We all know we should ‘do it’, we all want to be good at ‘doing it’, we all feel great when we do ‘do it’. So why is exercise still such a hot topic to discuss and why do we need ‘experts’ to motivate us to get going? Simply put human nature and the thinking mind enables us to go for the easy option. If something is difficult or painful the human mind will (in many cases) want to avoid that activity… unless the pay-off at the end well exceeds the pain. Most of us agree that the pay-off at the end is worth it: weight loss, improved aerobic tolerance, reduced rate of chronic disease, improved muscle tone and an overall sense of well-being (plus more!), but unfortunately, our mind tends to slide off the good like Teflon, and stick to the bad like Velcro. Suddenly… motivation is becoming a very complex issue.
My mind started wandering into the world of exercise motivation recently when I was asked to be a guest speaker at the ‘Lets talk health’ seminar series hosted by Good Practice Good Health. The Q&A session went just as expected. We discussed the benefits of exercise, the mechanisms of how to best work out and how physiotherapy fits into the world of exercise therapy. One of the final questions raised by the audience was something along the lines of…
“I exercise regularly and understand it’s benefits, but I want something that is going to motivate me, change my perspective and truly improve my mind and body well-being! So… motivate me! What kinds of exercise should I do?”.
Rather put on the spot, our panel of ‘experts’ stayed relatively quiet, not because we aren’t passionate about our field, but simply because the question was so loaded, so deep, so complex that it couldn’t possibly be answered succinctly and in a general enough format to be relevant for the entire audience. But following the event, and in the quietness of my own mind, I continued to ponder the question. Where do we start in motivating people toward a particular exercise and direction of well-being? And if we can achieve it… could we possibly by-pass the complexities of the mind that enables us to constantly go for the easy option.
Values & beliefs.
In my past life when I worked with chronic pain patients, we began our programs by exploring our values and beliefs. When we can isolate our values and rate their importance against how effectively we are achieving them, we can form goals and directions for improving our life in a way that is truly important to us as individuals.
Step 1: What are your values?
Do you want quietness/peace in your life? Do you want to play actively with your kids? Do you want to have meaningful social interactions? Do you want to present yourself as aesthetically pleasing as possible? Often the simple idea that you will reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease by “blah blah” percentage isn’t enough to get motivated to exercise, especially when the idea of cardiovascular disease could be many years away. But when we apply the benefits of exercise to our core values we enhance the pay-off. It becomes more individually important and we thrive in participating in the exercises that are relevant to us. For example, if quietness and peace is something that you value in your life, yoga, rather than cross fit is going to be more appealing and hence enhance motivation. If social interactions are important to you, team sports will be more effective for you than smashing out self-directed gym sessions.
Pacing is an idea that consistently comes up in exercise education. However I feel that it is an undervalued concept. Pacing is the idea that we avoid the ‘boom and busts’ of exercise. We avoid going 100% all of the time to avoid the burn-out that inevitably follows. Back to my basic ideas of why we can’t stay motivated, busting ourselves brings more ‘bad’ stuff. We feel sore the next day, we are exhausted, we have sacrificed excessive time out of our busy schedules… all these things play a part in the big picture we call ‘motivation’ and it becomes difficult to see all the ‘good’ stuff that comes from exercise.
Step 2: Practice loving kindness toward yourself.
OK don’t lose me here! It may seem like this blog has taken a sudden turn toward the ‘airy-fairy’ borders of spiritualism, nevertheless, loving kindness is a form of mindfulness meditation practice that is based on the premise that all human beings just want to be happy. Loving-kindness practiced toward ourselves has the capacity to drive away competition and harshness with ourselves and inherently build on our internal happiness. Ask yourself: Would you ever speak to anyone else the way we so often speak to ourselves? Remember, practicing loving-kindness is a practiced art, and often doesn’t come naturally or easily. But if we can infuse loving-kindness into our exercise practice then perhaps we can find a more mindful, sustainable and kind way of challenging our physical body.
The most effective times in my life that I dedicated to exercise and my physical health were characterised by one common element: Community. Kristie Solar from Yoga Space Gippsland touched on this concept at the ‘Let’s Talk Health’ seminar and embraces it consistently through her yoga practice. When we have a community of like-minded individuals working toward a common exercise goal and within a common belief system, we allow ourselves to belong to something more powerful and meaningful than if we isolate ourselves.
Step 3: Surround yourself with like-minded people.
Social facilitation is why group programs such as cross-fit, weight loss challenges, team sports and yoga communities are so effective at enhancing motivation. The ‘good’ stuff gets amplified and we engage in a deeper sense of social responsibility and belonging. Physical well-being in a way often becomes the pleasant side effect. Human beings are after all social creatures. We need each other to thrive.
Indulge me in some massive generalisations and stereotyping for the sake of this blog. Cross-fitters will rarely tell you the key to good health is in your yoga practice. Weight lifters will tell you that aerobic exercise is a waste of time. My point is that every time an ‘expert’ discusses the holy grail to physical health they are discussing their passions, their values and their community. It will resonate with some. Of course this complex network of beliefs and experiences are as individual as our eye colour. Every step we walk in our life’s path brings us closer to the moment that is now, and helps shape the people we are. My simple advice moving forward in the search for the perfect exercise is to keep searching, be true to yourself and walk the journey that is right for you in this present moment of your life.
“Be passionate, be kind to yourself and be present”.
We love Mindful Core Pilates! At Calm & Connection Physiotherapy the mind-body connection is our passion. Check if it is your passion and join us for Term 4. Find out all the information you need here!
Be kind to yourself,