I couldn’t understand it. How was it possible that I could barely breathe, and they walked out of the class as if it was a walk in the park? Not to mention that while they glistened, it looked like I had just finished a shower. Was it possible that I was so out of shape that the class was simply that much harder for me?

Recently I started a specialized eating program to help lower my cholesterol. It is a short but intense type of diet, and one of the conditions is that there is to be minimal, if any, working out.

As I am a creature of habit, this condition terrified me

As I am a creature of habit, this condition terrified me. I was finally in a routine where I made it to the gym at least three times a week. My fear was that if I stopped, for any reason, that would be it. I would not be motivated to go back. So, after speaking with the nutritionist, I was told I could attend the classes, but just needed to ensure that I stick to modifying my favorite class to low-impact.

The music started, and I worried how I would handle my beloved instructor, who would always leave me sore for a good week following her intense workout. While it went against my nature, my goal was to keep my breathing even. So, instead of throwing my arms back as hard as I could, I did the same movement, but with hardly any effort. And it worked.

But here was the thing.

No one knew I wasn’t really working out. Even I didn’t see the difference when looking in the mirror. I looked just like everyone else. I did all the routines. I didn’t skip out on any of the movements; I just didn’t do them full force. When she jumped high, I jumped low. When she kicked with strength, I kind of threw my leg into the air.

There was a woman next to me who had never taken the class before. She was huffing and puffing, and kept looking at me with a mixture of shock and amazement. By the end, she finally asked how it was possible that I just made it through that class without so much as breaking a sweat. It was a statement more than a question, so I didn’t even get the chance to tell her it was because I was faking it. It looked like I had worked out. But it certainly didn’t feel like it.

I wonder how often we allow ourselves to cheat

I wonder how often we allow ourselves to cheat. Sure, it can be easier or quicker to look as if we are doing the right thing, when in truth we are just taking the shortcut. But at what point do we recognize that truly, the only one we ultimately cheat is ourselves?

I wanted to go up to every woman in the gym who had been faking it this whole time, and just ask why. Didn’t they realize that if they don’t actually put effort into what they are doing, they won’t get results? Why waste time at the gym, if not to really work out? Why waste time doing just about anything, if we are not going to invest of ourselves. In the end, when we waste time, we waste potential. We waste the ability to produce, to create, to make a real difference. And if we are anyway spending that time, why wouldn’t we want to get the most out of it?

I recently had this conversation with my children. In the morning, when they are running late, it is hard for them to find the time or to invest the proper time to say their morning prayers. It is not that they don’t want to say them, but if it is between that and packing their lunch, often the prayers will take a back seat. As we want their prayers to be beautiful and positive, and not something forced or feeling like a punishment, we are very careful not to be harsh about how we approach the subject.

The other morning, I asked one of my children if she had said her morning prayers. She said “yes,” but refused to look at me when she answered. She is not one to lie, but I also had a strong feeling she wasn’t telling the whole truth. So, I responded, “Wow, that was quick . . . I didn’t realize you could say them so quickly.” She countered, “Well, I didn’t get to say them all, but I did say most . . .” I knew she felt guilty, I knew she was trying to fake her way through, so I tried to use it as a real opportunity to teach her.

She is not one to lie, but I also had a strong feeling she wasn’t telling the whole truth

I explained to her that she doesn’t pray for my sake. It is not about me, and it is not my place to be upset if she doesn’t say what she should. Prayer is between her and her Creator. It is her opportunity to connect, to give thanks and to acknowledge her blessings in this new day. If she cannot or chooses not to say them, that is between her and G‑d. Of course, as her parent, it is my responsibility to encourage and direct her to do what we would like her to do. But at the end of the day, if she does not, she is the only one who loses that opportunity.

And this is not just about our relationship with G‑d. How do I truly invest in all my relationships? It might look like I am a wonderful mother, but the only thing that really matters is if I actually am. Do my kids feel that way? And if they do, then it is pretty unimportant how it might look to those on the outside. We spend so much time and effort trying to look the part. Trying to act the part. Trying to walk the walk. But do we extend that same focus to ensuring we put in the real work where it is needed? Sure, it might look the same externally when we fake it, but is not the same. And we know it. And others feel it. And in the end, we cheat ourselves and those who deserve the real thing when we don’t give it.

It is not about me, and it is not my place to be upset

As hard as it is for me to fake my workouts these days, I know that for right now, not pushing myself is what is healthiest. But I can’t wait until that restriction is lifted and I can go back to throwing myself into every movement as hard and fast as I can. I believe in the “no pain, no gain” approach. And not just for the gym, but in all aspects of life. “Pain” does not mean it needs to hurt. But it does mean you need to push. And you need to feel it. Because if you don’t extend the right effort with the output, the result will never be what it could have been . . . what it should have been.