I was recently working out and in the reception area of the studio was a pillow that said, “Strong is the new skinny.” I initially liked the sentiment because I advocate for women focusing on what their bodies can do as opposed to how they look. I have gained a great deal of personal power from challenging my body and mind through exercise. As I thought about it more, I start to reflect on how I encourage my counseling clients to dedicate themselves to some type of exercise regiment for the benefit of their mental health. This rarely transfers out of the therapy session unless they previously had one. The research is overwhelming that exercise is one of the most important things that an individual can do to stabilize their emotional well-being, decrease depression and increase self-esteem. What I have found is the way to create a committed exercise practice is to go for a run or hit the gym because it will make you feel better mentally and emotionally. When the connection between exercising and emotional well-being is solidified, the approach and commitment to exercise is transformed. If you go because you “should” or because you ate too much, need to lose weight or feel badly, you will never form the habit. Why? If your psychological association to the physical activity is based in guilt or self-criticism, it only follows that you will resist it. This all makes sense in your head, but how do you get started?
Figure out your exercise style. As with any other personal preferences, we all have unique needs when it comes to exercise. I don't mean physical needs, I mean mental needs. For example, one person may need to join a running group to help them motivate to tie on their sneakers and get moving. On the other hand, I started running when I had toddlers and what appealed to me was that I had an hour completely to myself to enjoy my music or silence. Exercise should be an extension of our personality and our stage in life. These preferences will shift as you change and your life changes. Now that my kids are older and I am in a different place in life, I really enjoy running with a friend to use this time to connect and talk.
Make it easy or you won’t do it. A Soul Cycle and and an Equinox were recently opened about 25 minutes from my house. Many people that I know promptly signed-up for the new, nicer facilities than those closer to home. As badly as I wanted the new, shinier workout experience, I stopped myself. The reality is that if it isn’t easy, close or convenient, you aren’t likely to make it happen. Even the most dedicated people are busy and face days where they don’t feel like exercising, the routine and lack of inconvenience are what get them there.
Know your limits and your limitations. It is often the case that you body is stronger than your mind. Your mind is almost always your greatest limitation to pushing yourself physically. Part of what makes the practice of exercise so important is that it trains you to have control over your “inner voice.” It helps you to acknowledge the self-limiting talk of “I can't go any further” or “I am not going to join a barre class and look like a complete fool!” This is exactly where empowerment is born. When you push past your mental hurdles, you find your strength and it feels remarkable. When you train your mind, your body will follow. This being said, you don't need to kill yourself to find your mental and physical strength. You need to start somewhere that will allow you to feel some mastery and encourage you to return for another round. If you push too far, you will feel self-defeated. This again is where you are learning about yourself and getting more intimate with your psychological tendencies. Through balancing your self-imposed limitations and knowing your limits, you find your complete unique sense of self.
You are never going to feel like it. I recently watched a wonderful TedTalk by Mel Robbins. My favorite take away was that you are never going to feel like starting something new or pushing yourself further, you just have to do it anyway. If you wait until you feel like doing something, you will never get it done. So, stop reading and start doing. If you only get your heart pumping for 10 minutes, it is better than nothing. Start today.