How emotions from fitness training can motivate us, or make us quit.

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You’re about to step back into your third and final plank of a vigorous circuit of exercises. You’ve been giving it your all, sweating, breathing hard.  

 

What emotions are coming up as you face this last exercise?

 

If plank is a position that you felt shaky in 3 months ago, but have since gained strength and mastery, you might really enjoy the sense of solid control that you get to feel.  You might be feeling triumphant, even as your body is working hard.  

 

If it’s an exercise that’s currently really challenging, you might feel a simple aversion to it.  

 

If it’s an exercise that you’re on the edge of doing well and you can nail it on a strong day, but still can’t drop your hips and press through your shoulders on a weak day, then you might feel afraid of the exercise, because you’d rather not see that you still can’t completely do it, even after all the effort you’ve put in.  It can be tough to ride that rollercoaster between triumph and disappointment.

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Emotions are part of fitness training.

 

Emotions can get uncomfortable…and challenging your body can get uncomfortable.

 

Some emotions seem to spontaneously arise from influences in our environment, like when you look at a beautiful sunset and feel inspired, or see a child being delighted by something and feel happy.

 

But they also come from sensations in the body, for instance feeling irritated and impatient because you’re hungry, or content because you just finished a nourishing meal.  Feeling angry because you just smashed your thumb, or feeling a sense of well-being because a caring friend rubbed your shoulder or gave you a hug.

 

When we see that the emotions we’re feeling, and the thoughts that rise out of those emotions are at least partly a response to how our body is feeling, then we can find this curious, and interesting.  

 

If we’re not aware that emotions are coming up, then we can get drawn into the thoughts that come out of those feelings, and we can miss a chance to get to know ourselves a little more deeply.

 

For instance, I observed a while back that each time I did a lunge on my right knee I would start to think of all the other chores I ought to be getting done and have a strong inclination to quit and go do something else.  When I switched to my left knee my mind became focused and interested in the exercise again and I had more motivation to continue.

 

If we can see the feeling, and maybe even name it, then we can get a sense of what’s driving us, why we might, for example, feel like we want to quit, or feel averse to certain exercises.

 

Another good example of how emotions often come up in fitness training, is how we feel about starting an exercise session.  

 

When people are new to exercise there can be a lot of aversion to starting each training session.  It’s better to feel the feeling and call it what it is, aversion, resistance, avoidance, fear, alarm, anxiety etc. because the alternative tends to be that a person will say that they are either too lazy or too busy and that’s why they don’t get around to it.

 

If the feelings that come up don’t get acknowledged, the thoughts that come out of them could push you to quit.

 

It can feel foreign, and even threatening, when we shift from a sedentary state, or low demand activity, into elevating our body temperature and increasing our blood flow and respiratory rate.

  

If the last time we exerted ourselves we were really stressed, or if exertion has had negative consequences like pain or injury, then the body will associate the feelings of effort and increased circulation with negative consequences.  It’s good of your body to try and preserve you from negative consequences, and it would be good of the rest of you to reassure your body that it’s going to be okay.  

 

Once you go through this change many times, you and your body are likely to start associating the change with how good you’re going to feel afterward.

 

Positive emotions also show up in fitness training, and actively noticing how these feelings are connected to what’s going on with your body can provide motivation to continue.

 

Some examples of when your efforts will bring up positive feelings are:

 

  • When you finish your training session and know that you successfully showed up to create the future you want.
  • When you achieve a new personal best.  Either a more smoothly controlled motion, a harder version of a motion, or something in your daily life, like getting up from the floor without using your hands.
  • Feeling mastery and strength as you practice.  
  • Noticing your increased power and confidence.
  • And, very importantly, seeing clearly that you’ve made what was impossible, possible.

 

When you are engaged in something that requires maximal effort, or are reaching fatigue with an exercise you could feel both anxious and triumphant.  

 

It becomes a joy to simply experience the range of emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

The more you become aware of how physical challenge stirs up feelings and notice those feelings without getting caught up in them, the more interesting the challenge becomes, and the more you can cooperate with your body to increase your capabilities.

 

If you would like a lived experience of how what you’re doing with your body affects your emotions, try the guided exercise in this audio that I made.

 

https://on.soundcloud.com/LmLHL

 

 

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