say, skip that for now.
That's because there will be days where there are negative gains. There will always be days in which your performance is actually worse than before. It could be for any reason
- poor sleep, sickness, or sometimes, for no good reason at all. Knowing that dis-improvement is normal, is important. When days like these come, do your best, but ignore the results.
Better yet, don't measure yourself. Whether intentionally or not, by measuring, you are allowing yourself to be affected by the results. It's like telling you not to think about the pink elephant. (You just did, didn't you!)
There will come a time where measurement is important for progress. But it does not matter, not at least until it you stick to it.