CAN YOU IMAGINE EXERCISING ?
If you are one of the 63 percent of adults in Qatar who do not exercise at all, then this article is for you. If you have a gym membership but do not go, then this article is also for you. In fact, it’s for anyone who wants to increase his or her happiness and wellbeing but isn’t sure how to begin. We share with you some exciting strategies to overcome mental resistance to exercise, without leaving the comfort of your couch!
We all know exercise is good for us: so why do so few people exercise enough?
The human race is suffering. All over the world we are experiencing an epidemic of obesity and lethargy. A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is the medicine; yet many people continue to eat processed foods laden with sugar and simple carbs, and stay seated most of the day.
We have written before about the addictive nature of sugar and its drug-like qualities. What about exercise? Why do so many people struggle to do enough?
For many people, the earliest experiences of ‘formal’ exercise come from school: the struggles of growing up are unhelpfully combined with the stresses of competitive sport. Add a dose of peer pressure and the resulting emotion is fear. Studies undertaken by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that children are frequently traumatized by physical activity in an educational setting.
The problem is that this trauma, and any other negative associations with exercise, is stored in the brain. Just like the fear we feel at the idea of going to the dentist, we learn to associate the concept of exercise with negative emotions and feelings of stress. The result is that we avoid it at all costs. Our mind tries to protect us from this perceived pain: it makes up excuses; avoids thinking about it; decides we just don’t have the time (even if we do have the time to watch TV or spend hours on the internet).
Human beings are not computers: we have a complex system of emotions that rule our lives more than we imagine. If you have emotional pain associated with an activity, you will not want to do it. If I asked you to come with me for a “fun trip to the dentist for a root canal” you would laugh at me, and decline my invitation, wouldn’t you?
So, we gather these emotional reactions to exercise and then, to make matters worse, we reinforce the pain. If you plan to exercise and then don’t, you feel guilt. If you subscribe to a gym and don’t go, you feel guilt. If you look in the mirror and feel too fat, you feel guilt. If you watch your body deteriorate and your health decline, you feel guilt.
Lets get neurological!
Guilt is a form of emotional distress. Your mind will protect you from this type of pain by preventing you from thinking about the topic that causes torment: in this case exercise. You might even experience this avoidance strategy while you are reading this article. Your mind might start to wander off, think about other things. Maybe you’ve started thinking about food or another distraction. Well, stay focused, there is a solution coming!
Neurologists have a catchy saying “neurons which fire together, wire together”. This means that the more you feel guilt, embarrassment or shame about exercise the more you join the two concepts together. Exercise and Guilt. Exercise and Embarrassment. Exercise and Ridicule. Exercise and Stress… It’s no wonder you don’t want to go to the gym!
The solution could be simple: rewire the brain!
The brain is not fixed. We have the ability to change our skills, behaviors and attitudes. Intelligence, creativity, artistic talent and much more, including how you feel about exercise, can be changed. Advances in brain scanning technology and the study of neuroscience have birthed a new buzz-word for this ability . . . neuroplasticity!
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt: derived from ‘neuron’ (the nerve cells which act like wires in the brain) and ‘plastic’ (the moldable substance which we can use to fabricate literally anything!).
Patients with severe brain injuries have made remarkable recoveries when their brain has simply reorganized itself and adapted to the new situation. Neuroplasticity is your brain’s amazing, but overlooked, ability to redefine itself.
How to reshape your brain!
Essentially, you have to build some new neural pathways and it’s easier than you think. Like learning a new skill or language, it just takes practice and some imagination. Your brain doesn’t really differentiate between imagination and reality. This is why when you watch a scary film you feel fear, and why memories can bring tears to your eyes. Whether you are imagining something or experiencing it, the brain makes little differentiation. This works in your favor!
So, all you need to do is imagine exercising. In order to rebuild positive associations with exercise we need to think positively about it. Replace the emotions of fear, guilt and shame with happy thoughts and feelings: joy, excitement, pleasure and satisfaction.
If you want to stop using excuses and start your journey to better health, try this short visualization to rewire your brain! Make the images in your mind bright and colorful and visualize plenty of movement. Imagine yourself smiling, happy and enjoying yourself. It might seem tricky at first, because you need to break old neural patterns, but it will get easier.
- Imagine yourself doing a fun exercise, sport or strenuous activity.
- Imagine yourself enjoying it, smiling, laughing.
- Imagine doing it with friends or family who are enjoying it too.
- Spend 3 minutes creating positive feelings about this activity.
- Picture yourself completing the activity and feeling a sense of achievement.
- Picture yourself relaxing afterwards.
- Picture yourself looking forward to doing it again.
- See yourself fitter, healthier and happier.
That’s it! Imaginary exercise done and you didn’t even break a sweat! Do this for 3 to 5 minutes EVERY day. The more you do it, the quicker the change in your attitude to exercise will be.
If you’re finding yourself saying “this won’t work for me”, that’s the protective part of your mind at work again. It will work for you. It works for athletes developing muscle memory and it works for brain trauma patients. And it will work for YOU, if you want it to.
Depending on how much mental resistance you have to overcome it could take hours, days or even weeks. However, one day you will simply feel like doing some exercise. When that moment happens, go with it. Try just a little movement. Maybe a walk, swim, bike ride or something gentle that you enjoy — ensure it is something fun. Then build from there — the foundations of enjoying exercise are more important than the exercise itself.
Can we help you?
If you like the sound of this mental exercise but are concerned your mind might get in the way, and it probably will, we can offer support. If you want us to send you gentle reminders to simply imagine yourself exercising once or twice a day at random times, simply send us a message on What’s App (50111515) saying “imagine exercising” and we will help you with pleasure!
Imagine a world full of fit and healthy people enjoying the vitality of a healthy body and happy heart. It is possible; all we need to do is a little mental mechanics to rewire our brains. Are you willing to give it a go?References