May 8, 2020

Exercise Habits aren’t built in 21 Days.

This morning, I did yoga.

I do yoga every morning even when I don’t “want” to.

The way I see exercise most frequently represented on Instagram is one of a quick and easy path to overcome struggles of willpower—by way of positive thinking or “habit” creation.

This habit-building process supposedly takes 21 days, after which struggle is eliminated and the desired exercise action happens without additional mental dialogue or effort.

I’ve been doing yoga every morning at 6:30 a.m. for nearly a year, and I still have not located the habit-building magic that makes all my internal dramas and dialogue disappear. Some days, I am tired; I didn’t sleep well or I didn’t sleep enough. My habit sometimes isn’t enough to overcome my biology, and I skip these days.

When we undertake an exercise program, our body will naturally resist energy output if there is no underlying energy to offer. Get enough sleep if you want to succeed.

Some days, I would rather sit on my couch and surf Facebook. Even repetition of a daily yoga practice doesn’t rid my mind of a desire for mindless rest.

When our lives lack balance, our body will seek homeostasis by enhancing our rate of perceived exertion. Before you attempt to add in an exercise program and hope it will stick, ask yourself if you have adequate downtime, social stimulation, intellectual or creative inputs. If your soul feels tired, your exercise program will suffer from lethargy as well.

If you can’t change these elements first, be open and willing to examine them and make changes to one of these areas concurrently with starting said exercise program. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the enormity of my other tasks and question if my time is best used for yoga.

The reason I do yoga is simply this: because I carry a large load of responsibility in life and I have a Type-A personality, I need something to balance my natural tendencies. Yoga wasn’t my first instinct, but it’s the one that adds shades of grey where I would otherwise skew toward black or white.

We often seek exercise that we naturally love. Exercise programs will be more successful if we love what we are doing, but is the activity we gravitate toward also creating more systemic balance in our lives or throwing it further out of whack?

Is there a way to find an activity that you authentically enjoy but simultaneously offers you more of want you need and not just more of what you want?

Explore different options before committing to one program, with the goal of seeing how our mind and body feel for a week or two. Do we manage stress more effectively? Do we manage time better? Are more things being accomplished or less? Do we feel happier and more joyfully able to savor life or do we feel more tired and drained?

Paying attention to the details can help us make better choices.

Sometimes I would rather clean my kitchen than do yoga. For this problem, it’s been suggested that I “time block” and force myself to do the assigned task. However, I have a rebellious streak and tend to stray when I’m told precisely what must happen between 6:31 and 6:59.

To overcome this, I have given myself a larger time block with two tasks that I can choose from: I can either clean my kitchen first or last. I’d love to tell you that one has emerged as a winner but every day is a new choice, and I like it that way.

We must find tricks and systems that work for us in terms of times and choices. There’s limited value in fighting our natural tendencies, no matter what expert advice you are given. It may take some experimentation to determine if we thrive under more rigid time blocking or more free ones. Does the system above appeal, or do we prefer a more set and strict set with an even more limited choice option of one?

If we don’t know, the best way to find out is to do what most appeals and experiment with the results. Be more open rather than less, for the end goal is a lifetime and not a single morning.

Habits sound glorious. I actually and factually have a yoga “habit,” but even at that, it’s not always natural or desirable or easy for me to do it.

Expect the same for yourself, because it turns out that habits aren’t really built in 21 days, they are built in the moments of competing priorities, lack of sleep, and feeling out of balance.


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