The problem is that fear and guilt may motivate us, particularly in the short term, but they rarely create the sustainable lifestyle changes that will bring us the physical AND emotional benefits of getting and staying fit. The reason why this is a problem is because operating out of fear or guilt requires us to live in the future or the past rather than in the present.
When we're exercising out of fear, we are exercising due to anxiety that if we don't get or keep fit, something bad will happen to us in the future. Not only does exercising due to fear require a lot of will power (because the "something bad" is usually not immediate), but it also requires us to exercise harder because anxiety produces stress hormones which cause the body to store fat. Additionally, because getting fit isn't instantaneous, we fear that we won't reach our goal before the "something bad" happens. This is especially true when it comes to a serious health scare.
Exercising out of guilt also requires a lot of will power because we're focusing on a past action that either cost us money or credibility. Often, operating out of guilt breeds resentment (for ourselves, the sales person at the gym or equipment store, our friends/spouse/relatives, etc.) and that's demotivating. Additionally, as with fear, we usually have a stress response to guilt, which causes the body to store fat.
In both cases, the negative psychological state that comes with constantly bullying ourselves, actually makes it more difficult to perform the acts that will get or keep us fit. This leads to lower self-esteem, lower success rates and a learned helplessness which becomes self-perpetuating.
My friend loves to exercise... Why can't I?
Why is exercise such a drudge?
Why do children exercise?
Why we stop playing
Now, as adults, most of us have no idea how to have fun any more. What we think of as fun is a far cry from the way we had fun when we were children. What we think of as having fun usually has a competitive component to it. As a result, we move our bodies to beat a clock or beat a competitor or beat the bathroom scale. Sadly, even if you made it to the top of the Olympic podium, you won't always have the best time, the strongest finish or a fast metabolism. With this, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with competition. I am saying that it's the wrong way to go about fitness.
Bring back the fun
Here are some ways to bring fun back into fitness:
- Stop competing, start collaborating. By helping and encouraging others rather than trying to beat them, you'll enjoy yourself more as well as create community.
- Play mind games. Even if you're on a treadmill, find ways to gamify the experience.
- Forget about trying to beat your Personal Record and focus on doing things differently. (For example, instead of trying to beat your bench press record, try to do plyometric presses.)
- Do your workout on a playground. As silly as it may seem, climbing up the rope ladder while a bunch of children are watching you will bring out your own inner child.
- Do new things. Try new types of workouts. Try activities that challenge you in different ways and keep you in the moment. Do you run? Try trail running. Do you cycle? Try mountain biking. Like trail running? Try Parkour. Try bouldering or slack lining. Try "Ecstatic Dance" or Zumba.
- Pay attention to how many times you smile while you're working out. If you catch yourself frowning, bump up the energy level.
- Try BitGym or Bit Breaker from Active Theory Inc. BitGym takes you on a guided tour while on your treadmill, elliptical or spin cycle while Bit Breaker is an app that requires you to move your body to play the game (both are available for Android or iPhone).
If you have anything that you like to do to make your workout more playful, put them in the comments!