Here's an idea: What if you stopped using willpower to motivate yourself to exercise?
A lot of us use only exercise because we force ourselves to exercise. We say things like, I’ve just gotta get myself to take that run, and, Oh man, it took a lot of willpower to get to the gym today.
And this can work, when our lives are relatively calm. We might even feel virtuously satisfied when we’re exhausted afterwards. Because, did I mention? Most of the exercise we are forcing ourselves to do is pretty intense.
At some point, though, it stops working. Maybe it’s because we get busy or maybe it’s because, uh, it wasn’t that fun and it was really hard and maybe even painful, and we just don’t have enough willpower to force ourselves. And then we start feeling guilty and not-so-good in our bodies.
Then maybe we eat more because we feel not-so-good in our bodies.
And then we feel really guilty and swear that we need to run four miles every day next week.
I think you can see where this is going. There are a lot of similarities between the binge-and-restrict cycle with food and with exercise.
So that’s where my radical suggestion comes in: Stop doing that.
Stop doing exercise that doesn’t feel good.
Stop doing exercise that requires willpower.
Stop doing exercise that you don’t genuinely enjoy.
And start exercising in a way that you enjoy. Start exercising because you want to, not because you have to.
The magical thing about doing exercise that feels good and that you enjoy doing is that it creates a positive feedback loop. You enjoy doing it, so then you do it. Then you feel good and happy, and want to do it again.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking Well, Katie, if I only did the exercise I felt like doing, I wouldn’t exercise at all. I’d just sit on my couch and watch Millionaire Matchmaker reruns.
To which I’d say: If you want to rest and watch reality TV, please rest and watch reality TV.
Our bodies have a natural appetite for movement. Movement feels good. But it’s possible that you’ve spent so long with a f***ed up attitude toward movement or exercise, that you don’t even feel hungry for it anymore.
So rest for a while. Rest for as long as you need — and yes, it might be longer than you are intellectually “comfortable” with. When your body wants to move, it will let you know.
One more thing: the movement your body wants might be different than the “exercise” you’ve been forcing it to do for the past month/year/decade. You might want to, say, spend 15 minutes stretching to the Hamilton soundtrack. Or walk around the neighborhood for a half hour while talking to your mom on the phone.
Letting yourself do the movement you like and that feels good requires tuning in to your true desires, which may be different than you expect, and may also vary by the day.
Which is all to say: Listen to yourself. Listen for the nuanced, unconventional, surprising whispers. You know best.