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Want to Get Healthy? Think Positive

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Recently a client confessed to me that she loves running because it "makes her feel free." She injured her foot about a year ago and for roughly six months she couldn't walk without pain, let alone run. Now she runs five to seven kilometers a minimum of three times per week, and does weights twice per week.

One of the reasons she is successful at being and staying active is that instead of viewing running and training as something she has to do, she thinks of them as things she "gets" to do. Our conversation solidified my belief that, to successfully become healthier long-term we should focus on what we can do and what we can have instead of focusing on what our body can't do and/or what we can't have.

In my experience, the average Joe and Jane frame health and wellness around deprivation -- becoming healthier ends up being about the cake you CAN'T eat and the social activity (like drinking) you have to cut out. No wonder so many people don't sticks with an exercise and healthy eating plan. Who wants to feel constrained as well as deprived of what they love? My advice, flip your mindset, try and find the positive! Instead of "I can't eat cake," think "how great it is that I can eat these delicious berries?" Instead of, "I don't want to go for a run" think, "how great it is that I can run."

Athletes are often no better. We often focus on what went wrong, or what we didn't achieve in a race or workout instead of remembering how lucky we our that our bodies can race in the first place.

I am not saying that athletes should stop having athletic goals, or that Joe and Jane should feel badly about struggling to find the motivation to exercise. Learning to "embrace the positive" is not easy. This is a lesson that I learn over and over again. I guess what I am saying is that understanding the importance of a positive mindset is a lesson that is worth at least trying to embody.

Victor E. Frankl said, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." (I am sure he wasn't referring to exercise, but I am going to apply it to fitness since everything to me is a reference to health and wellness.) Think of the stimulus Frankl refers to as the food and exercise options available to you. Now, try to modify your response. Move away from understanding eating well and exercising as something that is constraining you. Instead, understand being able to move as something that is enjoyable, something we get to do. Embrace the joy in exercise. Although you can't change many of the structural realities of life -- such as work and family responsibilities -- you can try to alter your response.

I tried to "modify my response" by "embracing the positive" during my recent 70.3 Ironman in Mont Tremblant. (A 70.3 consists of 2km swim, 90km bike and a half marathon.) Every time a negative thought came into my head -- such as, I am not fast enough, or my feet hurt -- I tried to flip the thought. I replaced the negative thought with a positive one such as, the scenery is so beautiful, I am so thankful to be injury free, I did all the training I could possibly do so now all I can do is give it my best. I ended up getting a personal best time, and having one of the most enjoyable racing experience of my life!

So, the main take-away -- if you have been struggling to become active, try to move away from understanding exercise as something on your "to do" list. The "have to" ness of exercise often makes it feel suffocating and stressful, and spurs something akin to adolescent rebellion. Instead, try to embrace the privilege of movement. Find exercise you enjoy. Replace "I have to exercise" with "I get to move."

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