Why do you want to exercise? What’s the draw? I’m going to guess it has to do with either one or both of these: either (a), you want to look better naked (who doesn’t!) or (b), you want to stave off weight-related illnesses like heart disease, obesity and diabetes (also a noble goal).
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with self-improving for either reason, and if you’re exercising at all, I heartily commend you. But if you’re like me, it’s depressingly easy to lose motivation when the end goal always seems to be perched on the horizon.
When one exercises to chase a number on the scale, one individual workout never seems like it makes a difference. And if you shrug it off and watch Netflix instead, the grand scheme of your cosmic fitness goal will only be set back one day. Right?
Such is the dead end of the common workout mindset. Stay with me for a second, I’m about to radically reframe the way you see fitness.
On the days you work out, a very unique chemical transaction takes place. Your brain secretes a dopamine, the brain’s number one feel-good substance. Dopamine makes you feel accomplished. Vigorous. “Strong” in every sense of the word. And there’s a reason neurologists call dopamine release a “reward pathway” – the more you do something that releases dopamine, the more you desire to do that something.
In layman’s terms we call this “addiction,” and it has a very negative connotation when we connect it to things like gambling, drug use or high fructose corn syrup. But rewarding yourself with dopamine is self-perpetuating and can be hugely motivational.
Why didn’t Bill Gates sell off Microsoft when he made his first billion? You or I probably would have. But that feeling of incremental, dopamine-fueled success is thirst-quenching. I’m sure Bill didn’t set out to be the richest man in the world, it just ended up that way because he literally got addicted to the feeling he got from running his company.
When we get addicted to that little dopamine squirt of accomplishment, that’s when BIG things happen before we even notice it.
If you’re climbing a mountain, you can’t just keep your eyes on the peak. You have to look at every handhold, every crevice along the way.
What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t sacrificially live our lives for that eventual “tomorrow” like we’re poverty-stricken farmers stockpiling for winter, just trying to make it to one ultimate point. Our lives are today, and we should make clean, guilt-free choices that make us feel good in the moment.
It’s hedonism, but progress at the same time. I see that little squirt of daily dopamine earned from working out as a means of PROVING something to yourself while IMproving your body.
When you finish a workout and give it your all, stop and think for a moment. You beat something. Surmounted it. Let that sink in. Research shows that the dopamine and endorphins that your brain indulges in during the workout (similar to the “runner’s high”) continue to flood your brain for 24 hours. Our brain and bodies are meant to interact, so movement in our bodies feeds our mind. Motion creates emotion. Working out makes us more energetic, creative and positive. Our brains light up with activity.
Emerging research also suggests that feelings of mental pain – like despair, depression or embarrassment – are chemically encoded in the brain in the exact same fashion as physical pain, like scrapes or soreness. In a very real way, heartache is an actual ache, and endorphin release serves as a marvelously effective counterweight to negative emotion.
If you absolutely hate your workout or dread going into the gym, and if you’re mentally scoffing at me right now, I have simple advice for you… try something new! Between running, hiking, weight training, swimming, spinning, yoga and the plethora other choices out there, I promise you’ll find something that speaks to you and fits your needs and lifestyle. Fitness is a bajillion dollar industry and we’re lucky to have options.
Yeah, sure, thanks to my daily workout I’ll have moved my fitness level up just a hair toward hitting my goal, but if I zoom out and look at it from a “big picture” perspective, the progress seems meager. Nobody can transform overnight, and everyone has different starting points. Just like most things in life, it’s about the journey.
So get out there and sweat. Your brain benefits just as much as your body does.
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