What A Broken Treadmill Taught Me About Doing Things I Don’t Want to Do

Last summer, I decided I wanted a treadmill desk.

I am currently back in school and have been doing lots of reading; my husband was in a phase of trying to get us to do athletic things, and my membership to the county rec center was up for renewal (and was going to be $350). And I decided: Instead of renewing my pass, I’m going to get a treadmill. AND, remembering a professor (from my first round of college) who hauled a treadmill up to his third-floor office and built a desk around it, I made up my mind I could do the same.

And I did it. I got on the local classifieds website (no one around here uses Craigslist, for some reason), found a used treadmill for about $250 (cheaper then that year-long pass would be, thank you very much), and offered an extra $20 for the guy to deliver it. I found lumber and screws in the garage that were left over from home improvement projects. I used Pinterest to come up with a design for the desk. I googled a video on how to use a circular saw (after googling what kind of saw it actually was). And I built a treadmill desk, and it lives in our garage because my husband is paranoid that it would cause the floor to cave in were I to bring it inside like normal people do.

I am incredibly proud of this thing. I’m proud that I figured it all out myself. I’m proud that I didn’t have to ask anyone for help with the project. I’m proud about it financially, and proud that I learned new things and got stuff done.

A few months later, however, I ran into some trouble. As a proud new treadmill owner, I learned to adjust the alignment of the belt in the case it started rubbing on either side of the machine by tightening it with an Allen wrench. But one day, I tightened and tightened, and the belt just wasn’t moving in the correct direction. So I tried the other way, and then the other side, and–oops, maybe that was the wrong direction, let me just over-correct that–and soon the belt was really dramatically skewed to one side, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I kept trying turning on the belt, hoping it would straighten out, but…

That’s what happened.

It was a Sunday afternoon. I was just trying to get some studying in, and now I had this giant problem. How much was this going to cost to fix? Who on earth repairs folded-over treadmill belts? How old even is this thing, and can I still get a new belt for it? How long is all of this going to take?

And here’s what I did. I decided to do some problem-solving. I started doing some googling. Lots of googling. Lots of, hmm, that part looks the same as my treadmill, but that doesn’t…that one has a set of screws here, but mine–oh, there they are. Lots of checking different bits to see if they’d go with the screws, then trying lots of ways to figure out why the bit won’t stick to the drill (there’s a real term for that, I bet). Lots of YouTube videos. And lots of time. Like, hours working on this, trying different things while I was thinking about the studying I needed to get done. Lots of turning on the machine hoping this time it’s going to work, when it didn’t.

I’m sure you know where this story is going: I fixed it! I fixed it myself. I figured it out. I didn’t have to wait weeks for whoever fixes treadmill bands, I didn’t have to wait for a new one to be ordered, I didn’t have to pay more money than it was worth, and I didn’t have to figure out how to get rid of a broken treadmill and a new one that my husband still wouldn’t allow in the house. It felt good. It felt, like, really good. I was more proud of this stupid treadmill than I had been of anything for a really long time.

A long story, but here’s the point: Soon after this, I was talking to my therapist about how hard it was to get myself to do some things (depression, remember): How hard it could be to get out of bed, how hard it was to stay focused on studying (especially when it felt like there was a mountain and I wouldn’t even get close, anyway).

And this was her suggestion. She said, when you’re having a hard time getting yourself to do something you’re dreading, think about a time when you worked hard for something, then how good it felt when you achieved it. And when she said this, what did I think of? It wasn’t college, or that paper I got published, or any of the times I’ve gotten a job I’ve applied for.

You guessed it, it was the treadmill.

And that’s what I do now. When I’m struggling with a chemistry question, or dreading looking at finances for the month, when anxiety builds up and I’m afraid to do something, I think about my treadmill. I think about how it looked hopeless, like I wouldn’t be able to do anything about the situation–and then how I buckled down, did some problem-solving, and I figured it out. I fixed it. I did it. And it felt really, really good. When there’s a different kind of problem in front of me, I try really hard to remember that feeling, then go do some problem-solving. It doesn’t always work, but it can help.

Another important piece of this? A lot of wins aren’t as visible as a fixed treadmill. A lot of accomplishments are much smaller, too. But on a hard day, even something like getting out of bed when it looks too hard is worth celebrating. It doesn’t bring that same kind of good feeling as the treadmill did, but it’s still worth a pat on the back and an internal “good job.”

So my advice? Give it a try. Identify a treadmill moment of your own. And don’t forget to congratulate yourself for what reminding yourself of that moment helps you accomplish, even if it’s small.

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