â€œDonâ€™t aim at successâ€”the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensueâ€¦as the unintended side-effect of oneâ€™s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.â€
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow.
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Exercise. You might be doing it right, but unfortunately, you're probably thinking about it wrong. And, as with anything, this can make all the difference.
The body will, of course, respond to external stimuli, but we also know that a response can be amplified, diminished, or, in some cases, fashioned entirely from our interpretation of these events, first. This has significant implications when we are looking to exercise to support efforts to change the body, and we can learn to frame the same 'reality' in a way far more likely to elicit this desired response.
In the first of two articles referenced below, Precision Nutrition outline one of the reasons why exercise is not (solely) effective as a means of fat loss - due to a process called hedonic compensation, or moral licensing. In viewing exercise as either, a necessary evil tolerated as a penance for our lifestyle, or merely a sweat session to shake off some stress, we frame it as a 'chore' that is deserving of 'reward'.
This is a blinkered, bastardised definition of fitness and the reason behind all fitness frustrations.
"I've been so good; I deserve to be bad."
Most crucially, as highlighted in the studies, the exercise itself has nothing to do with it - just our interpretation of it. A point demonstrated even more tellingly in the second link, from a study showing that the body will respond in very different ways to the same food. Or more accurately - a response not to the food at all, but to the label - to the 'story' you tell it. Although the mechanisms for this remain unknown, this is not mysterious and is a simple extension of the well-documented placebo effect, or conversely, it's lesser-known evil twin - the nocebo effect.
The real mystery is that in knowing this, why we persist in casting exercise in a harmful, or at best, unhelpful, light.
You know when somebody says theyâ€™ll do something with you, but they just bitch and moan through it so there's no point them being there in the first place, and you canâ€™t have any fun anyway? We are all guilty of it - the type of attitude that ruins it for all concerned. Let's see if we can make it even more distasteful:
"I'll grudgingly accept that I have to do this, but ONLY, if I get something out of it. "
Does that sound conducive either to success or enjoyment in any endeavour? If someone were to say that to you, would you feel excited and motivated to help, or reluctance, obligation and a whole series of other soul-sucking emotions, most of which make you feel like telling them to, just fuck off then.
â€¢ I am exercising to lose fat.
â€¢ I am exercising to get fit.
â€¢ I am exercising to get stronger.
â€¢ I am exercising to blah, blah, blah.
Iâ€™ll do this only so I get that.
This mercenary approach is the learned attitude most of us have towards exercise, and all of us likely have examples of our bodies telling us exactly that.
This is an unfortunate yet pervasive stereotype of what exercise is supposed to be, but sadly, we are missing the point. Indeed, exercise plays a role in each of these goals, but if we reduce it to just a means to an end, then we limit it to only that and simultaneously diminish both the experience AND the possibility of what we might be trying to achieve. The way forward is to go further back - to reduce it absolutely.
The underlying reason for exercise is this:
It is a physiological imperative.
That's it. What other reason do you need? Not another theory, idea, or gimmick, just a wide-eyed, unblinking acknowledgement of a fact. A fact that is starkly evident at this base level simply because it is yet to be burdened with all the other crap that gets layered over the top of it in this day and age.
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