Thursday, April 26, 2012

Want to, or need to?

     Most people approach exercise, in all its various forms and types, the same way, with the same thinking.  This thinking invariably turns whatever their chosen form of exercise is into a chore.  Attempting to make time, trying to fit exercise into the busy schedule that is life.  Child raising, work, school, household chores, all of these cut into the 24 hours that we are allotted in a day to Get Things Done.  Add exercise to the list, and especially if we add it to the list of chores, and it becomes easy to see why it becomes a lower priority on the list.

     The approach I am talking about is the phrase "I need to get to the gym today."  This is an inherently self-defeating phrase, and I will explain why.  First, let's talk about needs.  There are four basic needs, outlined in Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Needs.  These are necessary for survival at the most basic level.  They are, food, shelter, clothing, water, and other items we Can't Live Without.  After needs, the rest of what we desire become wants.  This understanding and paradigm is necessary to shift the way we think about exercise and health.

     The phrase or similar wording "I need to get to the gym today." denotes an activity that does not come from personal desire.  It inherently places less personal value to the person, as opposed to what the person wants to do.  The motivation to go to the gym for this individual is coming from an outside source, most likely friends, family, or media, rather than coming from within the individual themselves.  This is a negative look at exercise.  Why?  Because inevitably, the person who says "I need to get to the gym today" will instead turn to "I want to do X today instead of go to the gym."  This external motivation is not enough to keep the individual interested over the long term, and eventually, they will find something else they would rather do with their time.

     We are all guilty of this kind of thinking when it comes to the gym, and most of us do it without A) thinking about what we are saying, and B), considering the impact that our words are having on our subconscious.  By saying "I need to get to the gym today.", we are leaving out the "...but I'd rather go and do X activity instead."

     One of the ways I look at my exercise program, in order to continually make it a positive experience, is to realize that when I am exercising, I am a complete human being.  Humans were not meant to sit behind desks or stand in guard towers for hours on end.  We were designed with the idea of being able to run, jump, climb, roll, tumble, frolic, dance, and otherwise MOVE.  So for me, when I'm exercising, especially when I'm going hard, I am being a complete human being.  I am taking advantage of my genetic potential, and making the most out of what my body is designed for.

It is important not to simply say, "I feel complete."  This is illusory and only temporary in nature, as all feelings are.  Being, knowing, these last forever.  Look back on your hour of hard work, and see all of your human parts come together to do work, work that people were meant to be able to do.  Running isn't a chore, an activity to be conquered, as I sometimes view it.  It is simply another activity that is our birthright as bipedal beings.

     Another thing that makes my sessions enjoyable, and makes me want to get back to the gym, is setting goals.  This point has been hammered on time and again, but let's see if we can shine a different light on goal setting.  Imagine that you are a sedentary being who has not run further than the end of your driveway since you were a kid.  All of a sudden, one day, you decide that you want to be able to run a marathon.  "Today, I'm going to learn how to run a marathon." This is a goal, but not quite the one I'm talking about. You figure it will take you a year to develop the necessary conditioning to run a marathon without getting seriously injured.  So, you start training.  Slowly, of course, because you're not a dummy.  Then, three months into it you're running ten-minute miles, feeling pretty good. 9 months into your program, you realize you're still running ten minute miles.  You may be running thirteen ten-minute miles, but they're still ten-minute miles.  A month later, you're still not getting any faster, and the running itself doesn't seem to be getting any easier.  Finally, you figure that you're just not meant to run a marathon, otherwise you're running would be improving, and you give up in disgust.  Or, you want to get stronger, but you don't seem to be making any progress.

     A marathon or getting stronger are goals, but they are abstract goals, like losing 50 pounds this year.  Set  a short term goal, in order to meet your long term objective.  Make a plan, and stick to that plan with minor adjustments.  Our potential marathon runner, in order to keep his interest, needs to have monthly goals.  "This month, I'm going to get down to a 9:00 mile."  "This month I'm going to run a half marathon in preparation."  Goals need to be realistic, obviously.  Our future Boston Marathonner isn't going to run 13.1 miles his second month.  Five miles is well within reason, however.  Then, when it's time for you to test yourself on your goal, don't just aim to make your goal.  Aim to smash that target into little bits, so that it's a thing of the past and you'll never have to wonder about the progress you've made.

     When I try for a new PR in a lift, I'm rarely satisfied with simply lifting five pounds more than the previous week or month.  I want to hit my goal, and then some.  I want to see what I can do RIGHT NOW!  So set your goal at seven-minute miles, and then aim to smash that goal to oblivion.  When squat day comes around, tell yourself that you're going to hit 350 no matter what, and then go past what you thought you could do.  Success begets success, and the more you smash your goals and records to bits, and make them simply past limitations, the more you will continue to do so.  And as a result, you will begin to look forward to gym time, simply to see what it is you are capable of doing on that day.

     Remember to regularly review the progress you've made on your goals.  The best way to remind yourself of why you're doing all this is to see how far you've come.  Make a chart, take pictures, whatever.  Keep track of what you've done, and what you're about to do.  For me, what I've done is an especially important part of keeping me going, and it motivates me to see how much I can do.

    Don't avoid the exercises that are difficult for you.  This is another common behavior to all of us.  It's only natural to do what comes easy.  Instead, look at the things that are difficult, that give you trouble, and add them to the list of exercises that you want to improve on.  Then, do those exercises almost to the exclusion of all else.  Don't like to squat?  Start squatting on every lower body day you have.  Squat three or four days a week.  Find your current max, set a goal, and then smash that record.  Recognize the benefits that squatting has to your overall athletic ability.  This is not just for squatting, but for any exercise you find yourself avoiding on a regular basis.  Use this dislike as motivation to get better.  "I really, really don't want to do exercise X.  However, I want to get better as an athlete, so I'm going to commit to doing it three times a week."  For me, being a 250 guy, I don't want to run.  In the regular world, I don't think people would expect to see me knocking out two, three, or five miles at a time.  However, running is necessary to be a complete athlete, as well as a capable soldier.  So, I put the time in on the treadmill and the track, and I see improvements.  Now, all of a sudden, running isn't so bad.  I'm kicking ass, and running isn't the chore I used to see it as.

     Finally, prior to starting your session, visualize the person that you want to be.  Determine what the point of your exercise regimen is, and visualize that.  Keep that picture in your head constantly, every time you're resting.  When you think about skipping your gym time, remember who it is you are striving to become.  Remember what part of yourself you are trying to make better.  Don't flog yourself for not wanting to go, simply remember the thing that you are working towards.  Then, at the end of your session, when you're tired, beat up, and want to lay down on the floor after changing, look at yourself in the mirror.  Look at the sweat, at your red face and tired eyes.  Keep that picture of who you want to be firmly in your mind as you reflect on what you've just accomplished.  Congratulate yourself on taking another step in the right direction towards your physical fitness goals.

     The end result of all of this is to shift our thinking away from an external source of motivation to a completely internal source.  We want to be able to say on a daily basis, "I want to go to the gym today."  It will be better in the long run when the spark of motivation burns within us.  That way, we can nurture it on a daily basis until it becomes a flame of desire, burning to get us back into the gym and breaking down barriers and personal records.