Do you ever feel guilty about not getting enough exercise? By now we've all heard the benefits of exercise and the risks of being sedentary. It's clear that moving and exercising our bodies is a healthy habit.
The trouble with healthy habits is that sometimes we don't relate to them in powerful ways. Sometimes they become "shoulds". Before we know it, our inner two-year-olds kick in and we start to resist those habits that our wiser selves would like us to embrace. Let's face it: No one likes to be told what to do!
If you're wanting to develop a healthier relationship to movement and exercise, but are encountering resistance, here are five ways to shift your thinking.
- Stop using exercise as a calorie-burning tool. We've been programmed to think that exercise is a way to burn calories and lose weight, but research suggests that using exercise for weight loss can be counter-productive. We humans tend to overestimate how many calories are burned during exercise and reward ourselves by eating more after working out (especially if we didn't enjoy it). Here's another thing: Working out in order to lose weight reinforces self-judgement and that "never enough" voice of our inner critic. This can put us on a never-ending gerbil-wheel - focusing our attention on a hoped-for future result of exercise rather than allowing us to fully experience it in the moment.
- Stop comparing your movement and exercise habits to others. Magazines are filled with articles about the best ways to exercise to be attractive - perpetuating our cultural obsession with youth and beauty. The benefits of exercise go far beyond appearance, though, and there are many different healthy ways to challenge and nurture your body. The kind of exercise that you do is less important than making sure that you do it regularly. Studies of top athletes reveal that those who engage in high-intensity sports like cycling don't live any longer than those who practice low-intensity sports like golf. Find forms of movement and exercise that you enjoy — and then enjoy them regularly.
- Pay attention to your experience of movement and exercise. Allowing yourself to be fully present as you move and challenge your body is a valuable opportunity to deepen your awareness and build your motivation to continue the habits you're creating. Notice your preferences. Do you prefer to exercise alone or with a group? Indoors or outdoors? With music or not? What kinds of movement and exercise do you enjoy? What do you find valuable about movement and exercise?
- Think outside the box. Engage your curiosity about ways you can challenge and nurture your body. Let go of the need to exercise "the right way" and ask yourself how you can move more. Include everything that allows you to weave movement and exercise into your life.
- Have fun. Not everyone enjoys exercising at a gym! As you release self-judgement about the "shoulds" of movement and exercise, you may find you have more mental and emotional space to play. This is a great opportunity to practice "beginner's mind" — letting go of needing to look good or have everything figured out. What looks like fun? What have you always wanted to try?
Noticing and exploring our resistance to movement and exercise can be a rich way to build greater self-awareness. It provides an inquiry that can reveal self-limiting thoughts and assumptions as well as our deepest values.
What about you? Where have you encountered resistance to movement and exercise, and what have you learned from that? Please share your experiences in the comments below.