I ran tonight, from my apartment to Central Park, around the reservoir, and back.
The scenery was pretty: the distant spires of midtown, the setting sun shimmering on the water, trees overhead, joggers taking it all in.
My running was not pretty. It was awkward, tense, and not especially fast. I no longer care if people think I look weird, but I do wish my form had been better.
I could have gone faster. I could have run with big strides and passed everyone. I also could have hunched over in pain after about five minutes.
Instead, I finished my ugly run after a half-hour, right in front of my apartment building. I was sweating, and my heart was pounding, but I was never in so much pain that I had to stop.
Thus, my advice: if you want to do something consistently, never traumatize yourself. Push yourself a little more each day, but never do something so painful that you will be too scared to do it tomorrow.
I have had exercising experiences that kept me away from the gym for weeks. I have had dates that drove me into my single shell for a month, and I have had healthy-eating streaks that pushed me into the waiting arms of a large extra-cheese pizza.
In all of these cases, making the short-term challenge overly painful just made things worse in the long run. The over-reaching goal wasn't worth it.
More successful people than me might dismiss this advice, and maybe rightfully so. Navy Seal trainees are probably traumatized every day, and they have to keep coming back. They'd laugh at this.
For most of us though, this advice makes sense. The idea of improvement doesn't involve reaching your goals on the first day. It involves learning to do things consistently, when you are tired or not in the mood, because you know you need to do them.
Burning out doesn't do anything except give you one more excuse for avoiding the routines you know are necessary. It should be avoided on your journey, and in all aspects of life.
Don't be so easy on yourself that you never face your challenges. But don't make those challenges so daunting that you are likely to skip them tomorrow out of sheer terror. Increase your challenges gradually, and you will eventually get to where you want to be.