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Move with the Rhythm 2: Find your Motivation
Move or stagnate. It’s that simple.
Just as a ‘rolling stone gathers no moss’, moving your body all through the day, and in lots of different ways, is the key to feeling good, sleeping well, and keeping your physical health & mental faculties well into old age.
The ‘get moving’ message is not a new one, and most people have had this conversation with themselves more than once. The question is not ‘should we move’ but how to fulfil this need to move, when our lifestyles of convenience don’t provide the volume of incidental movement required to keep us healthy.
On the surface, the simple solution is to ‘do exercise’. That is, to schedule time at the gym (or at home) to move your body purely for the sake of moving your body. Unfortunately, few people find such activity truly satisfying. To the ‘human animal’, the idea of scheduling artificial ‘exercise routines’ is such an unnatural concept that, for most, maintaining such routines is a constant struggle.
So while the solution seems simple on paper, it often doesn’t work in ‘real life’.
Meaning & Purpose
We are naturally driven by purpose, and derive satisfaction from our activities only when they are meaningful to us.
Satisfaction may come from taking pleasure in the experience itself, such as enjoying how your body feels while swimming, or the pleasure of a good night’s sleep following an afternoon of gardening, or the feeling of camaraderie in playing a team sport.
Alternately, the activity may be a means to an end, with satisfaction gained by the outcomes rather than the experience, like achieving a weight-loss goal, or getting paid for a physically challenging task.
We all know that if you really want to do something, you will ... true desire is the ultimate motivator.
If your desire is only superficial (believing you ‘should do it’ or believing it’s the ‘right thing to do’ or even ‘wanting to do it’ for reasons which are not truly meaningful to you), then you are essentially having to ‘make yourself do it’. This is akin to having your ‘inner mum’ forever nagging you to clean your room, and often comes with a range of mixed feelings, like frustration, guilt, failure and low self-esteem.
Your highest motivation to repeat an activity, and the least effort to maintain it, comes when the activity generates personal satisfaction, either in the experience or its outcomes, but ideally in both.
This situation is most likely to occur when your ‘exercise’ is a natural by-product of your life, rather than a meaningless muscle-grind or just one more thing to cross off your ‘to do list’.
So, to successfully increase your level of regular physical activity in a sustainable way, consider:
(1) how you might incorporate more body movement into your current-life activities with minimal disruption, and
(2) where you might replace some sedentary time with more physically-demanding activities which are equally satisfying & meaningful.
Ultimately, it’s not about whether you choose to incorporate a routine exercise program, or choose physically-challenging leisure activities, or simply decide to ‘move more’ in daily life … It’s about doing what ‘moves’ you.
With any change, there is always an initial period of adjustment.
You’ll need to remind yourself and ‘remember to do it’, and you’ll need to experiment and get it working ‘just right’. But, if you’ve hit on something that truly works for you, it will not only happen easily, but you will ‘notice its absence’ and miss it when it doesn’t occur in the routine way.
Tweak your Behaviour
Start by ‘tweaking’ your current lifestyle to incorporate greater body movement into your existing activities (which already have meaning & purpose). This reduces the motivation required, and involves the least disruption to your routines, so it is the best way to initiate change.
When you consider that, with limits on both time & energy, our lives are mostly organized to deal with ‘what matters now’.
A generic desire to ‘be healthy’ will rarely carry enough motivational power for sacrificing the pleasure of spending time with a friend, for example, to make time for an ‘exercise session’ instead. But, when associated with the scheduled ‘friend-time’, that generic desire to ‘be healthy’ can carry enough motivational power, when deciding how to spend that time, to help us choose a physical activity (such as a walk on the beach) over a sedentary activity (like sitting in a café).
If you already have a physically active job (such as a labourer or professional athlete) or a preference for physical leisure-time activities (like dancing, surfing, or rock-climbing), consider yourself truly blessed in this context. The rest of us have to be a bit more conscious, and creative, about maintaining an active lifestyle.
When it comes to simply getting around, the common suggestions of walking or cycling instead of driving, and taking stairs instead of elevators, can add up to a good deal of physical activity, even if you only choose these options half the time.
When you’re on a train or bus, stand up and make your muscles work to keep your balance.
Get around on a scooter, skateboard or rollerblades, if that’s your thing.
Next, think of the many small ways you can increase body movement by making your life-style slightly less ‘convenient’, without truly inconveniencing yourself.
For example, you could hand-wash the car with a sponge, instead of using a pressure hose; or sweep up leaves & grass clippings instead of using a power-blower; or place your laundry basket on the ground, so you need to bend down and reach up to hang the washing on the line; or lift & carry manageable items yourself, instead of using a trolley (or calling your hubbie). Even just moving more swiftly, while doing your usual household tasks, can provide some good body stimulation.
Each time you do something around the house or yard, just ask yourself “how could I adapt this activity to challenge my body more?”
In fact, the easiest change you can make immediately is simply to stay on your feet for any task which doesn’t actually require you to be seated.
If you stand while doing a task, it calls on 30% more body-effort, which means a 30% greater contribution to your fitness-campaign (and burning 30% more calories) than doing the same task while sitting down.
Add to this the fact that, because you’re in a position of mobility, you’re more likely to do further incidental movement. You may walk about a bit, or bend to grab something off a low table, or even ‘get jiggy’ to a song on the radio. Without even thinking about it, you could raise that 30% improvement to 50%, and beyond, simply by ‘getting off your backside’.
Choose More Active Alternatives
The cumulative pleasure, satisfaction and reward generated by these little increases in body movement will, over time, actually make you want to move more. This will help strengthen motivation for the next stage, which is to replace some of your existing sedentary activities with more active alternatives.
You may actually want to incorporate a structured exercise routine into your schedule but haven’t been able to ‘find the time’. You may want to swim, do some weight-training, or practice yoga.
If you feel this is a true desire, rather than a ‘should-do-some-proper-exercise’ response, perhaps it hasn’t happened yet because your ‘vision’ requires a ‘too dramatic’ change to your current life routines.
Think small, to begin with. Aim to bring in the routine itself first, with lower frequency and shorter time-frames than your final goal. Perhaps start with a swim or gym work-out only once a week. Or you might begin jogging daily, but only in with a short 5 minute run on your lunch break.
The biggest hurdle, in most cases, is getting an activity into your routine to begin with. Once you’ve established a pattern of regularity, even if it’s only once a fortnight, the unconscious concerns or resistance which have so far prevented you from making a start, will gently be softened. You will then be able to gradually increase the frequency & length of your sessions.
Exercise sessions aside, there are many other physical activities you may take pleasure in, but haven’t considered as contributing to a fitness plan.
Such activities may only occur rarely because (1) they are low on the priority scale when compared with tasks that require your immediate attention, and/or (2) it takes less mental ‘drive’ to simply stay home and watch a movie.
If you shift your perception to view an activity as a viable ‘exercise’ option, then this, combined with knowing you enjoy the activity, can help raise its value on the ‘effort versus gain’ scale in your mind, and give you greater motivation to make it happen.
For example, take a moment to consider your average ‘disco dancing’ as a physical activity. It is an aerobic exercise, which ‘burns’ about 150 kcal in just 15 minutes, provides the same degree of body challenge as playing football, hockey or squash, and contributes to a wide range of immediate and long-term health benefits.
If you are someone who has always enjoyed a good dance, but ‘don’t go out much these days’, perhaps looking at dancing in this way might make you want to replace the usual Saturday night pizza-and-movie with the occasional night-out kicking your heels up. Or you might just have a ‘disco-hour’ at home, where you push the couch back, play a rockin’ CD, go wild, and then wind down with a movie afterwards.
Make a list of fun things you might be likely to do more often, because you can now perceive them as ‘exercise’ as well as pleasure.
Reflect, also, on the activities which currently make up your weekly routine. Consider how some of the more sedentary time-slots could be given up, even occasionally, to something more physical, without losing their intended purpose.
If it’s time for a break, you may have a wander around the garden, or take a walk in the park, instead of sitting down in front of the TV. If you read to relax, perhaps you could devote some of that time to a physical relaxation activity, like simple body-stretching or yoga, or doing some tai-chi. If the family plays board games on a Sunday afternoon, you can add a physical bonus to the communal benefits of group activity by getting outside on some Sundays, and throwing a frisbee, kicking a ball around or playing tag.
There are so many possible ways to introduce more activity, while still retaining the overall integrity & flow of your current life routines. These few brief suggestions are merely a starting point.
Make it Personal
The key to success, when adapting your lifestyle for greater physical activity, is to make it personal.
Reflect on what truly gives you pleasure. Think about what you’ve ‘always wanted to do’ but never found time for. Pay attention to those passing thoughts about ‘what you wish you were doing right now’.
You may consider how others do it, but only for the purpose of ideas and inspiration. Don’t assume that if it works for someone else it will also work for you. Think outside the box, be creative, and don’t be afraid of being different. Remember that what you do in the privacy of your own home is between you and yourself, and if it works, it works!
Together, my work as therapist and teacher, and my main interests (thinking, talking, reading, writing), make my life naturally sedentary. I am continually aware of needing to balance this with physical activity.
Over the years, like most people, I tried the treadmill, and pilates, and doing weights, and a bunch of other ‘ultimate work-out’ programs. But I’ve never been able to maintain any kind of ‘exercise’ routine. I just found it all so incredibly boring, and therefore frustrating.
After so much wasted time, feeling disappointed with myself and wondering ‘what is my issue?’, I gradually just gave it all up and basically said “to hell with trying to get fit”.
Ironically, when I just let myself do whatever I felt like doing, I realized that I actually love moving my body. My issue was not a lack of motivation for activity, but a lack of self-awareness.
By paying attention to my thoughts & feelings on the subject, noticing my own ‘little ways’ and personality quirks, experimenting with my favourites and seeing where my resistance arose, I gradually allowed my own way of ‘being active in life’ to unfold.
For example, joining an exercise class, sports team, or walking group, can actually help some people be more active, but I found the opposite to be true for me. While doing a tai chi session thrilled me, trying to get myself to a weekly tai chi class nearly ‘killed me’.
The teacher was great and group was lovely, but I kept missing classes, and then feeling bad. The whole thing just messed with my head, and I lost the desire to do tai chi even at home.
Yet, when I finally gave up the class, I was back out on the deck, making my tai chi moves, in no time at all!
Honestly, I think I’m like a rebellious teenager. If I feel like I have to do it, my resistance rises and I don’t want to do it.
But, I will happily do weight repetitions with any household object I’m carrying from point A to point B; and I actually get excited about stacking firewood when I have a load delivered; and I love climbing steep tracks through the forest even though it makes my thighs (and lungs) burn; and if a groovy song comes on, I’ll spontaneously stop whatever I’m doing for 5 minutes of ‘crazy dancing’.
I also have a stationary bike sitting on my deck, facing the forest (so I can kid myself I’m riding through nature), but our relationship is extremely random. I might be pottering about, notice the bike, have an urge to go hard for a few minutes, then get off and go about my business. We might have another rendezvous the very next day, or not meet again for several weeks.
This may all sound a bit nutty to some, but that’s my point … If you don’t do it in the way that truly moves you, you either won’t do it at all, or it will always feel like ‘work’.
So, the take-home message is, of course, Move Your Body.
But it is also ‘know thyself’ and find your own best way.
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