athletes · body image · fitness · health · motivation · swimming · training · yoga

If You Don’t Love It, Don’t Do It

Do-what-you-love-whiteIf you search the phrase “do what you love” on the internet for an image, you’ll get many, many choices. It’s a “thing” these days to do what you love and love what you do.

It applies in life and goodness knows it applies in the activities we choose to engage in for exercise or training or physical conditioning (or whatever word you like to use).

And yet there is still that aversion to exercise.  So much so that Sam has even asked whether it’s time to “ditch it.”

The Biggest Loser has a lot to do with this aversion, since it makes losing weight and getting in shape seem possible only under conditions of abuse, a punishing workout schedule, and a severely restricted diet.  As this article says about the recent season involving some children:

Therefore along with being taught that obesity is treatable by means of incredible amounts of vomit-inducing exercise, severe dietary restriction, and never-ending servings of guilt and shame, the medical literature suggests viewers will also be taught that failure is an obese child’s personal choice — something that their bullies have been saying forever.

Dick Falon talks about the “myth of willpower,” that idea that if we want it badly enough and have enough willpower, we will be “successful” at achieving our weight loss and fitness goals.  This makes me think of that photo I saw on Facebook yesterday of a bookstore display with a bunch of diet books, all in the “Humour” section of the store.

diet humorOnly it’s not all that funny because in fact we do load shame and guilt onto people, and people load it onto themselves, when they fail to meet their weight loss and fitness goals. Where the Biggest Loser says we need to punish ourselves, these books make it soud as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. You can have the body you want in thirty days or four hours or just by cutting out wheat!

Falon says the main reason for failure is that people don’t establish a positive feedback loop. The positive feedback loop is established when the rewards of what you’re doing outweigh the pain.  Willpower might get us started on a new program, but positive feedback in the form of rewards will keep us going.

This got me thinking about what would count as a sufficient reward for the postive feedback.  Of course, Falon puts this in terms of results.  You may need to see weight loss or longer distance or heavier weights on the barbells. But above all, you need to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t see a “return” you’re not going to stick with it. He says:

Hate running? Then don’t run. Don’t like giving up pizza? Then figure out a way to fit it into your diet. Don’t like salads? Then don’t eat them.

He argues against creating ideologies out of diet plans or workouts.  If Paleo works for you, fine. But it may not work for everyone.  You love running and hate swimming?  Then triathlons may not be for you, but marathons could be your thing.

I like this idea of a positive feedback loop and think it is closely tied to doing what we love.  It’s not only about results. I look back with sadness upon my decision in my twenties to stop swimming–something I adored–because I read in a magazine that it wouldn’t produce the requisite results (i.e. fat loss; and I’m not even sure that’s true, but that’s what I read). I blogged about that here.

Despite doing his best to promote a less painful more pleasant approach for fitness “success,” I think Falon stops short of what I’d like to see included in the positive feedback loop.

Today, my positive feedback loop has to include things like joy, strength, a sense of confidence, a real improvement in my overall feeling of well-being.  These have much less to do with my body than they have to with my attitude towards my body and with the way I inhabit my body (philosophers, don’t overthink this idea of “inhabiting our bodies”).

When I approach activities that have these affects, I feel as if I am really nurturing myself. My motives change completely from “needing to whip myself into shape because I am unacceptable as I am” to “making the time to do things that give me joy.”

And why wouldn’t I want to do things like that? So today my life includes swimming and yoga, walking to work or riding my bike, running in the early morning before the sun turns my pleasant run into an agonizing quest for shade. I’m still searching around for a resistance training routine that I can live with and enjoy. I can’t even contemplate making commitments to things I despise anymore.

What does your positive feedback loop include? Do you love what you do? If not, then don’t do it.

10 thoughts on “If You Don’t Love It, Don’t Do It

  1. I love this… but sometimes I think it takes awhile to find the joy. I started running back in May and while it definitely gave me “strength, a sense of confidence, a real improvement in my overall feeling of well-being” the joy was not there. Not until recently, when I have just started to tease it out and find it. Learning curves can be really scary (and frustrating too) so I agree with everything you say, but think that the “promise of joy” can be enough, as long as it eventually does come through.

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  2. I’ve been finding my balance as of late also. Sometimes I get caught up in a flurry of thinking I need more cardio and I forgo what really makes me happy. Lifting heavy, walking, and yoga makes me feel good inside and out. Sometimes, it does take a while to find out what works and as I get older it changes.

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  3. I do generally live by this principle. I do what I love and that provides all the motivation I need. Soccer isn’t a chore. It’s a game I really enjoy. Ditto bike riding and racing. And I enjoy Crossfit and Aikido and rowing too. But sometimes there are things I do that I don’t love because they help me with things I do love. No one loves physio but I do the exercises to help keep me in shape to do things I love. I hate hills and hate hill training but I do it, when I do it, because it’s good for me as a cyclist. I can’t avoid hills! In Crossfit there are things I like more than others but overall it’s worth doing. When I was a serious runner. I did speed work on the treadmill in the winter because all outdoor running was slow. I didn’t like treadmill running but it seemed better than losing speed….

    So in general I’m with you but sometimes I can find instrumental motivation for the things I need to do but don’t enjoy.

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  4. I agree with, Sam. Sometimes we have “weak points” – things we are not very good at and which are hard for us to do. But the fact is that we can improve upon our weak points to the degree that sometimes, we can actually become “average performers” at these things amongst certain sets of people who do them all the time, which is actually quite good if it really comes hard to us naturally. And importantly, these are the things that change our body composition and overall athletic prowess the most. So while I generally stick with the things I like and am naturally good at basically because I’m human, I also try to devote at least at least one full day a week, and “spatterings” of different exercises on different days of the week, to my weak points. There have been months though where I concentrated specifically on these weak points, but I can’t really say I “enjoyed” those months – it was just hard laborious work.

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    1. I agree with both you and Sam. Of course we need to learn a few things and work on weaknesses within the activities we enjoy. I always tell people who are interested in snow boarding that you can’t make a decision after one or two times. The learning curve is sharp and the early days are painful. My point is no so much that if you love running and want to get faster you may need to do a few things *within* running that aren’t at the top of the list. Similarly with strength training or biking or swimming or whatever. But if you hate running then do something else. If you can’t stand snowboarding even after you’ve got the hang of it, move on. It’s when we are so results oriented that we do things just because they are recommended, not because we enjoy them, that we set ourselves up for failure. Why commit to yoga three times a week if you hate it?

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      1. Of course, you are correct about this, Tracy, if that is all you meant. I really couldn’t care less if different forms of dance would be good for me to learn. No matter how fantastically fit dance can make you….just….not….happening.

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  5. I consider myself lucky to find the exercise that I like and not overthink all the time about so that it becomes a chore. That’s cycling. It’s transportation , fitness, fun and seeing stuff in 1 fell swoop.

    There is over-emphasis on willpower to “accomplish” a daily fitness thing. Instead it should become like breathing. If you stop, you just feel unwell after awhile. That is the best benchmark of liking a particular exercise: when you miss it.

    I wrote it as finding something that fits your personality:
    http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-fitness-match-made-in-heaven-your-personality-and-your-favourite-sport/

    Afterwards I found a plethora of academic articles on it. Who knew?

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