Start with the why.

Thanks for the great responses to my question about exercise. 

“Why do you think more people don’t exercise enough? What stops you from turning up the dial on your exercise intensity? Why is this one thing, that has more benefits than any pill you could take, so hard to do regularly?”

F said

I’ve got lots of ideas why some people exercise regularly and why others don’t. The biggest factor I think is inertia and the evil vice of sloth! We naturally just want to sit and hibernate – and feed ourselves to pack on fat for that process! The hardest part is getting up and moving. Another reason is that we are naturally avoidant to pain. Most organisms naturally recoil from painful stimuli- like cycling up Spanish Banks hill last night and feeling I wanted to puke! But those of us who do exercise regularly know that ultimately the gain outweighs the pain, that the endorphins kick in afterward, and sometimes during, and we feel better after! It’s motivating people to get over that hump, to persist through the pain to get to the endorphins. That’s your expertise as a coach and my challenge as a doc! So, it’s not just change your mind, but change your habits!
Keep up the great work Shayla!

K said

Great post!!

Why don’t people do the one thing that is basically free and will, absolutely 100% guaranteed, yield huge benefits for their entire lives??? Despite the hype around sports and so on, I just don’t think it’s valued highly enough by society – we’re social creatures and almost without exception unless we are incredibly self-disciplined (I don’t include myself in this category), we need social reinforcement to maintain any behavior.

We live in a world that devalues physical work – it’s a deeply embedded cultural bias. I think that goes back to the early days of the human brain when we were still trying to extricate ourselves from a hand to mouth nomadic existence and being occasional snacks for sabre-toothed tigers – and became agrarian societies with control over our immediate environment and food supply, and then moved on to automate everything and become more productive and acquisitive.

Somewhere along the way, we lost contact with what is good for humans – I think the industrial revolution has much to answer for!! I believe many books, thesis, and essays have been written on the topic by more intelligent people than me so I’ll leave it at that; but I can tell you that even something as simple as riding my bike to work is regarded as a sign of eccentricity in my office, and even an indulgence. Weird – I am not a particularly disciplined person so I think I do this stuff because, a) it excites me, and b) if I don’t I’ll go nuts! But for more “balanced” people, I think the lack of social support for having an active lifestyle is a huge issue.

P said

Why don’t we do it? It’s hard work!
It’s the same reason we don’t eat right or do the things we know we should do, but….
Status quo is easier unless there is some big motivating factor to change.
You know! You see it all the time!

C said

I think people don’t exercise because they may have kids and don’t have the time or leftover energy after doing their job, commuting, spending the time doing homework with the kids, feeding and driving the kids to their activities. Add in a little laundry, some grocery shopping, meal prep, lunch making, garbage and recycling and house cleaning and maintenance, some birthday parties, doctors/orthodontist appointments and family occasions, and there is precious little time for workouts!

M said,

I think people don’t do it because sometimes they think they actually are. When I go to my gym everyone is watching tv or their phones and not really working out. They are doing something, but not as intensely as if they could be. Of course, this is only the people who get to the gym. The other people, I don’t know why they don’t exercise, it is the best part of my day.

I agree with all of the above. I think that it is easier when we exercise with others, we do like to hibernate, inertia makes it hard to get started, it can be hard work, there are many competing commitments and yes, sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we are doing more than we actually are doing.

But, I think there is another underlying reason for all of these excuses.

It is all in your mind.

Neuroscience has shown that the act of pursuing a goal is more satisfying than reaching your goals.

I see this all the time.

For example, a client has an event, weight or fitness, goal in mind. As we get closer to achieving it I ask them to start thinking about the next goal. Remind them of the big picture. The people who do set a new goal, or are reminded of why they want to change and are using the current goal as a measure of progress, keep improving, keep feeling satisfied, keep moving toward their vision of themselves in the future.

The ones who don’t set a new goal? Or lose track of their “big picture goal”. They have a harder time. There is a period of feeling lost, unhappy, uncertain and often reverting back to old habits. There is nothing to work toward, so they don’t.

When I was a Sun Run Clinic Coordinator I would see this in action every January. The people who didn’t have a reason to keep running after the Sun Run in April started back at square one the next January. 

However, there is always something to work toward and that something is you.

Actually liking who you are now and knowing what you want to become, makes all the difference. Self-compassion and empathy make the hard choices, not so much choices but an obvious means to an end. When you view your life, physically or otherwise, as an opportunity to grow and challenge yourself there is a certain peace that comes with the discomfort of making yourself a priority.  Not in a being selfish, all about me kind of way, but an understanding that you are worth the effort.

If you see yourself as never measuring up, or having to reach the next milestone then you will be unhappy before, during and ultimately after reaching your goal. It will never be enough, you will never be enough, you can never have enough.

While you might wonder how this relates to the intensity of your exercise program I can tell you it is everything.

In the book Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, Jaak Panksepp explores the concept of our emotions and how our brain organizes thoughts, feelings, and implications. He believes that the need to seek more and look ahead, into the future does not cause a constant state of dissatisfaction, but essentially gives us something to live for. The act of seeking is it’s own fulfillment.

When you view activity as something to get through, to check off your to-do list, as a means to an end there is no meaning in it. There is no reason to go all in or make the time.

Seeing yourself as a worthy work in progress makes all the difference. Exercise is a way to grow and challenge yourself. A part of the process of being your best.

This is why every one of my clients starts with a Wellness Vision, a vision of their best future self, before anything else. If you can’t see what you are working toward – not a short-term event or a weight or a date – why bother?

In fact, starting with the why. Why do I want to change? Why do I want to improve? Why do I want to be fit for the long term? Is the most important starting point. Start with the why and the how is the easy part.

In the end, it is the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Change your mind, change your health,


BTW In case, you need another why. A new study of people, between 60-89 years old, shows that intense physical activity decreases fatigue in healthy older adults.

The good news, you don’t have to wait to start.

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