For the past 20 years, my most rigorous exercise has been carrying my laptop around the world. Still, when I went to the doctor for a checkup (finally), I was surprised and dismayed by my blood pressure.
Over the years doctors have been saying, youre on the high end of normal, one of these days youre going to have to deal with this. In my fantasy, one of these days was not coming any time soon.
Since then, Ive managed to exercise 30 of the last 34 days. Its not so awful doing it, but thinking about it has been frustrating. Especially at the beginning, I felt trapped and powerless. Im thinking of exercise as a punishment how much time will I have to serve before I can go back to living how I want?
So while Ive been successful at initiating some of the right actions, I havent fully addressed the emotional challenge. By force of will I can make myself exercise. I can say, exercise or die. Lets go, and I get on Nordic Track. But internally its a battle, and that means Im making myself a victim instead of a warrior, and its not a sustainable model.
At 3 and a half, my son can surely relate. He is somewhat indignant that he cant do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to and he makes it unpleasant for those of us who attempt to direct him otherwise.
Its like the same thing in my head. On the one hand I know all these benefits of exercising. I like the feeling afterwards, I like sleeping better, I like having more energy. I dont like not being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want so I throw these little tantrums.
Just like with Maxs tantrums, it was a great relief for me to realize I could just ignore mine. I could just say, Go ahead and pout - Im doing it anyway! and get skiing. But also like trying to ignore Maxs tantrums, this is an energy drain.
When I am in the exercise or die mode, I am saying, I dont have a choice. Im coloring the experience with resentment and frustration. Not only does this make it less pleasant, it also makes it less sustainable.
Emotions are signals. At the most basic level, pleasant emotions mean do this more, and unpleasant feelings mean, do this less. If exercise is loaded with yuck, then even if I intellectually know I should, I wont actually want to.
So how do I shift from yuck to yea? How do I go from exercise or die to exercise and live!?
Im using several strategies:
Questioning the underlying assumptions
Accessing useful feelings
Focusing on the larger purpose
Questioning the Underlying Assumptions
Questioning the underlying assumption is about challenging my own thinking and feeling. Ive gone up the ladder of inference to come to a conclusion that exercise is yucky. According to a cognitive therapeutic model, this belief is creating an emotional reaction. While the EQ perspective is that thoughts and feelings create each other, its still quite useful to me to examine these beliefs and the feelings connected with them.
So I can ask myself questions. For example, What would I have to give up in order to feel that exercise is fun? Id have to give up 20 years of practice saying its yucky. Id have to admit my mom might have been right all these years. Id have to give up believing that taking care of my physical self is vain and superficial.
Ive developed certain patterns and feelings about exercise (for example, When I think I dont have a choice, I feel resentful and run away.). Understanding gives me a baseline for making a change, and it gives me important data about my reactions. When I get into one of my patterns I can recognize it and redirect it rather than being driven by it. Its also helpful to know what I need to rechoose -- for example, knowing these kinds of reactions has led me to get additional support that will, I hope, help make the change stick.
Accessing Useful Feelings
Accessing useful feelings is about using my emotions intentionally. We all have multiple feelings at any time. Even in the midst of feeling frustrated when I tell myself I have to exercise, I also feel proud that Im sticking to this. By shifting my attention to the pride, to the satisfaction, to the celebration, I re-color this experience as something positive, creating an attractive experience. Its easy to do this, it just takes continuous reinforcement.
So this morning when I had done one kilometer on the Nordic Track and was starting to feel grumpy, I shifted my attention to the accomplishment. I literally felt a burst of pride washing over me. This intentional use of feelings reinforces the change Im trying to make.
Focusing on the Larger Purpose
Finally, focusing on the larger purpose makes both of the first two manageable. I want to be healthy because I love my family and want to be alive and kicking when (if) grandkids come along. I want to be healthy because I have important work Im trying to do in the world and it takes a lot of energy to do it! As my friend Liz says, this body is the vehicle for doing the work in my family and career, and while Im riding here, I better take care of it! Why? Not because I have to, but because I care deeply about where Im trying to go.
If I really mean it, if these larger purposes are deeply meaningful, then they will energize and drive me. Bringing meaning to the mundane, this awareness shifts my feeling and my thinking and transforms my behavior. It also changes the way I experience the daily activity. Instead of toil, exercise is about serving whats best and most important in my life.
Im pleased to say that since I began this article, I am feeling more positive and engaged in being healthy. It continues to be difficult to stay out of the old patterns, and its definitely an effort to exercise, but Im fairly happy with the process.
Its also good to see Six Seconds model at work in my life. Our Know Yourself, Choose Yourself, Give Yourself model is about applying emotional intelligence to help people get better results in their lives and work.
Questioning the Underlying Assumptions is part of Know Yourself -- increasing awareness of feelings and patterns.
Accessing Useful Feelings is key to Choose Yourself -- reevaluating and intentionally directing daily feelings, thoughts, and actions.
Focusing on the Larger Purpose is the cornerstone of Give Yourself -- living intentionally and consciously to bring out the best we each have to offer.
So I encourage you to look at these three pillars as you consider a change in your own work or life -- and if youre working to get healthy, I hope youll tell me how youre managing the emotional side!