"We are hardwired to avoid exercise."
And I KNOW I'm not the only one who is breathing a HUGE sigh of relief right now. You're sitting there reading this and thinking, "Woo Freakin HOO!" It's not just me! I'm not lazy, after all! I'm just hardwired to avoid exercise! It's in my genes! IT'S NOT MY FAULT.
As Harvard professor Dan Lieberman puts it, "It's completely normal and natural to avoid unnecessary physical activity." He explains that back in the day, we lived in a hunter/gatherer environment which required miles of walking, hours of carrying, and countless squats or deep waist bends (in order to pick up whatever it was we were gathering). So, we were hardwired to avoid any UNNECESSARY physical activity in order to preserve what energy we did have for stuff like, ya know, surviving.
But this adaptation unfortunately is so deeply ingrained, we still carry this exercise-avoiding "gene." Of course, in the present day and age we no longer are required to expend a significant amount of calories acquiring food. So the problem is that while we are still hardwired to avoid "unnecessary" physical activity, what we once considered unnecessary has actually become necessary for good health. In other words, for our survival. But the difference is that it's long term survival we're talking about here, not short term. Where once we needed to "exercise" (i.e., hunt and gather) in order to survive on a daily basis, we now need to exercise in order to survive long term (i.e., heart and lung health, healthy joints and bones and muscles, etc). But since it's not imperative on a daily basis in order to stay alive, we often overlook exercise as "necessary."
Let me take a quick detour here (it'll all come back around, you'll see) and share with you a quote from my favorite chemistry teacher.
"You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change.
Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that's all of life, right? It's the constant, it's the cycle. It's solution, dissolution. Just over and over. It is growth, decay, then... TRANSFORMATION.
It's fascinating, really. It's a shame so many of us never take time to consider the implications."
-- My favorite high school chemistry teacher
Okay, okay. So I didn't actually have this guy in high school. (In fact, back then I avoided science classes at all costs.) But nonetheless, he is my favorite high school chemistry teacher I never had.
As Breaking Bad fans will recognize, it's a quote from one particular high school teacher gone bad -- Walter White. (Gotta love a TV show with dialogue like this in its PILOT episode.) And if ever a character exemplified TRANSFORMATION over the course of an entire TV series, it's Walter White. Mr. White transforms from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is fond of saying.
The bumper sticker version of the Walter White quote is "The Only Constant In Life Is Change."
So, back to exercise.
I was thinking of that Breaking Bad quote today, as I started in on my circuit routine at the gym. As I was on my 12th rep and totally "Feeling The Bern" as it were, something shifted inside. Instead of focusing on the pain I was feeling, my mind shifted to a different thought.
"I'm not just working out, I am TRANSFORMING myself."
With each lift, with each curl, with each crunch, I am transforming not only my physical outward appearance, but my emotional (and dare I say spiritual) inner perceptions as well. And while the physical changes in my body feel slow to take form, the emotional and spiritual changes in my mind and soul are happening fast. VERY fast.
For one, my self esteem has SKYROCKETED ever since I started going to the gym. I'm noticing that I'm not as depressed or hopeless as I used to be. It's not as hard to get out of bed in the morning, emotionally speaking. It's not as hard to try new things, be they changing around the furniture in my living room, a new dish at a restaurant (sea urchin at Dalat!) or even a new job (UU -- Woo Hoo!). But most of all, I am seeing a new pattern emerge regarding how I move through my day.
I find myself looking people right in the eye and smiling at them, and not worrying if they smile back or not. I find myself letting people out in traffic, and not worrying about whether or not the person driving behind me is cursing me for slowing them down for ten whole seconds. I find myself initiating conversations with those oh so scary members of the opposite sex we call MEN. (More later on why I find these creatures "scary". It's a whole other blog. Hell, it's a whole other BOOK.) And these aren't conversations that are meant to go anywhere romantically. They are simply just, "Hi, how are you?" type of interchanges. Nothing big. But at the same time, HUGE. (Again, more on this topic later.)
See, my relationship with fear is shifting. I find myself having less fear based thoughts, saying less fear-based things, and doing less fear-based actions. (On a related side note, fear is simply the absence of love. It's not a thing in and of itself, but rather an absence of something else. And everything -- EVERYTHING -- is either from love or is a call for love.) I'm starting to let go of the worry of results and the constant fear of not being liked or accepted or understood. (I say, I'm STARTING to let this stuff go. I would by no means say I'm there yet, but I'm STARTING. And boy, does it feel GOOD.)
Overall, I feel more open and accessible to mySelf and to others. In fact, the routine of consistently returning to the gym, week after week, has had such an impact on my life that I've started referring to the gym as "The Transformation Center."
For me (and I'm sure I'm not alone), the word "gym" has such negative connotations. Here are the first five words that come to mind when I hear the word "gym": ugh, fat, hard, pain, can't. (Can I add another "ugh" in there?)
But when I hear the words "Transformation Center," this is what i think of: exciting, possibilities, newness, happy, and YES.
(Any gym owners reading this, by chance? If you decide to change your business name to "Transformation Center" and then proceed to make a million, don't forget that YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST! I'll take my cut by cash, check, money order, or Trader Joe's gift cards, thank you!)
So from now on, whenever it says in my calendar "Go to the gym," I'm changing it to "Go to the Transformation Center." Now, instead of thinking, "I guess I can make myself go three days per week," I'm like, "You mean, I can ONLY go three days a week?"
And I know that last statement sorta makes me sound like a workoutaholic. Let me be VERY clear. This is not my usual stance on exercise. I do not think of myself as a fitness type person. Before I discovered Fitworx, my idea of exercise was squeezing my butt cheeks together while lounging on the couch binge watching Breaking Bad. If I threw a couple of leg lifts in there, then I was going STRONG.
But see, the Fitworx gym is very different from anything I had experienced before. The number one difference is that the people at Fitworx actually CARE. They care that you are progressing toward your goals. They monitor the weights you lift to make sure you are challenging yourself and they monitor the weight on your body to make sure you are getting what you want out of the program. But it's not just weight they are concerned about. Every month they check your measurements, BMI, fat-to-lean ratios, and all that stuff. They even give you guidance to help you to monitor your nutrition.
But most of all, they say "Hi" when you walk in the door and "Good-bye" when you leave. "Hi, Leigh!" "Bye, Leigh! See you next week!" Yup, they SAY MY NAME. (And Breaking Bad fans will get that on a whole other level, ha!) And it's not just with me. They do this with EVERYONE. They make you feel welcome when you come in and missed when you're gone. In this day and age where impersonal interactions are becoming the norm, the people at Fitworx are truly revolutionary.
So, to return the good vibes, I will call THEM out by name. Thank you, Janel. Thank you, Tommy. Thank you, Glen. You are helping me to help myself. Every. Single. Day. I am so, so grateful. (Fitworx: 339-201-7146 or www.FitWorx.com.)
And ya know an interesting side benefit of going to the gym? I'm taking piano lessons! And another shout out -- this one to Celia Nolan, piano teacher extraordinaire. I know first hand because she taught my somewhat reluctant son for the last three years, and he completely blows me away in what he's able to do when he's tickling the ivories. Check her out at CeliaNolan.MusicTeachersHelper.com.
Taking piano, by the way, has been a LIFE-LONG dream. So let me rephrase: I am ALLOWING MYSELF to take piano lessons. My boosted self esteem, my decreased depression, and my shifting relationship with fear all add up to one BIG CHANGE:
A newfound discovery (a Eureka moment!) that I AM WORTH IT.
I am worth carving out time for just myself, be it at the gym, in front of the piano, or even in front of the good ol' boob tube. And this ME time is not indulgent, is not a treat, and is not a once-a-month occurrence. It is a NECESSITY. And because it is a necessity, it must happen EVERY DAY.
What happens to you if you don't eat or drink all day? If you don't sleep for a day? How do you feel? How does your hungry, thirsty, sleep-depraved self behave with your partner or children or friends or coworkers? You're an asshole, I would imagine. Because that's how I am when I don't eat enough, drink enough, sleep enough, or in general don't take care of my physical self. I turn into a raving, crazy loony. And who bears the brunt of this hellish behavior? My son. My mom. My closest friends. Even my cat. (And if I had a partner, you better believe a lot of the crazy would be directed his way, too.)
Well, guess what? Taking care of your emotional and spiritual self is just as important as taking care of your physical self. (But you already know this.) So taking time for yourself is also JUST AS IMPORTANT as eating, drinking, sleeping . (You know this one, too.) But taking time out for yourself isn't selfish, it's self-LESS. (And this is where the wheels fall off the wagon, especially for women, and ESPECIALLY for mothers/care-takers.) I'm not so sure we're getting this one. Intellectually, maybe. But not deep down inside where it counts. So let me repeat this.
Taking time out for yourself isn't selfish, it's self-LESS.
By taking time to care for myself on an emotional/spiritual level, I actually have MORE time to take care of those I love. MORE time, not less. How is this feat of physics possible? It's because I feel fulfilled. And therefore I won't be doing a half-assed surfacy job of being there for those I love because in my head I won't be multitasking and thinking of all the things I need to be doing. I Am Fulfilled. I've already taken care of myself first. So now, I can really BE THERE. I can really SEE my son, my mom, my friends, my cat, and my soon-to-be-partner-wherever-you-are-and-would-you-hurry-the-f-up-and-get-here-already-cuz-I'm-impatient-and-tired-of-waiting-for-your-ass. I can really LISTEN to them. (Not just hear the words, but listen to the feelings behind the words.) I can Take Them In. In the long run, this SAVES time.
Taking time to do your thing -- whether it's meditating in the morning, reading a book, watching TV, writing a blog, taking photos, cooking a meal, playing music, dancing, drawing, sculpting, painting, spinning, swimming, running, walking, talking, dare I say gardening, or WHATEVER -- is absolutely positively 100% non-negotiable. You wouldn't not feed your family for a day, right? You wouldn't even think about it as an option. Well, this is like that. Don't even think about it as an option. You. Simply. Do. It. No guilt, no stress, no muss, no fuss.
Ya dig? (I don't mean literally. See my last blog on WHY I HATE YARDWORK.)
And taking this time is the equivalent of putting your oxygen mask on first. Who knew? The secret to happiness was tucked in the seat pocket right in front of you all along.
As my girl Marianne Williamson says, this stuff isn't hard. But getting over our resistance to doing it -- THAT'S what's hard. Not the doing it, but the RESISTANCE we feel to doing it. THAT'S what's hard. But as Glennon Doyle Melton reminds us, "We can do hard things."
Amen to that.
Photo courtesy of Amy Kuretsky amykuretsky.com