Do you look forward to a strenuous workout?
If so, congratulations! But the rest of what follows may seem like incomprehensible gibberish to you. If you don’t need to twist your brain into pretzel-like configurations in order to motivate yourself to exercise: you are free to resume websurfing. Enjoy a few more videos of rhinos cuddling with meekrats, or watch with terrified fascination as the next Trumpian plans for the apocalypse are announced. Google up a tasty gluten-free avocado brownie recipe! Or hell, go out and run a marathon and follow it up with a nice little nap.
There all sorts of healthy ways to motivate to exercise! I’ve talked a lot about exercise motivation and demotivation and remotivation over the years, and will doubtlessly yammer on for years to come. I have all kinds of healthy motivational tricks that I’m not embarrassed to share, and these are a large part of my aresenal.
But there is also a seamy back-alley of exercise will-power, and I have some other secrets you don’t see mentioned in respectable publications. Yet for some of us, these are a real help in keeping us consistent throughout the years, yielding the numerous physical and emotional benefits that sedentary people do not get to enjoy.
Just what the heck am I talking about?
Doing Battle With Natural Reluctance and Sloth
Here’s the problem: I have a highly evolved human brain. It knows vigorous exercise is good for me. But still: I don’t wanna.
The prospect of changing into a special outfit, removing myself from my comfortable house, transporting myself to some inconvenient location in order to lift heavy things over and over, or flail around until my heart pounds and my legs weaken and I can barely breathe, and to end up all sweaty so I need to shower and change again? I’m like: Fuck this, do I have to? Really?
And yet it’s weird: most of the time when I go, I don’t hate it all that much, and in fact, I often even enjoy my workout for many minutes at a time!
So what gives? Why can’t my logical brain put these two facts together, conclude that reluctance is a shitty predictor of future reality, and skip all the melodrama?
Apparently there’s a stubborn, archaic part of my brain that is still trying to “protect” me from the possible unpleasantness of physical exertion.
Yep, I think it’s my inner cavewoman.
She can’t help it though, she’s wired that way. Sure, she would motivate me very efficiently if I were starving and needed to climb a tree for fruit or catch a rabbit, or alternatively, to flee from something with fangs and claws contemplating me for dinner.
But she seems to believe that I need to conserve my energy for these rare circumstances, and should rest up whenever I can, and hang on tenaciously to my precious fat stores in case famine is looming. In particular, she wants me to stay the hell out of the gym.
“You’re going to be miserable, Crabby,” cavewoman warns, as she spies my workout clothing coming out of the drawer. She pumps out a huge dose of fear-and-loathing chemicals for good measure. “Don’t do it, you’ll be sorry!”
“Shut the hell up, you ignorant unevolved hominin” my modern brain says, “it’s not going to be that bad!”
And yet, deep within my twisted psyche, I believe her. If it were just the two of us, cavewoman would win every time.
It’s Inner Neurotic to the Rescue!
So what skills does this maladjusted motivational hero bring to the fight?
My inner neurotic is completely looney tunes when it comes to cause and effect. It over-generalizes, catastrophizes, makes unjustified leaps. “You MUST WORK OUT today Crabby, or you will immediately lose all your muscle tone, gain 100 lbs, become a lazy unmotivated loser, and your life will spiral downhill in such a shocking way you may wake up tomorrow morning in a trash dumpster with the smell of Cheetos and Thunderbird on your breath.”
OK, so maybe some of these visualizations are unconscious. But I’m pretty sure they’re in there, or else why would the “shoulds” and “musts” be so amazingly effective? There are all kinds of other “shoulds” I ignore with no problem!
My neurotic brain loves to plan, scheme, analyze, invent, hypothesize, experiment, tinker, refine, and of course narrate and opine and explain things to imaginary audiences. So a simple question like: what might be the optimum way to exercise today? I can keep my brain circuits firing for hours on that, before, during, and after the actual athletic endeavor.
(Just yesterday I developed a whole new running-in-the-park interval and functional fitness routine, specific to a particular section of Balboa Park. Which is interesting timing considering we are moving, leaving town tomorrow, and that was probably my last Balboa Park workout for the foreseeable future.)
Is it healthy to devote so much mental energy to something so trivial? No! But it adds a whole level of entertaining intellectual engagement that I believe may help keep me coming back for more exercise year after year, despite what cavewoman has to say about it.
When I’m in really good shape, I believe I look “better,” according to the arbitrary aesthetics our superficial screwed up society currently endorses. I do know, intellectually, how stupid and shallow this source of motivation is. And yet I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t help me get my ass out the door and onto an elliptical machine.
I don’t look forward to exercise but there are always chores and tasks and decisions that cause me more angst than working out does. Exercise is concrete, physical, and time-limited, and if I have some other obligation I’m avoiding, strapping on a heart rate monitor and filling up that water bottle start to seem a lot more appealing.
Guilt and Self-Flagellation!
To exercise or not is a lifestyle choice, not a moral dilemma. I am not a “better” person if I work out, or a “bad” person if I do something else instead. My brain gets confused about this though. (Again, with plenty of help from a superficial society).
The idea that I can somehow “buy” virtue by lifting a few weights or logging a few miles is preposterous. And yet I suspect this delusion helps me crank out a few more reps when I might otherwise quit.
Important Cautionary Note: Beware Truly Self-Destructive Exercise Habits
I am blessed with a natural slothfulness that keeps me from every taking these neurotic tendencies too far. So I feel I can make light of them.
There is still debate among experts as to whether exercise addiction is truly a thing, in the sense of being a recognized psychopathology. But we’ve all seen people who are truly compulsive about their exercise behavior, and who have lost the ability to make rational decisions about when to exercise and when to stop. It often seems to accompany disordered eating behaviors such as anorexia and bulimia.
Exercising to the point where you endanger your health is no joke. If you are getting feedback from those around you that have an issue, don’t dismiss it out of hand. You don’t have to take their word for it, but consider getting some professional, objective input about your behavior and its impact on your health.
OK, enough of the serious responsible shit.
Anyone else use ridiculous methods to motivate yourself sometimes, or are you guys all healthy and normal about getting exercise?
Exercise Motivation, The Weird Way