Ah. The Holy Grail of New Year’s Resolutions: This year I will exercise every day! I will be fit! Lean! Toned! Strong! Who amongst us has not avowed that for ourselves? That this is the year it will be so.
So, how do we create a sustainable exercise habit? It’s all very well in January with our holiday head on, a spring in our step, and the long light days and evenings: Motivation isn’t an issue then. The real question is how do we still want to do it in July, when it’s dark when we get up and dark when we come home, and it’s been raining for four days in a row?
I had a thought about this whilst working out the other day. I’ve got a back injury, which as you no doubt will have experienced yourself is not only painful but also a giant yawn. The rehab process is also a giant yawn (I am not nicknamed The English Impatient for nothing) but it has to be done. It’s been a good lesson for me around sustainable exercise. I like to think of myself as pretty self-motivated. When it’s a boxing class, I am as perky and bouncy and giving 110% as can be. I love everything about it. I love the noise as the gloves hit the bag or the pads. I love the technical skill required to connect correctly. I love that I am learning. I love that the more complex the combinations, the more I have to concentrate so I don’t inadvertently hit my trainer in the face, landing a right hook when she was expecting a cross. I am completely and utterly present. Time flies. My body is completely absorbed and my mind follows.
It’s easy to exercise even though the class is hard. I get to the end and I am knackered but my mind is energised and alive. I haven’t given one thought to the emails I need to answer, or chasing up the carpet fitter guy, or when that GST return needs to be in. My body has been engaged to the point that my mind has had complete relief from everyday thoughts about life or even about the activity itself.
Now, this rehab is a different story. There are lots of, “twenty of this with a big rubber band” and “thirty of that reeeeeeeeeally slowly”. It’s boring. Fairly quickly I am wearing “Rehab Face” which is the unflattering equivalent of a teenage, “I didn’t ask to be born” face. I have to force myself to keep pushing on. It’s what I should do. It’s what I’ve committed to. I want the outcome. But the exercise in itself is boring me to tears. I can’t keep my mind off how much it hurts. How slow it is. If I have time to go to the supermarket later. That I must chase up that refund from the plumber. Feels like it goes on forevaaaaa. I force my body to keep moving through sheer mental determination.
The point that occurred to me is this: Exercise is unlikely to be sustainable if we have to force our body with our mind to keep it moving all the time. Far better to be in a state of flow where our body is moving and taking our mind along for the ride. Choosing exercise for ourselves is far less about what we feel we “should” do or that someone else thinks would be “perfect” for us, or what the latest “guaranteed fat loss in 14 days or your money back!” shiny new trend is, and far more intrinsically linked to our unique mind body makeup.
If we use our mind to move our body, that is called willpower. It runs out. It’s in shorter supply when we are tired. Stressed. Busy. Cold. It’s a motivation of force. If we use our body to move our mind that is called inspiration. It feeds off itself in a self-perpetuating cycle. It creates a feeling of present-ness and stress relief. The action itself is its own reward not just the outcome.
If your exercise intention is not sticking, the question is this:
The more it’s the latter the easier it will be to keep up the habit consistently. If you can isolate and commit to what is physically hard but mentally easy for you, you are onto a sure-fire winner long-term as you harness the energy of flow not force.
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