I mentioned before that one of the things that I did before I started running was read the running/weight loss posts on the blog of rather well-known scrapbooker. She was very specific about what she did, in what order, how long, what she bought, what she eats. That step-by-step information really inspired me and got me thinking about trying to take up running again, even though I had tried and failed many times before.
Now it is January and, on this same blog, of course the conversation is all about how to start working out, losing weight, and be healthier in 2011. The constant question posed is about motivation.
How do you stay motivated?
I can't tell anyone how to lose weight, get in shape, be thinner, train for a marathon. Not now. But I can talk about how I started running, how I have continued it, and why I keep doing it, right now, at this moment. I can talk about my own motivation.
Here's what happened to me today. I knew I had a morning appointment out in the suburbs today, so I had planned to go for a run afterwards. I knew the office was next to a park, I knew I would be getting up early, and I knew that after my appointment, I'd have the rest of the morning free. And I really don't spend a lot of time running -- 30 to 40 minutes at the most. So I got up today, suited myself up, and went to my car to drive over.
Well. The weather was pretty bad today. Not bad enough to keep me indoors all day, but it was definitely not inspiring. Not only was it cold, but the sky was gray, a wind was blowing, and freezing little ice chips were floating around.
So as I drove to my appointment, I decided that today was not the day to run. And I was disappointed about that.
I went to my appointment, came out 20 minutes later, went to my car, got my stuff, started walking, and then jogged in the park. I didn't go very long, because I had problems with my music. I would have gone longer if I could - I felt like I was just getting started when I came back to my car.
The point of this little story is about motivation. Why would I be motivated to go running (or jogging) in the snow on a cold, gray day?
Everyone is different. Some people are motivated by having a big something to shoot for. Sometimes that is true for me too. But more often I am motivated by small things along the way, and the big picture is intimidating.
So, say I was 100 lbs. overweight, and I spent most of my days sitting on a couch, in a car, or at the computer. Then I decided that I wanted to lose that 100 lbs. and I was going to finally Get! In! Shape! That would require a 180 degree turnaround in my entire lifestyle.
For some people, that really works. It's a cut off point. There is a before and an after. I think that would last for less than a day before I just gave up on the whole thing.
I am not motivated like that, especially not when it comes to diet and exercise. It feels too much like a punishment. I am not going to "punish" myself for being out of shape or overweight. I am not going to "work" to pay off all the chocolate I've eaten and all the TV I've watched.
What motivates me is feeling like this is a treat I get to give myself. How do I think of it as a treat? I have already posted about some of the ways I keep the clothes and the music and the rest of it set aside as something special.
But it is more than just a mind game. The media doesn't always portray this accurately but... exercise feels good. It feels good physically.... but just as important, it feels good emotionally.
Last night I watched some show on MTV (what was I thinking) called "I Used to Be Fat." The program spent a lot of time showing some poor girl at 250 lbs who got a boot-camp style trainer who yelled at her and forced her to push herself exercising the first day to the point where she became physically sick. Eventually she did lose 90 lbs but as the show pointed out, to lose 90 lbs. in 90 days she had to do these intense workouts every single day, all summer, and go on a strict diet. Is she going to be able to keep that up for the rest of her life???
The rewards, as portrayed by this program, were:
1) she set a goal and she met it by working hard, which gave her confidence
2) she was able to wear a sexy costume for Halloween
3) she was able to shop for clothes in a regular boutique, and she looked much better
NONE of that is motivating OR inspiring. In fact, it is discouraging in a very insidious way that I don't think most people are aware of.
So here's the real truth, as it exists for me, right now.
Despite the shin splints I have suffered, running feels good. In fact, most forms of exercise feel good to me. They do, actually, feel good while I am doing them. Exercise does not feel good, to me, when or if I am making myself sick, crying and vomiting in the bathroom. It doesn't feel good physically, it doesn't feel good emotionally.
Not all exercise is equally enjoyable -- I don't particularly like weight training, and I don't like working out on machines inside. But as I've said many times before, when I go running, afterwards, I feel amazing. The longer and harder I run, the more amazing I feel. I have to break a sweat and be breathing hard in order to get the benefit, so just taking a walk doesn't work for me.
Now really, if getting on a treadmill made you feel like you had The Big O, wouldn't you do it as often as you could? It's maybe not quite at that level for me, but yes, it feels really, really good.
I've also mentioned that what I do my stretching warm up, it hurts, but it hurts in a way that feels good.
One of the things I do is really try and feel my body, before and after. When I get up to stretch, I try and feel how I am tight, how I ache, and where. If you are physically able to do so, you could try doing a little neck roll right now. Drop your chin to your chest and feel the stretch at the back of the neck and top of your shoulders. Feel the tightness. Then roll your head around in a slow circle, and feel every tendon, every muscle, every bone.
Do it a few times (if you are physically able), then stop, then try and feel how that part of your body feels. For me, it feels a whole lot better afterwards. I liken it to how I feel after a long, hot shower when I am dirty and sweaty, or after a good sleep when I am really tired.
Since I didn't warm up my usual way today, and I didn't stretch after, I can feel it now. My legs are aching, my hips ache a bit. I feel a little antsy sitting here in the chair. I would like to get up and stretch to work that out. I'm aware of it because I try and feel it, and not numb out.
I guess this is just a really long winded way of saying that I can't and don't focus on how I am going to look or feel weeks or months from now. I concentrate on how I feel right now, in the moment, at the moment. That is one form of motivation.
Exercise is just not portrayed that way in the mainstream, as far as I am concerned, and for people who are not inherently athletic, all you see is the negative, non-motivating aspects of exercise. It is hard, it is boring, it is sweaty, it is painful. It is work. It is a punishment of some kind for being "lazy" and "eating [fill in "bad" food]." You have been bad and exercise is some kind of Purgatory where you work off your sins. Then, if you are out of shape, you get up and try something and you get shin splints, which is pain, you can't breathe, your body aches, and you are all sweaty and gross.
Geez, I don't want to do that. Does that sound appealing???
Now, what I have learned, is that to get the feel-good benefit, I do have to push myself a bit. I just have to push myself to the point beyond my brain thinking, "This is boring, can I stop yet?" So taking a walk around the block, or 10 blocks, just makes my back ache and does not help me out. I have to break a sweat and I have to feel my heart pound a bit.
Consider, if you are really overweight, you could get to that point in less than 5 minutes. Five minutes.
Now, when that is shown on television, it looks terrible! People are sweaty, red faced, panting, they look like they are straining, about to bust a gasket. But in reality, for me, it feels GREAT. Now when I run, I actually burst into laughter many times, because it just feels so joyous.
So I've talked a little about the immediate, physical benefits of my form of exercise. But that is not enough to really motivate me alone. Another aspect which is mentioned in passing but not emphasized enough is the emotional benefits.
On the program I mentioned above, the trainer did verbally say that exercise was a great way of relieving stress and releasing frustration. But the program spent a good 10 minutes showing the poor girl crying and whining, red faced and heaving, looking unhappy, and almost passed out on the floor by the toilet. Someone can say this or that. I can write this or that. But if I could show it, well that would be far more helpful and motivating.
The emotional benefits I get from going for a run -- even a short, slow jog like I had today -- are both immediate and long term.
Ok, now I am going to get a little woo-woo on you. I believe that the world is made up of energy. I am no physicist, but at the atomic level, matter is made up of energy units, so I guess I am not far off. Much like water, energy has to remain flowing. It can become trapped and stagnate. And that, to me, feels just awful.
To experience this for yourself, check in with how you feel right now. Then go de-clutter something, whether it's a drawer, a counter, or your purse. Then see how you feel. Personally, I feel better. All that stagnant energy gets swept up and moved along.
So, for me, excess energy -- from the food I eat, but also from the people and occurances/events/emotions around me -- pools and sits in my body. It sits in a physical form (we see it as fat) but it also sits in a non-physical form.
When I run, I use up the top "level" of energy that is sitting stagnant, pooling corners. It gets swept up and used, and then the energy sitting in unused corners gets used, and then I generate more energy to keep going, and the energy in my body flows. The old, stale energy I've been holding on to is gone and replaced with fresh, new energy. I guess it is similar to decluttering, throwing out things you don't need any more, clearing space.
The body is really an amazing piece of machinery. Energy is not really used up or destroyed, it just changes form.
The only thing people really talk about is how exercise uses up the physical energy, burns off the "fat." But it also uses up and cycles out the old, stagnant energy and freshens it all up. Like opening up the windows in the spring after a long winter and airing out the room.
That is also connected to why running also feels very good to me physically. When I am feeling "bad," I use stretching and running to alleviate those feelings. I won't define what bad means for anyone else -- it is different for every person. It could be something big like anxiety or depression, or something smaller like feeling crabby, out of sorts, overwhelmed, in a blue funk.
Either way, when I run...
1) My brain shuts off beyond thinking about making it to the next step or the next minute or the next stretch of track. Blessed relief.
2) The old energy in my body gets cycled out and I feel fresh and new. I am usually taking deep breaths at the time so I liken it to deep breathing to clear out the lungs.
3) When I stop running, I feel physically great.
3) Any feelings of bad I was having are magically wiped away and replaced.
Oh, what replaces them? Well that is the coolest, most awesome-est part.
That last one is really important.
When I run, I am amazed by my own body.
When it comes to my own body I experience a serious LACK of "amazement" on a regular basis. This is an extremely negative way to live - just ignoring what there is to amaze me is living in lack. You don't have to be saying or thinking negative things to be in a negative state. One of the reasons I am thankful I had a bad fall and broke my wrist and had to be in a cast and go through physical therapy is that now, my wrist amazes me. Most of the time it doesn't, but once in a while I expect my wrist to do something that I remember I could not do for six months or a year. And it does it. And I stop and stare and look at my own wrist carrying a bottle of laundry detergent or something, and I think, "Wow. Look at that. AMAZING."
I need to do that with the rest of my body, and sadly, I don't. Not enough. When it comes to my body I am like one of those ingrate teenagers you want to slap because it's not enough that you feed her and clothe her and care for her and do her laundry and cook her meals and drive her to school, oh no, if you don't give her an iPhone you are mean, you are a BAD MOM.
Speaking of the iPhone, I remember when it came out. Do you? Do you have one? Remember when you started using apps and you were all like, Wow, this thing is AMAZING! When's the last time you looked at your own ankles and thought the same thing?
So this is how it is for me. I become amazed. I experience my body as the amazing piece of the world that it is. Sometimes I am amazed by my brain. Sometimes I am amazed by my emotions. Sometimes I am amazed spiritually. But amazed by my physical body - very very rare. I ignore the things it does do, and berate it for the things it doesn't do.
As women, I don't think we are trained to be amazed at our own bodies. I think we are far too often trained to not be all full of ourselves. I think many of us know what it's like to look at another woman and think, "Well SHE thinks she's all that, doesn't she???" I do it, and I still do it no matter how much I fight it intellectually.
When I run, I feel amazed. During and after. The fact that I had so much struggle with shin splints, with pain, at the beginning, just contributes to my own amazement. Now, when I run without pain, I am amazed.
Today, I did not get my usual warm up (it was cold); I just started jogging a bit after I had walked. I could feel a few twinges, but not the stabbing pains of September. I was amazed. I ran and I felt no pain. There has been some improvement in my shin muscles. there has been some strengthening.
When I look at my phone timer and see that I can now run twice as long as I used to, I am amazed.
And that lasts pretty much... the whole day.
Today, I didn't go home yet, so I am still walking around in my workout clothes and shies. These are not the most flattering clothes I could wear. But when I go to the ladies room and catch a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror, I am not critical. I don't automatically think, "Ugh, I look fat / terrible / schlumpy / old / tired."
Instead, I feel good. I feel good about myself, I feel good about my day. Instead of looking at myself in a negative way, I look at myself and I am amazed.
And I am amazed by the world and everything in it. I run because when I do it, I feel better about myself. I feel better about my body. I don't feel overweight and middle aged and tired and jaded. I feel alive, and I am amazed by my legs, my lungs, my hips, my arms, my eyes. I run in beautiful areas and I look at the world and I see the beauty of the trees, the sky, the grass, the water. I have plenty of time to see the world around me, because I am still not very fast.
I write posts about running so I can reflect and remember. I am not sure than anyone else even wants to read it all, but I know I go back and I read it, and then I compare what was with what is, and I see the difference.
I hope, if the time comes when circumstances conspire to end my running habit, I might stumble across this epic that I wrote here. And that I might re-read it. And that I might be inspired to get up and get going.
So.... you know what is motivating?
Not being PUNISHED.