Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Exercise is a Gateway Drug



It has now been researched and shown that willpower or ability to follow through on what our mind wants to do, not only fluctuates greatly throughout a day with mental and physical fatigue but also gets depleted or strengthened over time. 

Habits by nature take time to fully develop, which we need to accept from the start, but what the research shows is that each successive habit takes less and less time and "feels" easier and easier to develop. Meditators have known this for millenia see the mind as very similar to your body and muscles in that they get stronger or weaker depending on if we have a disciplined practice of a habit. Our minds need some form of training to remain strong and disciplined enough to maintain the habits that bring us our healthy and happiness.  It starts small with one tiny habit like exercising 30 minutes 3 times a week, even walking, but it can multiply to transform your life into all the success and happiness you've dreamed of.  What is your gateway habit?

In sports we expect that if a body has been conditioned in one type of sport it is usually going to pick up the next sport a lot faster, because they are considered athletic.  Their muscles, structure and abilities are at a higher functioning level. Well the mind is no different, and not just in intellect, i.e. smarter, intellectually inclined people can learn new things faster.  It is even true for habit formation through the principle of discipline.  Like that transferable athleticism, our mind builds up transferable discipline or willpower that can be used on any target you wish. However just like your body, if you drop off from practicing your main or gateway habit, your mental discipline will weaken and all your habits and "willpower" will likely go to shit.  For us this means that if we drop our exercise routine, most likely other healthy habits like our eating, our sleep, or even our interpersonal habits like being kind to others will start to drop off so we cannot think in silo's but stick with the integrative path. One muscle effects the rest, and one habit effects the rest so we need to get back on the horse and take care of ourselves. Discipline is discipline. 

The cumulative ease of habit formation is a huge incentive for people setting out to change their life and get in shape.  We intuitively know that the first few weeks of getting in shape or starting any habit are the toughest, but instead of seeing just the exercise rewards to motivate us forward, we can envision a whole network effect of healthier habits offering a much greater inspiration. Open to the bigger picture, we are doing more than just exercising at Unite.  Think, "With this one habit I am enabling many. With this one workout I am creating the possibility for a greater version of me."

This is what we mean in Unite's Eating Philosophy when we say "Upgrade your diet everyday". There is no time off really in the sense of allowing yourself to be unmindful or non-disciplined about what you are doing. But that is not a problem because the view is that there is always a new and exciting way to practice discipline and progress on your life's path. Even choosing to indulge in a delicious but not nutritious baked good or beer can be practicing discipline, if you practice keeping it to 10% or practice mindfully seeing how it makes you feel before, during and after. Discipline in habits is the how, the way, not just the objective what you are doing.

This is not just a health and wellness phenomenon either, although exercise is a proven gateway habit because of the big physical, chemical lift you get from it.  New habits that can spring up could be study habits, cleaning your home, improved sleep, communicating with your partner or child, the habits are whatever you want to work on to improve the quality of your life.  But it all starts with that first gateway habit to train your mind in the joy of discipline. The world rewards those that can consistently turn their attention back towards their goal, the process, the higher ideals they want to live into.  This is practice, it is everyday, and it takes time, so spend more time returning to your focus and less time beating yourself up or trying to forget that you are not practicing your habit by covering it up with pleasure and distraction.

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