What do my love of celebrating every and all holidays (especially Christmas) and my love of exercise have in common? They are both examples of how I actively decide to be happy. I am a big believer in "mind over mood"; I am constantly giving myself short pep-talks such as "Kathleen, you are an adult and thus responsible for your own happiness -- if you are not happy change your attitude and/or your environment."
Two of my current favourite internal hashtages are #choosehappiness and #findingpocketsofjoy.
Basically, I actively find ways to be happy. I take all opportunities to celebrate. Regular exercise is not only good for the body, it is good for the psyche, so I make daily movement a non-negotiable. I frame Christmas and exercise as my chosen SAD lights (if you're not familiar with SAD lights learn about them here).
Now, I know this advice is easier dispensed than followed. It is hard to focus on the positives and work up the motivation to move at the best of times, and even harder when one is depressed, tired or anxious -- even though those are the times when exercise and positive thinking are most needed.
So, the million-dollar question becomes, how do you make daily movement and searching for joy non-negotiable?
I stay on my fitness horse by reminding myself that movement is a privilege and that the future Kathleen will ALWAYS be happier if I move. The understanding that exercise positively affects my mood has informed my entire fitness philosophy. In fact, improving my mood is typically the primary reason I train.
Here is my "mood-boosting" fitness philosophy.
1. Create "mood statistics"
For the next two weeks, rate your mood on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after exercising. One would represent feelings of "depression and disinterest in exercise and engaging with the world." Ten would represent feelings of "extreme happiness and excitement to be active and engaging with the world."
I have found that when people rate their mood from 1 to 5 before exercise, it is normally 6 or above after exercise.
When I don't want to exercise, I remind myself that my numbers are consistently higher after exercise.
2. Use the "10-minute rule"
Tell yourself that you have to move for a minimum of 10 minutes, but if you still want to stop after 10 minutes, you can.
The rationale is that breaking the workout into chunks will make moving seem less daunting. Plus, 10 minutes of exercise is better than nothing, so if you do stop, that's okay. Usually, once you have done 10 minutes, you will continue and finish the workout.
Walking is an inexpensive and convenient way to make sure you get at least 10 minutes of exercise. Try walking to work or on your lunch break. As a bonus, working out in natural light provides a double dose of serotonin, our body's natural "happiness" neurotransmitter. Being active outside will give you the strength to get through a hectic day at work.
"When you need even more motivation to be active, remind yourself that exercising improves memory and reduces the symptoms of dementia."
3. Think about how your future self will feel
Before making a snap decision to skip your workout, walk yourself through how you will feel.
I tell myself, "Yes, if I skip my workout, I can relax immediately, but the quality of my relaxation time will be compromised. I will be metaphorically kicking myself the entire time."
On the flip side, if I am active, even for 10 minutes, I will feel great and thus enjoy relaxing more.
You don't need to train for a marathon to experience the positive mental effects of exercise. All you need is 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times a week.
4. Focus on finding pockets of joy whenever and wherever possible
For me, celebrating anything reminds me to appreciate the little things in life. Now, I am not arguing that you need to love the holidays or exercise -- or that you can't have sad moments. I absolutely sometimes feel sad. But instead of letting negatives bleed into the rest of your life, find things that make you happy and focus on them. Find your personal moments of joy. Then, let that joy snowball; use the positive energy to lace up your running shoes and get out the door!
When you need even more motivation to be active, remind yourself that exercising improves memory and reduces the symptoms of dementia.
Some movement is always better than no movement. Know that it becomes easier to exercise regularly once you have established healthier habits since you (mostly) don't question if you should or shouldn't work out. Plus, when you exercise regularly, you develop a kinesthetic memory of how great you will feel after the workout, which will help to motivate you.
It might take some time to develop a love of moving -- until then don't stress about finding the perfect week to start training or the perfect workout. Just lace up your running shoes and go for a walk, even just for 10 minutes.
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