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January 24, 2012

The Myth of Loving It

The Myth of Loving It

In my life, I have both read and given a fair amount of lifestyle advice. When I was practicing as a full-time physician, I often talked to my patients about diet, exercise, sleep and other elements of life that could impact their health.

When it comes to making lifestyle change, the recommendations are often pretty simple, but the implementation is hard.

Most people are pretty durable in their habits, and making new ones or changing lifelong patterns is more difficult than they think. It takes perseverance, motivation, and sometimes repeat trial, failure and restart to stay the course.

In taking up the new activity of running for myself, I have been reflecting a lot on what it really takes to make substantial change and the advice we often give and receive around this. We do a funny thing when it comes to exercise. Part of the advice given is almost always:

Chose an activity you enjoy.

Now I admit, I have both thought this and given this advice many many times in my life. It sounds right, doesn’t it? Chose an activity you like and you are much more likely to stick with it? What we don’t usually do is question whether this strategy works.

I am a good example. If I make a list of what I really like to participate in for exercise it includes yoga (in a class, not on my own), martial arts (again, class), hiking, tennis, and walking on the beach.

When I try to match these activities up against my busy life as Chief Science Officer of a growing company and single mom of two, it’s a recipe for failure. This explains my two nearly unused memberships at yoga studios, and the cobwebs on my tennis racket. And while activities like hiking and walking on the beach are wonderful for my spirit – I can’t do them often enough or for a long-enough duration to have any impact on my physical fitness.

My own revelation around this came into my head as a single short statement:

If you want to stop failing at attempts to exercise you are going to have to stop waiting for the things you really like to magically fit into your life – you are going to have to start doing something you don’t like.

Or at least I realized that I needed up uncouple the ideas of exercise and “activity I enjoy” – because if I was going to continue to wait for the stars to align for these to be the same thing, it was not going to help the cause.

Now before you start feeling bad for me, think about the other kinds of advice you might have received around lifestyle changes. Rarely does anyone ever give dietary advice and say “eat what you like” or “eat how you like” and expect that that will work. When it comes to diet, we basically assume that if someone is seeking advice about it they have been going about it wrong and they need to change.

Or if it’s easier, think about brushing your teeth. Not many people get really excited about brushing their teeth, but they have adopted it as a daily ritual because they have been taught that it has value to their health.

I think that we tend to frame exercise in a different light because of our notions about exercise, fitness and sports as “leisure time” activities. We place exercise more firmly in a category with the arts, than we do with activities of daily living. For me, once I gave some serious thought to why I wanted and needed to exercise, the thought that I should also enjoy it sort of fell down the list. I has become more of an option or possibility than a criteria.

My criteria: needs to be easy to access, accessible, portable, offer measurable health and fitness benefits, something I can maintain with my crazy lifestyle. When I took “something I like” off the list, running suddenly became the obvious answer.

I know that some people get lucky and these things are one for them. They have that happy place where what they love and what they do for fitness are one. I think this is great. I am also open to the possibility that my life will change and allow me to do something I enjoy more, or that I will fall in love with running. Hey, anything can happen.

But I do think we should question our thinking about the relationship between exercise, success and love of the activity. I am only a sample of one, but I can tell you that it was really freeing to not have to love the activity I was choosing. I could then think of it more like brushing my teeth…a thing I am doing because I really want and understand the long term benefit.

I don’t have to love it, I just have to do it.

Jacqueline

5 Comments

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  1. Jennifer
    January 25, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. I love that you continually inquire “is this really true?”. So, I’m taking up running. We have a treadmill at home, a track at the high school, and decent hills around. No excuse other than ‘I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it’. Wish me luck!

    • Jacqueline Jacques
      January 25, 2012 at 12:47 am #

      Woo Hoo! I’m cheering you on! Let me know how it goes and how I can support you.

  2. nordictk
    January 25, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    Excellent post! When I was in medical school, we had to earn a certain amount of “aerobic points” per week (ref: Kenneth Cooper). Running was the most efficient way of acquiring the needed points, which is how it became my initial method of exercise. So, I understand the need to do something portable and that you really can do almost anywhere without a partner, team or equipment….running. Most people don’t try it regularly for very long; you are unique. I have a feeling you will call yourself “a runner” very, very soon…..

    • Jacqueline Jacques
      January 25, 2012 at 6:10 am #

      Thank you for the comment – and the compliment. I wonder how different medicine in this country might be if that was a requirement for all medical students? I felt the time commitment was a necessity – too easy to give up without it and not enough opportunity to reap all the possible benefits. I will definitely address this more in future posts. But yes – portable, solitary both part of the choice. I definitely cannot say if I will ever end up calling myself a runner, but the processes of learning and exploring, changing and growing – these are enough for me for now.

  3. Erin
    January 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I’ve never thought about it like this before, but it’s so true. I was at my fittest when I was running– not because it’s that much better than swimming or working out on the elliptical trainer and rowing machine, but because it was easy. I could do it anywhere (including on vacation), any time (the sidewalks never close), and needed very little– running is cheap. The typical advice is to choose an exercise that you’ll actually do. I always assumed you would do something because you liked it. But you’re right; you do it because it’s convenient. Time to take up running again!