Jan 26, 2009

In Search of Healthy living ~ Happiness

Today's topic is one that I think is very important for success in living a well balanced life. Now of course you do not need to be without a worry or care (wouldn't that be nice?), however working towards happiness is an important key in making a lifestyle change. It is also important to note that happiness is not a destination, a one time thing. Happiness is a process, an ongoing thing that you work towards a little bit each day.

So why exactly is it so hard to find a fitness routine or an activity to help us get into shape and stick with it? Why does this seem so hard? We know what we need to do, so why can't we just do it and be done already?

Bob Greene, the personal trainer made famous by Oprah Winfrey during her marathon training days and now a regular contributor to O Magazine as well as a regular part of her podcasts and TV shows, summed it all up beautifully.

To paraphrase - we are programed to stay away from discomfort. Excercise is uncomfortable, that is why most of us have to work so hard to stick with it. It brings us pain. And pain is no good. There is no pleasure in pain for pains sake.

Conversely food brings us warmth, comfort. Given the choice to go run a mile or eat a candy bar, our bodies tell us to eat the candy bar because there is no immediate discomfort.

I figured out a while ago why on my many attempts at sticking with a running regime I failed - I had lost sight of why I run. I had stopped enjoying it. I looked at it as work.

I have addressed this topic more than once on these pages, but every year I sort of have to relearn a bit, and every year more and more of this lesson sticks.

Not only do you need to realize why you chose to do something as part of your healthy lifestyle change, you need to find something that makes you happy. If the body shys away from discomfort - then try to make it as comfortable as possible.

If this means breaking down your goals into half mile increments, or doing something for just a few minutes at a time, that is fine. You do not want to take on too much so that you are overwhelmed with a task. You should be working towards happiness.

Now of course - running and training for endurance events of any nature will hurt as will starting a new fitness routine or trying a new activity, it is supposed to cause some discomfort. It is painful, all impovement is. You tear down, reconstruct and come back stronger. That is the nature of the beast that it fitness.

However, if you keep with it (this is key!) it WILL get easier and more enjoyable. Guess what? Running can be fun! Just not so much at first :o)

My problem was that I would never stick with it long enough for it to get to the enjoyable state. For me, triathlon changed all that. I fell back in love with running because the focus was no longer on that, it was on a sum of many parts. Now I make sure to have one or two non-triathlon or running activities that I can do for fitness and health. This way I do not get burnt out on running or swimming or biking, because I have painting and music and rock wall climbing to keep me fit both mentally and physically.

I took a few months off from running (or doing much of anything honestly) since the Detroit Marathon in December 2008 and I am happy to say that getting back into training has been easier than I thought. My endurance did not slip nearly as far as it had in years past, and I am happy on the runs because they are getting easier. My 5 mile runs feel more like 3 mile runs, and while that seems like no difference trust me the difference is hugely noticable to me!


The key is to find something that peaks your interest (look outside your typical activites and look towards trying something new this year if you just cannot stand the activity you had been trying before) and stick with it until it is pleasureable. It is true that for some, that just doesn't happen but unless you really stick with it you will never know.

I have found that when starting something new that I find out of my comfort zone either physically or mentally, I give myself 1 month of doing the activity. And I give it a good effort for those 4 weeks. If after 1 month I just do not enjoy it, I allow myself to find a new activity.

Do not be afraid to give this a chance. If you try spinning and hate it, try another instructor, a different club, or at a different time of day. It may be any one of those things, but at least give it a fair shake!

Another pitfall I have seen is that we get wrapped up in the expecations of the activity we partake in. Being a runner does not mean that you run marathons, it also does not mean that you run in races at all. You can run just for the sake of running, it is just that people find training for something a huge motivator.


So take with you the lessons from my 6 years of giving this endurance sport / running thing a go -

1 - Stick with it past the initial pain, it will get easier!
2 - Don't be afraid to mix it up and try something new.
3 - Don't get caught up in all there is to do in the activity you start - running 0.25 of a mile makes you a runner.
4 - Going short, going fast, going slow, going long - it doesn't matter as long as you go happy!
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