Some mornings there’s nothing more horrifying than an alarm blaring in your ear. You’ve dreaded it since your head hit the pillow: That onus to stagger into sneakers and punish yourself until the time’s up, because then you can relax and know that you’re sticking to the Schedule. You hate that alarm, but that’s the cost of being better, right?
We live in a workout culture defined by the need for “cleansing,” where in order to feel good about your body you first have to rid it of all its accumulated gunk. The punishment of strict diet and painful, efficient exercise is part of this purge. It’s tough not to want to get it over with as soon as possible, with your reward being to maybe share it on social media or confidently go on that date you’ve been looking forward to before finally taking a break for a little while.
On this theory of exercise-as-exorcism, I’d like to politely call b.s.
There is nothing wrong with working hard, drinking $10 juices (it’s your money) or posting a picture of yourself on Instagram when you’re proud of how you look. The distinction I want to draw is one of motivation, and whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic. Let’s assume you want to make a change in your life. You, like me, have been through countless cycles of reaching a relative peak, physically and emotionally, only to crash and start again. There’s some worth to this cycle, but is it how you sustain a change?
Let’s go back to the alarm. You open your eyes and see that you’ve got, let’s say, two hours before work. You have options. You can hit snooze and go back to bed. You can get up and front-load the pain and nutrition for another earned day of relief. Or — and how you do this is up to you — you can get up and truly, honestly enjoy yourself for two hours.
You can grind your coffee beans and start learning which coffee you like best, instead of forcing down the most caffeine-soaked rocket fuel available. You can read a book — for fun! — while you wait for the pre-workout poo (don’t act like you don’t know). And when you’re ready, you can workout — wherever you want, however you want, for as long as you want (just don’t forget about work).
Try taking the headphones out and listening to your neighborhood come out of the woodwork. If you find yourself getting bored or just going through the motions, change your route; if you feel that you’re tiring too quickly, slow down. Who cares how far or how fast someone else runs? The goal is to arrive back at home feeling quietly happy — not necessarily exhausted — so that you want to do this again tomorrow.
And speaking of quiet, when your work or school day finally does start up, resist the urge to tell everyone about your routine. The only feeling better than that post-exercise dopamine high is looking back on the last few months and knowing that you didn’t do this because you hate yourself — you did it because you love yourself.
Mark Twain once sarcastically wrote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” I say go ahead and do that — if you season it just right, you may find you like the taste.