14 March 2007
Wow, you exercise a lot! (or… How I stopped thinking of exercise as a chore.)
I’ve seen a couple of posts lately and had a couple of conversations lately that got me thinking about how much I exercise, and what it is that makes someone think about exercise as a chore vs. something they look forward to. Now, mind you, I recognize that my exercise schedule is probably pretty hard to believe for must people. We all live busy lives and so the idea of spending 12 hours or more per week doing exercise sounds like a lot. Even to me, when I write that down on paper, it looks like a lot of time… but when I’m doing it, or even when I’m planning my week or my day, it really doesn’t seem like a lot. Why is that?
First of all, let’s set a little context. Phil had a great post on his blog about habits. I mentioned to him that I thought it was a really great post, and he and I got talking about this topic. He was reminding me of three years ago when he and I first met, and I was not very fit… the fact is I was fat… I was clinically obese, and I never really exercised at all my entire life. Phil’s theory was that when I first lost my weight I didn’t think about myself as fit, I probably still thought of exercise as a chore. I was dedicated to doing it, and I intellectually understood the value of sticking to a regular plan… but to use his language I was “white knuckling it”… I was going to force myself to go every day and make progress. But then, sometime in the last three years something happened… one day I stopped thinking about it as a chore, and I started looking forward to exercise, I started assuming that I would exercise and that the idea of not exercising became the exception.
I think Phil’s on to something here. Ironically, I can’t tell you that I ever started thinking of myself as a “fit person”, I still don’t necessarily define myself that way… oh sure, I know that of course I am very physically fit, and I’m not lamenting that I’m not more fit… I’m just saying I don’t per se identify with “being fit”. But I do identify with “riding my bike, running, and swimming, and being active”…. I wake up every morning, and I assume I will get in a good hour or more of exercise at some point during the day. I don’t plan it, per se, I don’t fret about it, I just know it’s going to happen.
I discovered this cool page on RunHappy a couple weeks ago. Of course it’s written to be a little funny, one of those inside jokes that if you really do “get it” then you’ll see yourself in the joke, and it will hopefully give you some joyful insight into yourself. My personal favorite is “You can say “easy 5 mile run” without cracking a smile”. This concept feeds into the idea I’ve been noodling about. I mean, of course, today I say “easy 5 mile run”… or I even say “short 10 mile run”… WHAT!? I can’t believe I just wrote that, or thought that… at least the guy I was 3 years ago couldn’t think of saying that. But when did this happen? Why did this happen? When did the idea of exercise become so natural to me?
I’m not complaining… no, if anything I ask these questions, because I genuinely believe that if more of us could break through this wall of making exercise seem more normal, we’d see huge unexpected benefits in our society. There are the obvious ones, like improved quality of health, reduced health care costs for all of us, etc. But there are other benefits as well.
For example, when I ride my bike to work (even 20miles 1 way) I don’t think of it as a chore, it’s just what I do. How did I get to the point where I believed I could do that and that it would come naturally. I had to believe that physically I could accomplish this goal, but beyond that, one day, it just seemed like the best way to get somewhere. I looked forward to riding to work in the morning, as a way of waking up and getting in touch with the world around me. I even regret a little that I don’t have to ride to work anymore, now that I work out of my home. Needless to say, if we all commuted by bike or by foot, the impact on our planet would be significant.
Another subtle benefit is “emotional health”. I hope that’s not too loaded of a term, but let me describe it this way: the thing that really convinced me to start exercising was the idea that it would help me become a more balanced person emotionally. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t some sort of a loose cannon Tasmanian devil or anything. But I had a reputation at work for being hard-nosed and forceful about achieving my goals and the goals of my team. It never got me into an trouble, but a mentor of mine saw that it could someday in my future become a roadblock. (At least that’s what they told me.) And, being the sucess motivated guy I am, decided, “hey this sounds like something I can work on and improve myself”… so I took on exercise originally, as a way to soften my “go get’em attitude”. And guess what, it worked wonders. Of course, you could argue that I just channeled my energy toward fitness instead of being ‘a wee bit aggressive’ at work. But the result was the same, and I am a much happier more emotionally balanced person now. My work colleagues will attest to this fact.
Ok, so how much exercise is enough? Well, the point of this post is that only you can answer that question for yourself. And hopefully, there will come a point in your fitness journey, where you shift from “white knuckling it” to feeling like execise is the assumption and it’s just part of your life.
A lot of coaches and trainers and fitness professionals encourage people to start with a non-appearance related goal… like running your first half marathon, or racing in your first triathlon. I didn’t take that approach, I admit, but in retrospect I think there is a lot of value in this approach. Why? Well, it focuses your “practice” which is admittedly part of that “white knuckle” stage, on a very visible end point with a clear goal, a clear accomplishment. Wearing that finishers medal will be a true moment of pride.
This week Ray Britt posted a great article on how much time it takes to train for a triathlon. I think this is a great article, and it speaks to one of the biggest concerns that I think many people in that “white knuckle” stage of fitness have. How can I ‘make time’ for all this exercise? Well, it turns out that in practice, it doesn’t take that much time. Most training can be fit it in on your lunch break. The trick is finding something that keeps you going, until you finally flip that switch where fitness is just part of you.
I wish I could point to what made that switch happen for me. Phil thinks it was when I got on a bike… and discovered how much fun it was. I think he’s right about the timing, but I don’t think it was just the fun of the bike. I will keep doing some soul searching, and if I discover the answer, I will do my best to share it with all of you. In the mean time, if you have passed the “white knuckle” stage, then congratulations, and if you are still forcing your self to fit in exercise, then congratulations and good luck. I’m rooting for you!