Authentic Exercise Habits

Victim of a perfectionist #1:  exercise

Exercise may be the first and biggest casualty of my perfectionist habits.  Exercise is very important for health.  Back in the day, women achieved physical fitness by washing laundry, churning butter, milking cows, chopping wood, working the fields.  In this era, we drive to the store to buy our milk, butter, and corn.  We heat our homes by paying the electric bill.  And no one ever becomes physically fit by doing laundry.  Most of us need to find other ways to get the physical activity that our bodies so desperately need.  It is “simply” a four-step process.

How to achieve healthy muscles, bones, heart, lungs:

1.  Put on workout clothes.

2.  Go to the gym, or outside, or to your yoga mat, or in front of a workout video.

3.  Do some good hard work for about a half hour, longer if you want.

4.  Do it again tomorrow.

We are going to work backwards when we talk about this, because step #4 is actually the one that sabotages me.  Or the one that I use to sabotage myself.  I will be in a good routine for a week or two, and then suddenly one morning, I use any excuse not to go to the gym.  “I stayed up too late.  My stomach hurts.  My head hurts.  It’s too hot.  It’s too cold.  I can’t find my headphones.  I didn’t charge my phone.  I have a hangnail.”  You see how this goes.

But those are all just procrastination.  “I don’t have to exercise today; I can do it tomorrow…next week…after this big project is done…I’ll start in January, I promise!”  🙂  And what did we learn yesterday about procrastination?  It’s caused by perfectionism!!!

In my case, as a perfectionist, I go to the gym with an idea of the workout I should do today.  The Plan.  But because I am a perfectionist, The Plan is not related to where I am today physically or emotionally.  The Plan only takes into consideration the imaginary but perfect standard-Dawn.  Whatever she looks like in my head on this particular day.

So I get on the treadmill, and I implement The Plan.  Nine times out of ten, The Plan is misery.  I’m all in my head, if you know what I mean.  I have a mentality of punishing myself, doing penance for the unforgivable sin of not being 115 pounds.  I mean, that’s the standard, right?  You know the formula.  “100 pounds for 5 feet tall, plus 5 pounds for each additional inch.”  I am 5 feet 3 inches, so my standard is 115 pounds.  I am….NOT 115 pounds.  So I owe a whole bunch of penance.  Right?

OF COURSE NOT!!!  Lest you started to think I was seriously going to keep living in the formula…I am NOT made according to a formula!  So in the interest of letting go of perfectionism in favor of authenticity, let’s work backwards.

#4- Do it again tomorrow.  Don’t think about doing it every day for the rest of your life.  Just take care of one day.  It’s not hard if you…

#3-  Do about a half hour of good hard work.  NOT a half hour of misery or self-punishment.  Don’t worry about what the clock says, or what The Plan was, or what the “standard” is.  Good hard work will feel like more work than sitting on the couch, but still a pleasant discomfort.  Pay attention to the different systems of your body.  Good hard work will make you feel like you’re working, but not so hard you couldn’t do it again tomorrow.  It might be a different speed on the treadmill depending on your current state (of fitness, of your monthly cycle, of how much vigorous housework you did last night…don’t worry about what’s causing it, just live in this moment), but it feels about the same, whether today it means walking at 2.5 mph for 30 minutes, or another day it means running intervals between 5.5 and 7.5 mph.  Someday it might take an hour of exercise to feel like good hard work.  Experiment with the intensity and duration until you find good hard work for today.

#2- Go to the gym, or go outside, or to the yoga studio.  Or the ultimate frisbee field.  Or the pool.  Or to your living room in front of a Zumba DVD.  Or get your hula hoop.  What do you want to do?  Don’t think about what you want to do more than anything in the world.  What do you want to do enough that you’ll want to choose something (this or something different) again tomorrow?  To use an analogy that I’ve nearly beaten to the ground:  You choose toothpaste.  There are certain flavors or textures or brands that you like, and others that you can’t stand.  For the health of your teeth, one toothpaste isn’t much better or worse than another, and ANY toothpaste is far, FAR better than not brushing your teeth at all.  It’s the same:  For the health of your body, one kind of exercise isn’t much healthier than another.  And ANY half hour of good hard work is far, FAR, FAR better than not exercising at all.  So what do you want to choose for today?

#1-  Put on your workout clothes.  Have enough that there are always some clean and ready to go.  Buy the fabric, fit, and size that are comfy for you.  Buy a whole bunch of different kinds if you want, and see what feels best for the shape you are and the exercise you do.  Do not wait until you have lost __ pounds.  I have played that game.  Trust me- Refuse to play.  Let the future you take care of the future you.  You take care of the CURRENT you.  Make yourself comfortable so that you will want to do this again tomorrow, remember?

This advice is for myself.  I’m lecturing myself.  If you find it useful, great.  Personally, as part of letting go of perfectionism, I will be focusing on “good hard work,” and not a plan to run a 10K.  I do not know if I will run a 10K this year or not.  I do know that it was perfectionist-me who made that resolution.  Authentic-me is going to do some good hard work and live in the moment.

One last concept that is keeping me sane:  Stay in THIS moment.  I can step on the scale and read the number, and I can’t do anything about what made it what it is.  I may have been the one to make the choices, but at this moment, I can’t choose a different body or a different past.  I also can’t, in this moment, definitively choose all the moments of the next six months, or what the results will be at a certain future point in time.  All I can choose is what I will do THIS MOMENT.  I need to remember that.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Sometimes even more often.

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