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Emotion trumps logic. This is true for all areas of self-improvement. The goals of getting more exercise, losing weight and improving their health may briefly rev people up, but they fail to motivate anyone over an extended period. Motivating people to start diets or exercise programs is easy; getting them to continue is tough. Instead, take on enjoyable, fun activities that physically energize you and that will motivate with a positive feeling you can sustain over the long run. Building good health is a strategic pursuit with a long-term reward, yet that alone seldom excites people long enough for them to achieve that pay-off. Having fun, on the other hand, is a good motivator once you find an activity you like and give yourself permission to enjoy it.
The “Successful Cycle of Motivation”
The fact that someone might have a heart attack in two or three decades does little to inspire that person to get up early to go for a long run. Having fun provides motivation that can last a lifetime.
A successful cycle of motivation depends on choosing a physical activity for the “Right Whys.” Having a good time provides “immediate positive feedback.” People who find a form of movement they enjoy – for example, walking, dancing or swimming – sustain motivation. This approach proves far more effective than telling yourself that you should exercise or lose weight. “Shoulds” are terrible motivators. Most people automatically hate to do anything they feel they must do, anything that is required.
The physical activity or movement you choose doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise, such as high-intensity aerobics, fast-rep weightlifting, sprints, marathons, and so on. Your mode of physical activity can be a pleasant walk in the park, an easy swim, a little gardening, some up-tempo dancing to your favorite music – anything that makes you move. The point is to energize your body by doing something you like.
A wide variety of physical activities can be as beneficial as a tough routine of pounding workouts. Taking part in physical activity that you enjoy almost always will be better for you in the long run than a hard-driving exercise program. The reason is simple: You are far less likely to quit.
Working Out at Gyms
In today’s culture, with everyone wanting to stay fit and trim and good-looking, getting people into a gym isn’t hard. Media messages constantly tell people they’re overweight, out of shape, addicted to junk food and generally unhealthy.
People succumb to the onslaught and start exercising rigorously, energetically and ambitiously, but after a while, most of them stop. Formal physical exercise programs and activities like joining and working out at a gym, frequently end in quitting. Most people who begin formal physical exercise programs stop within six months. This starting and stopping provides scant benefit for your health and vitality.
Routine Physical Movement
Science suggests that a nontraditional exercise or physical activity – anything that gets you moving – provides valuable health benefits. Recent scientific findings indicate:
- Commonplace movement activities such as “house cleaning, gardening and walking” have excellent effects on your health and you can rate them as informal exercise.
- A little bit of physical activity here and there, repeated throughout the day, is beneficial and has a positive accumulative impact.
- People don’t need to work up a sweat during their activities to achieve legitimate health and fitness benefits.
The “MAPS Program”
Don’t throw yourself into yet another intense, stop-and-start exercise program. Instead, try a “no-strict-diet, no-do-it-till-it-burns” approach to exercise: the MAPS program.
The MAPS acronym stands for “meaning, awareness, permission and strategy.” In this flexible program, you can engage in any physical movement you like and find convenient. MAPS is safe: You won’t hurt yourself with sudden strenuous exercise. MAPS is a planned self-care and health program. You exercise any way you want, when you want, using a movement regimen you enjoy.
The four MAPS motivators work like this:
The foundation of motivation is meaning. A “negative, chore-based meaning” – for example, that you should exercise for a certain number of minutes daily – is demotivational. People don’t look forward to or sustain such prescribed activities.
In contrast, meaning that takes the form of a “gift” to yourself is hugely motivational. Engaging in fun activities is a present you give yourself. You look forward to having a good time. This happens, for example, if you don’t regard exercise as mandatory, like doing an unpleasant task.
The meaning you assign to a form of physical activity depends entirely on the why you selected it. If you understand the “Why” of something you want to do, the reason you’ve chosen it, you’ll sustain it over the long run. Self-determination theory holds that when you feel a sense of ownership over what you do, you’ll embrace it. However, you’d react differently if someone (like your doctor) told you that you must do something, which turns into a should.
Without awareness or knowledge, you can’t make substantial changes in your life. Self-awareness enables you to make informed judgments about the physical activities that give you pleasure and enhance your health. Awareness also supplies you with useful insights about which activities will motivate you the most and the least.
In contrast, not being aware – that is, not thinking carefully about what you want to do and why and what the results will be – can cause problems with getting enough exercise. For example, to lose weight, people often choose exercises they hate in order to burn the maximum number of calories and achieve the most weight loss. However, because most people loathe such exercises, they do them only briefly and then quit. As a result, they actually burn fewer calories in the aggregate.
Burning a large number of calories with high-intensity exercise makes sense if your goal is short-term. But losing weight and staying well should be lifelong goals. Armed with awareness and the insights you derive from it, you can make intelligent activity choices.
Awareness enables people to substitute the right whys for the wrong whys. The wrong whys often have to do with shoulds and musts. The right whys spring from positive emotions. The right physical activity for you can be a magic elixir that makes you feel great. It builds energy. It improves your mood. And it makes you want to keep moving. To sustain regular daily movement, engage in physical activities that are right for you – for the right reasons.
How would your life and emotions change if you gave yourself permission to make caring for yourself a priority and to make time for enjoyable movement? For many people, this goes against the grain. They act as if their lives aren’t their own. They devote their time to the benefit of other people – their children, spouses, relatives and friends – and their work. They have no time for fun.
To gain that time, give yourself permission to make yourself a priority. If you sacrifice your time for other people, also allow yourself to take care of your own life and to apportion part of your time for enjoyable movement. Give yourself the gift of some of your limited, valuable time.
Many people hesitate to prioritize self-care because of certain social messages that carry enormous weight. Messages saying that you must be a good provider or a good parent can crowd out everything else. In particular, they influence people who want to devote some of their time to fun physical activities but find that the urge to play conflicts with the imperative to be selfless.
This is such a common problem that it has a name: “caretakeritis.” If you suffer from caretakeritis, try to shift your mind-set. Make “self-care behavior” an essential part your day. Setting time aside for your physical activity can make or break your health. And when your health suffers, you can’t take care of anyone else – or yourself. You’ll be a better spouse, parent and colleague if you are healthy.
Making time for yourself brings an important personal statement to life: you are “in charge of what [you] do and the ultimate gatekeeper of [your] life.” Prioritizing yourself may run counter to your instincts, but your well-being depends on it. If you don’t believe you deserve self-care, “pretend” that you do.
Life often intrudes on your most resolute plans to stay physically active. That’s why you need carefully crafted, well-reasoned strategies for dealing with inevitable interruptions to – and interrupters of – your movement plans.
Apply these strategies:
- “Plan the weekly logistics” – List the fun physical activities that provide you with the health benefits you want. Be specific. Schedule when you will do them.
- “Confront challenges, not roadblocks” – Try to regard difficulties as challenges and not as impediments.
- “Brings friends and family on board”– The changes you make in your life affect the people around you. Prepare them for what’s new in your life – and as a result, in their lives as well. Enlist their support.
- “Be flexible and improvise” – What if you plan to go to the gym right after work, but your boss keeps you in the office an extra 20 minutes, cutting into your scheduled 40-minute workout time. Have a solution ready, such as taking a 20-minute walk tonight and going to the gym tomorrow.
- “Listen to your body’s message” – Sometimes, your body will tell you not to do anything physical at all. If so, pay attention. What matters is that you – not someone else or external circumstances – determine whether you will be physically active.
- “Evaluate and recalibrate with compassionate nonjudgment” – Don’t judge yourself if you fail to stick to your activity schedule. Be compassionate to yourself and to others.
Opportunities for enjoyable physical movement are everywhere. The MAPS system is easy to implement. Just find a fun, physical activity that gets your body moving and begin at your own pace for a period of time that works best for you.
Seeing your MAPS movement as legitimate exercise may require a change in your thinking about what working out involves. You may believe that working out meant sweating at the gym or the track. Doing yoga is a workout. So is cleaning the house, riding your bike or walking in the park.
The beauty of the MAPS system is that you’ll choose the movement activities you enjoy doing, which means you will most likely continue to do them because, “What sustains us, we sustain.”[/text_block]