Since taking an interest in my health a couple years ago, I have been infatuated with fitness and exercise. I used to spend HOURS in the gym every day, working every muscle group. That got old fast, and I quickly tired of spending more time in the gym than with my boyfriend. So I began to dabble in all different types of exercise – strength training, high intensity interval training, cross fit, yoga, running, and spinning. Right now, I’m really into my yoga practice, spinning once a week, and running when I have time. It might sound like I have a nice little routine going, but I would be lying if I said it was easy. When it comes to fitness, I struggle: both with motivating myself to work out and fitting it into my schedule. Today I’m going to share how I’ve stayed committed during my two years as a fitness junkie. Schedule crunching post to follow later!
Reframe your mindset
Up until about six months ago, the way I thought about exercise was radically different. Exercise was a chore, a task, a line item on my to-do list. I counted it among activities like washing my hair, doing laundry, and going to the grocery store. I thought about exercise as something I had to do, just like eating, bathing, and cleaning. Sometimes, I was stoked to hit the gym – but most of the time, it was a chore I avoided until the last minute. The problem with treating exercise like this is that 1) you skip your work out, or 2) you begin to resent working out.
I try to think about exercise as a privilege. My dad always told me to be grateful for my health – for two legs to walk on and hands to play sports with. I try to bring this gratitude to every morning and to the beginning of each workout – especially runs. How simple it is to run, yet its something we take for granted. I always begin my runs by taking a good look at my legs and feet while I’m stretching, and giving thanks that they work properly. When I get into the thick of a run, and I start to feel exhausted, I try to welcome that energy (or lack thereof) as a sort of existential proof – proof that I’m alive, I’m healthy, and I’m running goddamnit!
Physical activity is an opportunity to care for and get in touch with our bodies – to work them, to stretch them, to rest them. I learned this through yoga practice, but it has changed the way I think about fitness in general. I try to look forward to my planned workouts as opportunities for self expression and self love.
Don’t think, just do
I’m no angel and I’m not always giving thanks when I’m bench-pressing or loving myself halfway through spin class. There’s no doubt – exercise is challenging. However, I often find that it’s not actually during the exercise when I need encouragement; it’s getting myself started.
Treating exercise like a chore makes you dread it. I used to find myself worrying, no, obsessing, about my workouts all through the day. What a waste of mental energy! Using the tools of mindfulness, I began to notice these obsessive thoughts and the impact they were having on my motivation. Now, I just let them go. Worrying about your workout isn’t going to make it any easier or more appealing. So why even give it thought? I try to sit down at the beginning of every week, plan time frames for exercise, and then be done with. I try not to let myself even think about where I’m going to run after work or when I’m going to squeeze in yoga. I know that I have made time; I trust my planning, and I let my workouts come to me.
Vary it up – seriously
This is one of the most common pieces of fitness advice, yet nobody seems to follow it, myself included! It’s so easy to run three times a week for months on end, on the same handful of trails. You know what happens – inevitably, boredom sets in, you become discouraged, and you give it up. Now, I’m trying to mix in new fitness opportunities with the old standbys of running and strength training. For example, tomorrow I’m taking an archery class. It’s been on my list for months to hit our rock climbing gym. The reason I haven’t gotten around to it yet, is that I feel like I must commit – it seems like a waste to just do something occasionally (yeah, I’m a little obsessed with being top notch at everything I do). As discussed above though, I don’t have time to commit to running and yoga and rock climbing. Why not do a little of everything?
Sometimes, I do focus in on one type of activity, like if I’m training for a race… but it’s been proven though that cross-training actually makes us stronger than performing one activity over and over. An added bonus to keeping boredom in your personal fitness at bay!
Bring attention to how you feel
Once I actually get myself on the mat or on the trail, I take many deep, deliberate breaths and just drop out. Drop the day so far, drop the post workout to-do list, drop the worry about whether you’re doing it right … Just get rid of all of it and bring attention to how you feel, right now. Focus on your breath. When I run, I like to feel the soles of my feet hitting the trail over and over. Whenever I catch myself lost in thoughts, I take a deep breath, exhale, and drop it. I do this every time I catch myself, without judgment or irritation. Obviously, I learned this trick from yoga – and it’s integral in keeping me committed to my health.
I’ve been on runs where the entire hour, my head was in the clouds. I barely even remember running, other than the vague feeling of wanting it to be over. What tyranny. When we mindlessly exercise like this, we let all the wrong things dictate our workouts – guilt of skipping, desire to be thin, task-mastering. Now, I always try to run because I want to. Because it’s relaxing to take a break from my crazy busy life, and do nothing else but move my legs and feel the wind on my face. By bringing attention to how you feel while you exercise, you can truly savor the experience. You don’t have to enjoy it. The feeling of slowing down and being present – not letting your mind run elsewhere – will bring you back. It brings me back.
Give yourself a little reward
No, I’m not talking about a mug of ice cream or half a bottle of wine. I’m talking about internal gratification. Self love. When you finish a workout, take a moment to congratulate yourself for your efforts! Remind yourself that despite your lack of motivation or time, you freaking did it – you made the effort to care for yourself and explore your body. You committed to become a stronger, more focused , and disciplined being. Can I get a hell yeah? I like to finish a heavy lifting session by looking in the mirror, and telling myself what a badass I am while throwing air punches or flexin’ my guns, but that’s just me 🙂
Just like savoring the exercise while it’s happening, try to savor the post-workout feeling. You know what I’m talking about – that feeling rocks. Live in it. The more you let it sink in, the more eager you will be to exercise again – to get back to that happy place.