Enjoying the Journey

Sometimes this work can feel like a real uphill battle. Sometimes you’ll wonder if it’s all worth it.

This brings me to this today’s topic: enjoying the journey.

I have a book entitled “Positive Addiction”. It’s based on the premise that there are things beyond drugs and alcohol that not only can become addictive but that can actually be a positive addiction in your life. An addiction that you WANT to build. And one of these is exercise.

Like drugs, exercise comes with it’s own chemical elixir.

If you’ve heard of the runner’s high you’re aware that there is a very real euphoric experience that can come with pushing your body physically.

When we exercise our bodies, we release a chemical in our brains called serotonin–the chemical that makes you feel happy, optimistic, and self-confident.

We also release endorphins–our body’s own morphine, giving you a light, stress-free feeling. We release adrenaline–pure energy and excitement.

It’s the rush that you get that really pumps you up for the day after a good workout.

And if you’re like me you also thrive on the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a hard workout. This is due to the release of dopamine in your brain, giving you that winning feeling when you reach a goal.

There’s more, but those are perhaps the big players that make exercise a rewarding task in and of itself. And what’s more, unlike many drugs, which tear down your body and require you to take more and more in order to reach the same high, your body’s release of these chemicals actually strengthens the receptors and builds up the pathways they run through, making it easier and easier to reach these peak feelings over time.

In truth it is possible to literally become ADDICTED to exercise. And it’s healthy. Our bodies were made to move. They were made to play. And they reward us for doing so.

According to the book, “Positive Addiction”, it takes about 6 months to start building an addiction to exercise.

So if exercise can be so enjoyable then why is it usually looked at as such a pain, a dreaded burden we have to push ourselves through in order to have what we want? I mean, we didn’t always view exercise that way. Then again, we didn’t always view what we were doing as exercise.

Remember when you were a kid?

How much fun you had running around, swinging from the monkey bars, climbing up trees, and racing around as fast as you could on your bike? You always wanted to go outside.

Back then exercise was fun. It was about having new experiences. Only you didn’t call it EXERCISE. You called it PLAY. And that is where the disconnect happened, I think.

When we started calling play exercise and started seeing it as something we HAD to do–in P.E. or to stay healthy–it lost its natural appeal. That’s the danger inherent in making anything you love a “have to”.

As adults I think many of us have joined the group identity that exercise is a pain, it’s boring, it’s something we don’t have time for, and it’s unnecessary if we can just find the right pill or the secret diet program.

But there is a world of experience waiting for you to explore. Our bodies were designed to explore and experience this world.

We are designed to open up to it and to take in its richness. I thought about this during my run today. The evening air felt cool and the smells took me back to times at home with my family during the fall and around Halloween.

The sky and the trees looked almost surreal. Tonight was also the first time that it really felt like October.

I struggle with negative thoughts at times. Thoughts about how exhausted I felt or how rushed I’ll be with the rest of my day if I squeeze my workout in.

So to counter it I decided to consciously keep track of the positive thoughts and feelings that I had as I worked out. I’d like to share some of these with you.

I recommend keeping a journal of your own positive thoughts and feelings as you work out. It really helps refocus your mind on the positives and even makes you more aware of the fun that you’re actually having.

I also noticed that every type of workout has its own flavor of experience. A fast paced cardio workout brings with it completely different feelings than a heavy weight lifting session or a boxing workout where I’m focusing more on rhythm, smoothness, and agility.

Savor the different types out there. You’ll never get bored or experience every type of combination that can be had.

Here are some of the things I love about my workouts:

1. Hearing that POP on the pad when throwing a powerful Cross.

2. Moving around effortlessly like Muhammad Ali or Bruce Lee.

3. The mental focus and perseverance that comes from conditioning.

4. Seeing how far I’ve come as I’ve stayed dedicated.

5. Goals seem more and more realistic and attainable as I continue to set and reach them.

6. Shadow Boxing in front of a mirror, seeing the flow of good techniques and footwork along with the conditioning to support them.

7. As much as I hate the pain I encounter in my workouts, I LOVE that feeling of making that mental resolve to give it my all. I plug into a power that is intense. I tap an inner strength that is only getting bigger.

8. After a grueling moment in training, the ecstasy I experience for knowing that I gave it my all and that I accomplished what I set out to do and that I had to dig deep to endure feels amazing. It’s extremely empowering.

9. Something Primal comes out when I’m giving my all to accomplish something hard like weight lifting or enduring a tough spar. I feel a renewed sense of power and courage and strength in myself.

10. Life seems so much more simple, so much more in my control, and makes so much more sense as I train. There’s no drama, no worries about relationships, etc. Just me with myself.

Hopefully you can see the value in paying attention to the positive parts of the process. It really helps to re-program your mind, or should I say, de-program your mind from all of the false assumptions about working out.

Remember, this is YOUR journey. Only YOU will ever walk the exact road that you walk. So find the beauty in it. Explore it. Blaze new trails.

Before I wrap this up I’d like to share some excerpts from a book I read called “The Ultimate Athlete”.

In it, author George Leonard recounts some of the different “flavors” of experiences he’s had in his life with exercising. This one is from the chapter “Running”:

“Having bummed a ride to a point near the top [of a mountain], I’m running downhill all the way, enjoying the hypnotic rhythm of my feet on the hard surface, playing energy games with gravity as I descend, thankful for the superb view as the [Railroad] Grade swings outward to the edge of the mountain, thankful for the shade as it curves in to cross a mountain stream.

“…There is a slight bend in the third straightaway; as I pass it, I can see to the next hairpin turn. There, just entering the turn, is a woman wearing only sneakers and khaki shorts, running free and easy, her long blond hair bouncing from side to side….I am held to her as if in a trance. She is running in slow motion and I am running with her, stride for stride….

“Only four or five seconds have passed, but her image is fixed in my consciousness, pure and natural and entirely free from any erotic intent. Perhaps because of this, I am overwhelmed by a sense of the erotic. Everything is erotic–the sun, the mountain, the dust on the trail, the motion of my body, the air I breathe. All things are drawn together. All things yearn and are fulfilled. Just to move is to love. No need to seek other meanings for life.”

Here’s a challenge for you.

I’d like you to make a list of activities that you’d like to try. Come up with at least 10. 10 things you’ve either never done, haven’t done in a long time, or probably wouldn’t do unless challenged to do it.

They don’t have to be particularly physically demanding, either. After you’ve made the list I want you to make 3 boxes next to each item on the list.

Here’s your challenge:

Starting this week I’d like you to do at least one of those activities every week, putting a check mark in each box until you’ve done all 10 activities 3 times. As an added bonus, keep a journal of your experience with each of these.

I challenged myself with this about a year ago and I am so glad that I did it. I was often by myself, so I’d take my headphones.

I had some great experiences (kayaking at night, stand-up paddling for the first time, learning how to indoor rock climb) and I ended up finding a new hobby of wake boarding.

So try it out. Make exercise fun and playful again. Find a new hobby that maybe even motivates you to get in shape for it. Perhaps end up meeting new friends. There’s a whole world open to you.

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