16 June 2014

Exercise - Part 2: Motivation

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You may really, really believe in the benefits of exercise and really, really want to do it but still feel unmotivated to actually start. Believe me, I am familiar with the feeling. It took a long time for me to start exercising consistently (it's the first time in my life I've done so). I wanted to share some of the things that motivated me and helped me to get to the point where I took action and became committed.

A little back-story: when I first became ill I went to my GP. She was less than helpful, diagnosing me with "exhaustion" which, in my opinion, is not a diagnosis but a symptom - I could have told her that I was exhausted ... in fact, I did! I wanted to know what was causing the exhaustion, not to be told I was exhausted. Anyway, that's another story. Point is, she told me to rest as much as possible. She said I shouldn't do anything more strenuous than 20 minutes of gentle walking as exercise puts stress on the body. (I've since learned that yes it does, but it is just the right amount of stress to provoke a beneficial response in terms of healing, lowering inflammation, boosting your immune system, etc.)

At first I was too sick to do anything active at all anyway, but as time went on and I regained more function I was too afraid to do any exercise. I felt like I would fall behind in my slow recovery. I wanted to conserve my energy for healing, rather than use it up on exercise. I didn't know then that exercise would actually have given me more energy and helped with my healing.

Fast forward to my new doctor looking at my cholesterol ratio and saying it was not good. I asked her how I could correct it and she said, "Exercise." I told her what my GP had said and asked if I should be listening to my body (which, let's face it, was always going to be telling me to sit on the couch and eat cake) or if I should be pushing myself. She said without hesitation, "Push yourself!" and that is all that I needed to hear. I was ready to get started.

So a motivating factor was health. I wanted to improve my cholesterol ratio and my fasting blood sugar. I wanted to become stronger and more resilient. I wanted to protect and improve my cardiovascular health.

As I was thinking over starting an exercise plan I noticed that Louise, a YouTuber that I follow, was beginning a daily exercise programme. She would post pictures of her daily walks on her Instagram account. Seeing her pictures really inspired me. I thought, here is someone who is busier than I am, has a young child at home, is bigger than I am, and has crappier weather (January in England sucks) and she is managing to walk every day - what is my excuse? She wasn't doing anything crazy, just squeezing in a 20-30 minute walk each day. I figured I could do that.

So a second motivating factor was a role model. I had someone to look up to who was making it happen. It made me feel like I could make it happen too.

I decided to go for a walk and see how far I got. There is a loop from my house that includes three hills. I didn't know how far the loop was (I now know it's 3.3km, or 2 miles) and I didn't know if I could walk all of it and I didn't know how steep the hills were going to be on foot, but I decided to try. I thought I'd walk as slowly as I needed to (remember, I had ZERO fitness after being completely sedentary for an entire year) and I'd walk until I felt like I was getting worn out and then I'd turn back.

I walked out and took it at a pace I could manage. I kept walking, wanting to see what was around the next corner. The hills were tough but step by step I climbed them. Before I knew it I was halfway around the loop and there was no point in turning back, so I kept going. I walked the entire loop! I was so proud of myself!! I didn't die!!

So a motivating factor was pride, self-respect and self-esteem. It felt so good to accomplish something I didn't think I could do and I was so pleased that I'd made the effort instead of just talking about it. It made me want to do more.

I also remembered this video by a YouTuber that I follow, that I'd watched a while before. I encourage you to watch it when you have 21 minutes to spare; I found it very helpful and motivating. (For those reading in a feed reader, you'll have to click over to the blog to see the embedded video, or click on the link above.)

It made me realise that feeling crappy while I exercised was okay, it was normal and wouldn't last forever. It made me realise that your body can lie to you and it's okay to push through.

It also helped learning that the discomfort that you feel when exercising is what causes the changes in your body that you want to see. Basically your body doesn't like the discomfort of heavy breathing, or increased heart rate, or heavy weights, and makes changes (more efficient pulmonary and cardiovascular system, stronger muscles) that will make the task more comfortable. Your bones ache when you run? Your body will increase bone density. Your joints creak when you work out? Your body will increase the synovial fluid to lube things up.

I'm not talking about courting injuries and ignoring actual pain; I'm talking about the "I don't like this much" discomfort.

So feeling uncomfortable when exercising actually became motivating to me - I knew I was forcing my body to change for the better. Instead of not wanting to exercise because I felt yucky, I could welcome the discomfort, knowing it's a good thing.

I also gained so much from the Spark book that I've mentioned before in my last post. Knowing the changes that are taking place in my brain when I exercise is hugely motivating to me.

So a motivating factor was knowledge. Learning made me feel differently about the process.

We all have internal dialogues. We may not even realise we are doing it but we talk to ourselves and send ourselves messages all the time. It is important to create dialogues that you want to hear - change negative self-talk and make it positive.

While exercising I had a stern talk with my body (Grant thinks I'm mad, but whatev.) Because here's the thing: my body can be a whiny little so-and-so. While exercising my body's saying, "I'm tired. This is uncomfortable. It's hot. I'm sweaty. I don't like being out of breath. It's scary when my heart pounds like this. My feet hurt. It's too far. I can't do this. Waah waah waah waah." So while out walking I had a chat with my bod. I said, "I'm done listening to you. You had your chance last year and we did nothing all year, and where did that get us? You need to listen to me now; I'm in charge. I'm telling you that we are going to do this. You don't have to like it. It's good for us and it's in your best interest, so suck it up and do as I tell you. We're doing this exercise and we're doing it regularly so you might as well get used to it. You aren't dying and I'll stop before I injure you. But we are doing this and I'm not really interested in if you're enjoying it or not. I know you can do this! Let's do it!" (Now you know why Grant thinks I'm crazy.)

So a motivating factor was changing my internal dialogue. No more negative self-talk. I believed in myself and I was committed to doing what I needed to do. I was not going to find excuses in the discomfort of exercise.

Around about that time my dad was visiting and he and Grant wanted to do the Mt William walkway near our home. It's an uphill forest hike that's not too serious but I still didn't know if I could do it. I was having a particularly low-energy day and got winded just walking across our garden. I was just feeling worn out in general.

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I almost didn't join them, but then I decided to go along and just go as slowly as I needed to. I thought I'd stop when I couldn't manage any more, sit and rest in the forest, and Grant and my dad could go on ahead and pick me up again on the way back down.

We set off into the woods. My dad goes top speed and went on ahead, booking it through the forest as he likes to do. Grant stayed right behind me, happy to let me set the pace. I just put one foot in front of the other and breathed deeply, plodding along up the forest trail. I was slow and occasionally I had to stop and rest but I persisted. Eventually I rounded a corner and came out into sunshine and realised I'd hiked the whole forest trail! I could not believe it. I was so ecstatic.

I felt like I floated all the way down again. I was on such a high. I could not believe I'd conquered a mountain! (Well, a little one anyway.) There was no stopping me after that.

So a motivating factor was achievement. I cannot describe how much confidence that forest trail gave me. I figured that if I could hike a mountain I could do anything!! There was no stopping me.

Grant had stuck with me the whole time on the trail. He knew what it took for me to get to the top, how much I pushed myself and how hard it was. He was so proud of me that he later bought me flowers to tell me so. It meant the world to me. I still get teary thinking about it.

Later in my exercise journey I sent him this text and he sent this reply:

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So a motivating factor for me is support. It makes a world of difference to have Grant and my BFF Carley who are so supportive and encouraging to me. It makes me want to make them proud. I don't want to let myself down by quitting but I also don't want to let down those who believe in me.

The last motivating factor I wanted to mention is habit but I won't go into it too much now, as that's what the next post is all about.

To list the motivations that I've mentioned:
- health
- role model
- knowledge
- changing my internal dialogue
- achievement
- support
- habit

The thing is, quite a few of these motivational factors occurred after I began. Sometimes you just need to make yourself do it. I promise that if you commit to exercising regularly it will create its own positive cycle. Just make the commitment and go for it. You deserve it.

Dr Phil (I love Dr Phil!) said: "The difference between winners and losers: Winners do things that losers just don't want to do." Be a winner and just make yourself do it. The rewards will come and a positive cycle will begin.

Do I always want to exercise? No. Sometimes I really want to do it, sometimes I crave it and look forward to it BUT sometimes it's really, really hard to make myself do anything. I have to force myself to work out.

Do I always enjoy exercising? No. Sometimes I have a blast (the other day I had such a runner's high that I was grinning the whole way around my route) but sometimes I have to force myself through every step.

Do I ever regret doing a workout? Never. Not ever. Not even once. Not even a little bit. I never, ever regret having exercised!

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Please come back in a couple of days for part three of this series, in which I talk about how I established the exercise habit.

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