Exercise is not punishment. In my 20’s I spent a lot of time stuck on the hamster wheel
of overeat - do more cardio - congratulate myself by eating and around and around. I had NO IDEA that there was no possible way I was going to burn off the high-calorie, crap food that I enjoyed regularly. I could have saved myself the monthly gym membership at Fitworks and countless hours on the elliptical, contemplating what constituted an emergency that would warrant pressing the red STOP button. The ONLY reason I would force myself there, listening to the exhibitionist grunts and weights hitting the floor, the stench of sweat wafting by, was because I thought- or hoped- it would help me lose weight.
So how did something I hated so much become such a priority and source of great joy for me? Looking back, I can clearly identify key attributes in place that helped change my attitude, and therefore my progress with exercise. Being in an environment that facilitated challenge, accountability and connection changed my mindset about exercise. It became a means to get strong, not skinny.
I has become apparent through my exercise evolution that I am motivated by a good challenge.
Could I run faster? Further? Could I lift heavier? Hit a new PR? Reframing the workout as a challenge rather than punishment changed the feelings I associated with exercise. So getting on the elliptical and pedaling for 30 minutes? Not doing anything for me. But trying to add another 5 pounds to my deadlift? I wanted that sense of accomplishment. I wanted it enough to keep me doing the things I needed to do to get there. The desired outcome became getting stronger not weight loss. Walking into a Crossfit class for the first time was SO terrifying, but the constant challenge there was exactly what I needed at the time. (read more about my Crossfit experience here) Here’s the kicker though. The challenge has to be attainable. Small gains are motivating and set up a pattern of success.
This is a big one for me. When I found exercises and activities that were with people who I wanted to be around, I was more motivated to do them. I first learned this lesson when Alex was a toddler. Another mom suggested we take our sons out for a jog. So we bundled them up, plopped them in the jogging stroller (which I had despite not being a jogger) and headed to Central Park. I don’t remember, but I am guessing I didn’t run much on those first few runs. But spending time with my new friend alleviated some of the loneliness I felt living in New York City.
A few years later when I joined a Crossfit gym after moving to Shanghai, I looked forward to going because I immediately felt part of the community. In addition to some of my closest friends, people I didn’t know cheered me on with each new accomplishment. They cared about my progress and I felt safe even when fearing failure. I cried, sobbed, ugly tears, after my last workout at that gym. So now, I make sure to always have opportunities to share getting stronger with the people who I genuinely love to be around. On the days I am not super excited to move, at least I can look forward to the camaraderie.
So do I always look forward to a workout? Of course not, and in the beginning I really didn’t. But I realize now the systems for accountability that were in place, kept me going through the days I just didn’t feel like it. I signed up for a race, so I had to train for it. Then I did it again. And by the way, my friend who was also training? MapMyRun would inform me every time she completed a run like a little announcement to get my ass off the couch. I paid for a semester of a neighborhood bootcamp, so I felt an obligation to go. The fact that they worked out across the street made it pretty hard to ditch. My friend, and neighbor, was driving me to Crossfit, so I certainly couldn’t bail on her plus I knew she would keep me laughing to, during and after. It became easier to go than not, which may have been the most important part of exercise becoming habit. The habit stuck when the feeling I received from getting stronger was greater than the desire to not move my body.
Last year, in an exercise to look at my own core values, guess which ones showed up? Right. Connection, accountability, challenge among others. Making sure the values were present in any fitness opportunity, has made moving my body a source of profound enjoyment in my life. Having those values present in my workouts have allowed me to focus on the benefits of becoming stronger, building a habit rather than trying to undo a bad one.
If you are trying to start moving more, ask yourself what other factors would be
motivating? Because really, who is going to persevere in an endeavor that brings no enjoyment? What is important to you? What makes you happy? I challenge you to look for those answers first and then incorporate them into your fitness routine. Move to get stronger not to undo what happened in the kitchen. And I am always here to help!