I (Kim) think we can all agree that “exercise” is healthy (to a certain extent). What we don’t all agree on is why we do, or do not choose to exercise. One of the first questions that I ask my clients is why they want to do yoga. “I want to be healthier.” “I want to lose weight.” “I heard it can help me overcome pain.” “I want to de-stress.” These are all answers that I usually hear, and they all sound like good reasons to start a yoga practice! In the beginning of my career, I remember asking a young male client this question and his answer not only stuck out, but made me realize what yoga might really be about. He said, “I do yoga so that I can pick up chicks. I figure if I am good at it, they will flock to me by the masses.” As funny as his response was, it was also something else more important… it was an HONEST answer! Although, it might not sound as good as the previous answers, this man had done enough self-investigating to know what really drives him! I feel that the majority of us come up with superficial answers to this, perhaps, because exploring the real reason might be uncomfortable, or even scary. Scary as this investigation for personal truth may be, it is necessary in order to create real and lasting change. Why this is true, comes down to science.
It comes down to one thing: Are you motivated by fear? Or are you motivated by love? Our limbic system (or primal or emotional brain that tends to dictate what we do when our “self- discipline” is not the driver) works on 2 modes: Threat or Reward. For our species to survive at some point we had to learn to assess threat before reward. The “usual” answers that I get, while they may not be lies, usually can be investigated further to find the real motivator, meaning threat or reward. After these investigations, the original answers change to, “I am afraid I won’t be able to attract a mate,” “I am afraid of getting fat,” or “I am afraid of being in pain again”. These things used to motivate me to exercise as well. I had convinced myself that it was because I wanted to be healthy, yet I would obsess over every meal, I would constantly weigh myself or examine my body in the mirror and I would beat myself up when I was too tired to go on my morning run. This is healthy, right? WRONG! Not only was it not healthy, but it wasn’t fun and it was easy to dive into phases of “being good,” which meant eating controlled meals and exercising daily to phases of “being bad, “ which meant binge eating and not working out at all. Sometimes “being bad” would last for weeks and would create anxiety, depression and guilt. This seems to be the case for a LOT of people (maybe even YOU, if you have ever had a thought like “Oh man, I’m going to have to work out hard tomorrow to burn off that cake I just had!). So, how do we change this toward a healthier lifestyle? By changing our motivation!
When we are motivated by fear, our limbic system assesses our situation as one of imminent threat. Not only does this inhibit learning (and is certainly potentially injurious), but it can be short lived (no one likes being stressed!). When we motivate ourselves to exercise, because we are afraid of something, chances are that it won’t be sustainable and our bodies will want to get out of danger mode as fast as possible. We have to convince ourselves to WANT to exercise! What I discovered on my journey is that I LOVE working out because it makes me feel strong, because I can do more! Feeling strong makes me feel capable and ultimately makes life easier and more fun! So I equate exercise to having fun! I eat healthy because my body feels better when I do, so I equate healthy food to feeling good. On top of that, if I slip and am not able to “work out” for a few days, instead of feeling guilty about not being able to, I start to feel how my strength has been compromised and I WANT to feel strong again! If I slip and eat an unhealthy meal, I can feel that my body doesn’t feel as good. Not only has this stopped me from binge eating (my apologies to Green & Black Chocolates, your sales must have gone down tremendously!), but I won’t go more than a few days without exercising because I truly WANT to and LOVE it!
Although my motivations may not resonate with you personally (I still eat chocolate by the way, I just don’t binge), perhaps it is worth investigating what DOES resonate. Why do you LIKE exercise? What good does it do for you and can you let THAT reason motivate you? If you can, you will be in for some real and lasting results! For more information on the neuroscience supporting this, please visit http://www.metmethod.com/ or… take my next MET training on the 23rd. 😉