Before you read this post, listen to your favorite fist-pumping workout song.
Now start reading.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychological willpower of working out. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Runner’s World, or maybe all the people being active in sunny Portland these days have got me thinking.
My willpower and motivation have been a little — well, a lot, actually — stagnant for some time now. The hardest decision in the world for me is whether to leave my apartment to go to run club, or to yoga, or for a hike, or to just stay in. And forget doing these activities on my own. I’ve already written about the benefits of community for the active person, and I’m finding myself relying on my community more than ever these days. But day by day, I’ve been choosing being active over being sedentary, even if it’s just a neighborhood walk. Some days, for me, that is a really. big. deal. And I won’t say that every day I’m getting better, but at least every day has opportunity. And in all of my twenty four years of life, I’ve never, ever, regretted moving my body. Even if it was hard.
One day in yoga class, my instructor was leading us through a flow. Instead of being present in the moment, I was anticipating the next move, the logical progression of the flow to the opposite side of the body. So when I — and about half of my classmates — moved into a forward lunge on the opposite leg instead of listening to what our instructor had asked of us, even if it didn’t seem to make logical sense in the flow, she simply said, “stop anticipating.”
That phrase has popped up a couple of times in the past weeks for me. The anticipation of a work out can be so stressful that it prompts even the best-intentioned of us to quit before we start. “What if it hurts? What if I don’t run as fast as my normal time? What if I pass out in class? What if I can’t do it?”
And then I realized: I’ve never not been able to get through a yoga class. For all the times after work when my brain tricks me into skipping class because “I need a rest day” or “it’s too hard right now,” I haven’t been thinking clearly, and remembering all the classes I have made it through. And if I ever — and I have — have to move to child’s pose for a rest, so what? My work out is for me. It’s not for anyone else.
The same goes for running, for hiking, for climbing, for lifting, for paddle boarding, for rowing, for cycling, for _______. You fill it in. If you have to stop and walk, do it. If you have to stop and sit, do it. You’ll still put in the miles, and you’ll still be doing something worthwhile.
Some of us hold on so tightly to our perfectionism, our competitiveness, and our need to please, that we beat ourselves up for the few backslides we may have in our workouts. But we don’t reward ourselves for the big picture. I hiked 6.8 miles this weekend up to Dog Mountain with some friends, the first four of those miles at a pretty steep incline. I wasn’t first in line; in fact, I was hundreds of feet behind my friends, taking pictures and adopting more of an amble than a fast-paced hiker’s clip. But did I have fun? Did I get to pet a lot of dogs and exchange a friendly “happy hiking” to everyone on the trail? Did I release some of my stress into the abyss instead of holding it in my muscles and joints, all without having to go at a breakneck speed to the top? Did I smile, while out in nature, in the beautiful region of the country in which I live, and realize for one second how lucky I am? Yes, to all of the above.
So don’t be afraid to call yourself an athlete. Don’t be afraid to say you are a yogi, not a once-weekly attempter of airplane pose. A runner, not a jogger. A hiker or a climber, not an “I like being outside and taking pictures while simultaneously crawling on alternate terrain” sorta person.
Because I have a confession to make: I am the latter of all these labels. But I choose to call myself a yogi, a runner, a climber, a hiker, and whatever else I want to be.
For all of us who have been inspired to incorporate more adventures into our days off, or add more activity into your life, or to find the sport that gets your adrenaline going like nothing else, just take a second and recognize how great that is. That idea blossomed in your mind and you held on to it, instead of letting it go.