Posts Tagged exercise

Beating the Elusiveness of Motivation

stairs

A stranger at the gym approached me a couple of months ago, and asked a very simple question: how do I stay motivated? Al shared with me that he is 73, and had recently suffered a mild heart attack. His doctor said that, if he wanted to be around much longer, he needed to exercise. In his few gym visits, I was one of the constants, so he sought me out.

I was flattered, but also stunned that he was struggling with motivation, after an experience like a heart attack and hearing advice like that from his doctor. If I were in his shoes, and my life depended on it, they would have to lock me out of the gym, yet he was struggling with motivation. That’s how elusive motivation can be for some people; even the prospect of death can fail to motivate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Motivation is actually easy to find by asking three questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What am I willing to do to get what I want?
  3. How can I habitualize doing what I need to do to get what I want?

What do you want? A want is something that you don’t currently have, and it can take many forms – both material and otherwise. When I was younger, the desire to add muscle and to bench press more than my friends were the wants that brought me to the gym. Now, my vanity has taken a backseat to practicality, and my motivation to exercise regularly has become driven by my want to be as physically active as possible.

I actually have an unfair advantage here. Because God blessed me with a fragile physical condition, I’m more keenly aware of my body than most, feeling the benefits of frequent exercise AND the repercussions of not exercising more profoundly than most. I know that my legs will be stronger and more flexible, if I exercise at least three times per week. I will also have more energy, and as I approach age 45, energy is at a premium.

I want that strength, flexibility and energy.

What are you willing to do to get what you want? For most, this is the more difficult question to answer, because it requires effort/movement. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

When we are at rest, we tend to stay at rest, i.e. in our comfort zone. Motivation is the force that moves us toward our goals, and without it, we don’t progress. If I stay at rest, my body will deteriorate much more quickly than an average person, and ultimately, life’s simple tasks will be much more difficult than the most strenuous of workouts. Because, I’ve done both, I know that it’s much more pleasant to spend five to six hours per week in the gym, pushing my body past its limits than it is to struggle to the breakfast table in the morning. I’ll choose exercise over that any day.

I am willing to spend an hour at least four days per week in strenuous exercise, because I want that strength, flexibility and energy.

How will you habitualize doing what you need to do to get what you want? Though the word habit often has a negative connotation, habits can be equally positive. Habits are behaviors that become assumed recurrences through repetition, and they are very powerful. Just like smoking is a bad habit that is hard to stop, exercise, eating well and reading are good habits that can be hard to stop too.

I tell people that I think of going to the gym like I think about brushing my teeth; it’s just something that I need to do, and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. That’s how powerful a positive habit can be. Like a smoker will light a cigarette without even thinking, I find myself in the gym without even thinking. A habit like that requires the kind of strict consistency and discipline I have practiced over the years, because it can be undone in a fraction of the time it took to develop it.

I protect my exercise habit by spending an hour at least four days per week in strenuous exercise, because I want that strength, flexibility and energy.

Several weeks passed before I saw Al in the gym again, and I had grown concerned that he had given up. As he saw me approach, a smile spread wide across his face, and he took a break from pedaling his stationary bike to tell me a story.

“I want to thank you for motivating me that day,” he began. “You want to know what really stood out?” he asked rhetorically. “You said, I want to live. I want to live, and that’s why I’m here.”

I honestly don’t remember being that profound, but I was happy with the outcome. Al and I are going to keep each other alive and active.

Advertisements

, , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Go, and be thankful

“I really don’t want to be here,” a guy told me recently during one of my workouts. I thought about him today, on my sixth consecutive day away from the gym.

Unlike yesterday, I brought my gym bag to work with me today, hopeful that the leg I injured over the weekend had healed to the point where a trip to the gym would help more than it hindered. Instead, common sense prevailed – it’s been doing that more as I age – and I decided to rest the leg another day, so I don’t prolong my recovery.

Ironically, I injured my leg by falling on my way into church on Saturday night. That one stung, but not nearly as bad as the second fall. There is almost always a second – and sometimes even third – fall, as my already weak legs wobble a little more. Fear of the third fall has me walking like a clumsy solider through a minefield, and it’s kept me out of the gym and church.

The gym and church are two places we often grudgingly go or, worse yet, make excuses not to go. I know – I’ve been there. Now, I want to go and can’t. God loves irony.

Most of us are going to experience that irony at one time or another. We’ll long to reconnect with someone we chased out of our life years ago. We’ll wish to recapture moments that passed us as we distracted ourselves with trivial concerns. We’ll ache for abilities and opportunities that age has taken from us.

Devon Walker knows this.

Former Tulane football player Devon Walker’s life suddenly changed in the second game of the 2012 season. An undersized walk-on, he had worked his way into a starting position on the team, and was even a team captain. 2012 was his senior season, and he was eager to take his game to the next level. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury in that game, and has been paralyzed from the neck down since.

Walker was recently awarded the Disney Spirit Award, given to college football’s most inspirational figure. He was a very worthy recipient, because he hasn’t let his circumstances get him down. After a year in grueling rehab, he resumed classes in pursuit of a degree in cell and molecular biology, with designs on attending medical school. Pursuing such a demanding academic program while competing on an athletic team – as a walk-on no less – is impressive enough. That he continues undeterred after such a devastating injury is simply amazing.

While some of his able-bodied classmates grudgingly drag themselves out of bed to attend class, wishing they were elsewhere, Devon struggles through his morning routine for different reasons. Because of his near total paralysis, it takes him more than two hours just to get out of bed and dressed. He needs help to do almost anything physical, even eating and brushing his teeth, yet he attends class. As much as possible, he attends all the practices and activities of the football team too.

I don’t know Devon Walker, but I know that he is human, which means that he is sometimes prone to weakness, like all of us. It’s safe to say that – before his injury – he probably approached some of the more difficult practices in Louisiana’s heat with dread, and he was probably tempted to skip class. Now, ironically, with multiple excuses to do both, he doesn’t.

My leg is healing, and I’ll be back in the gym and in a pew soon. This brief time-out only strengthened my resolve. Is there anything in your life that you complain about, but would truly miss if it were taken from you?

, , , , , ,

1 Comment