The other day, I met a woman who was really motivated to exercise but was not doing it. She knew what was missing. She said, “I was getting so much conflicting information about exercise. I didn’t know what to do anymore, so I just stopped doing it.” If you’re in the same situation, let’s get you out of exercise information overload and free your motivation for exercise.
Condition number three for self-motivation is competence: the need for a sense of control over the outcome and sense of confidence you have the ability to get it.1 How does this apply to exercise? You might have conditions number one (autonomy) and two (relatedness) strongly in place, but if you don’t know how to exercise to get what you want from it, it’s like being lost in a forest without a map and a compass.
For competence, you need to know how to apply the natural laws of the body2 to exercise so you can confidently navigate your way to getting what you want, while skillfully avoiding the quicksand of exercises and programs that break these natural laws.
Use it to keep it. Your body is a “use-it-to-keep-it” system. The movements you use regularly, you get to keep. The ones you don’t use often will naturally fade away. That means that consistency is the most important factor and that means how you exercise must be do-able for you and fit your current lifestyle.
What you practice gets stronger. This natural law means what you practice (specifically) is what you get better at. Sounds simple, but there are many examples of how we break this natural law, such as doing programs designed for certain sports, for dancers, or for military professionals. Design exercise to practice the movements you want to do to function better in everyday life so you can achieve specifically what you want from it.
Natural growth rate. Your body has a natural rate of growth, which is about 10% per week. That is how much of an increase in exercise the body can tolerate per week. If you walk for 20 minutes, your body can adapt to a two-minute increase the next week. We break this natural law when we try to ‘jump start’ our progress by pushing the body hard right from the start to get quicker results. The pitfall is the body doesn’t work that way and you risk your body or your motivation breaking down.
You are unique. Your body is unique and responds differently to exercise than someone else’s. We break this natural law when we copy what worked for someone else or think we should be able to do the same amount of exercise we did the day before or exercise in a way someone else decides is best for us. Your body is also unique day to day, depending on factors like sleep, nutrition, and stress. This is where mindfulness puts you back in control of getting what you want from exercise. Paying attention to your body in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, allows you to stay out of the ‘shoulds’.
Exercise science is the map. Mindfulness is the compass. When you know how to use them to follow the natural laws of your body, you can navigate through the ‘noise’ out there and have confidence you can stay self-motivated to get what you want from exercise.
Rethink This Week: Try using this statements as a way to simplify your exercise know-how and give you confidence you will get what you want from it.
- What I do for exercise is do-able enough for my body and my lifestyle to keep me consistently exercising right now.
- What I am doing is specifically designed for the skills and abilities I want from exercise right now in my life.
- The level of exercise I do each week is at the ‘just right level’ for my body right now.
- I use mindfulness to listen to my body, rather than basing what I do on the ‘shoulds’.
Exercise Physiology, 8th edition, McArdle, Katch, Katch.