Exercise Is a Vehicle
I walk every single morning. It’s how I start my day. In fact, I probably only miss 3 days a year at most when it comes to getting in my morning walk.
Rain? Doesn’t matter. I bring an umbrella. Cold? I bundle up. Wind? Hate it but it’s not going to keep me from walking. Snow? Hell yes I’m walking. That’s like a vacation down here in Texas.
You might think my dedication to my morning walk means that I love to walk. But I don’t. That’s easier to understand once you consider I don’t like walking on a treadmill, nor would I like pacing around the inside of my house.
When you frame it that way you realize that much of the exercise we do isn’t because we enjoy that particular exercise, it’s because we enjoy the atmosphere and experience it creates.
Exercise is simply a vehicle for creating an experience. It’s not about what exercise leads to – it’s what it does for you in the present moment. In the end, it’s the experience that we enjoy that keeps us coming back for more.
For me, my morning walks check all the boxes that allow me to have an enjoyable experience. It’s outdoors where it feels open and I can get fresh air and be with nature. I get an hour of alone time to do whatever I want, which is usually listening to some kind of personal development podcast or audiobook. I get some time without having any responsibilities to anyone other than myself. And I get to see the sunrise every morning, which can be quite spectacular at times.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that walking in and of itself isn’t something I loathe. It’s pleasant movement for me. It’s not crazy high intensity at 6:30 in the morning, so the resistance to doing it is very low. And I even carry my mug of green tea around the neighborhood. Yup… I’m THAT guy. I’m so consistent with this exercise that strangers will come out of their homes and wonder what’s up if I’m walking at a different time than usual.
The important thing to remember here is that in order to heal our relationship with exercise, we need to start attaching new meaning to it. We have to stop seeing it simply as a tool to burn calories and manipulate our bodies and self-worth. And understanding that exercise is a vehicle for creating a desirable experience is one of the best ways to attach more empowering meaning to it.
So think about why you do the exercise you do. There’s a good chance that even if you intrinsically enjoy the activity itself, the experience it creates for you is the bigger driver of your consistency and adherence. After all, if you have a crappy experience, regardless of whether you like the activity itself, you are very unlikely to keep putting yourself through it.
The more you view movement as having an experience, the more you’ll see it as an opportunity for enjoyment, and the more active you will be. The more you view it as a means to an end, the more it will feel like a chore, and the less you’ll want to move your body.
The Experience Variables
One of the biggest reasons people struggle to stay motivated with exercise is because they are using it as a means to an end. It’s essentially just a tool for achieving their desires of the future.
This is an issue because exercise takes a long time for real changes to take place. Not only does it take a long time, but it requires a lot of consistency.
An impromptu workout here or there, or working out once one week and then 5 times another, really isn’t going to do much in the name of the outcomes you are seeking. It’s better than nothing, but that kind of inconsistent movement is hard to integrate into your life.
You want to be looking at physical activity on a large scale. Not in days, weeks, or months – but years. This is what you call an active lifestyle.
An active lifestyle is about incorporating movement into your day – every day. And that is impossible to do consistently when you only see exercise as a tool to manipulate your body.
Body changes take longer to manifest than your “willpower workouts” can be sustained. And using your workouts as a means to an end takes a disproportional slice of your willpower reserves.
This is why people struggle to stay motivated with exercise. They keep engaging in suboptimal workout experiences without seeing the future payoff. This would lead to any sane person giving up on exercise eventually.
It’s not the workouts that lead to your desired future outcomes – it’s your experiences that create them. And the more enjoyable those experiences, the more likely you are to manifest the outcomes you want.
But the focus isn’t on the outcomes. The focus is on the now. The focus is on understanding what makes a workout enjoyable for you, as that’s what keeps you coming back for more. We call these exercise experience variables, and they are the key to you finding exercise you enjoy.
If you take a close look at the physical activity you do more consistently than others, you will notice some patterns in the experience that’s created.
Do you like to work out indoors or outdoors? Do you like to work out by yourself, with a partner, or in a group? Do you like to work out in silence, or with some form of entertainment?
Do you like having autonomy of doing what you want, or do you like to follow a workout program or instructor? Do you like a lot of variety, or do you like consistency and certainty? Do certain times of the day click better with you?
All these variables culminate to create your overall exercise experience. And this experience is what creates your enjoyment, which leads to sustainable motivation, which naturally drives your future outcomes.
Strength training, for example, isn’t what you like or don’t like. It is simply the vehicle for creating an experience. And that experience is influenced by the variables outlined above.
If I told you to lift weights at 7am, at a freezing gym with a group of 6 people, with nursery rhymes playing in the background, would that be an enjoyable experience for you? Would you be likely to do it consistently for the next year?
What if I asked you to lift weights and gave you the autonomy to do it as you saw fit. So you decided you wanted to work out mid-morning, outdoors, in the calming quiet of nature, by yourself. Would that be an enjoyable experience for you? And if so, would you be likely to do it consistently for the next year?
Both of those scenarios involved strength training, but the exercise experience was different for both. As a result, very different outcomes are going to be the result.
So focus less on the outcomes and the actual type of exercise you do. Instead, see exercise as a vehicle for having an enjoyable experience, and an active lifestyle will be the natural side effect.
Exercise can be a huge source of empowerment for you. It teaches you how to set goals and achieve them. It shows you that you are stronger than you thought you were, and that you can do more than you previously thought.
You become more confident and end up taking more risks. You push yourself out of your comfort zone more. The confidence you create from breaking through old performance levels can be applied to your life as a whole.
The resilience you build from pushing yourself to finish that race when everything about you is saying to give up can be used to more easily overcome life’s obstacles. Your discomfort threshold becomes higher, which opens up all kinds of opportunities that were once hidden by fear or pain.
Exercise is more than just lifting weights or doing cardio. It’s about breaking through your self-imposed ceilings and proving to yourself that you are capable of more. The human body has amazing potential, and exercise is one of many vehicles that gives you a small glimpse of what that may be.
It shows you that you are in control of your body. That you have the power to change yourself mentally and physically and direct your life. It puts you more in tune with your body. It better connects your physical and mental being so you can synergistically harness your optimum human experience.
When done correctly and with the right self-awareness and perspective, exercise can be a tool for personal growth in any aspect of your life. So start looking beyond just the physical outcomes it can provide and start considering the positive impact it can have on changing your entire identity.
Take squats, for example. I have a love/hate relationship with them. They are hard. But they feel good to me. I’m not averse to doing hard things, but there is definitely resistance when it’s time to train my lower body.
Not only do I know that my muscles are going to get pushed to the max for the next 60 seconds when I do a set of squats, but I have to overcome a lot of mental resistance to even getting under the bar and doing them. There’s this inflection point that I have to overcome each time. It’s similar to forcing yourself to jump into cold water, or doing something you’re afraid to do.
But each time I challenge myself and push through that inflection point, I achieve personal growth, and I build my confidence and power. I become a more capable person. It pushes my comfort zone and what I can handle in life. Through exercise I train myself to be more resilient and to keep moving forward when things feel tough.
This experience helps me associate new meaning to physical activity. It becomes so much more than something you do to manipulate your body and worth. It becomes a vehicle for bettering my life. And it’s this kind of association that makes me want to continue doing it time and time again independent of what it does to my body.
Most people can look back in their life and remember a moment they’ve had with physical activity that made an impression. The reason why is because it was a moment in time when you had a leap in personal growth. It made an emotional imprint because it meant something to you. And this meaning, whether you realize it or not, influenced other parts of your life.
While I can’t guarantee that you’ve had one of these moments in the past, I can assure you that you can have plenty of them going forward once you detach exercise from weight loss and start seeing the intrinsic value in it.
I have watched people create all new identities for themselves as a result of them completing a marathon, doing a pull-up, setting a PR on a run or with an exercise, or even completing a difficult hike. It was all about what they did in that moment relative to what they previously were capable of. When you surpass a previous identity by reaching into new mental, emotional, and physical territory, you grow. And it’s this process that empowers you to feel strong in body and mind.
Keep in mind that physical activity comes in all shapes and sizes. Certain aspects of it have more value to you than it does to others. Sometimes lower intensity exercise is what you need, while at other times a good challenge is what you want. Whatever the case, you are creating an experience that will make it easier to come back to physical activity time and time again.
When Quitting Is OK
I used to be obsessed with Christmas lights. You might as well have called me Clark Griswold.
I also got really into collecting baseball cards. And then there was that time I started to draw all the time.
I can’t forget about when I became an amateur astronomer either. Have you seen Saturn’s rings?
I’ve also had my phases with gardening, piano, Spanish, and plenty more.
And guess what? Not all of these things “stuck”. Even though I was crazy passionate about them at the time, most of them faded away.
But that’s OK! I don’t regret my time doing any of these things even though I’m not doing them anymore. They brought a lot of joy into my life, and there are still remnants of them in my identity.
Not every decision you make has to be a lifetime commitment. This is also true when it comes to picking the type of exercise you do. Everyone thinks you have to decide what you’re going to do for exercise for the rest of your life.
Strength training? If I start it I have to do it – forever.
Running? If I start it I have to do it – forever.
No you don’t! Instead, commit to a lifetime of physical activity, and then go with the flow for whatever sounds good at the time.
That might mean you get really into strength training for a few months, or running, or swimming, or biking, or hiking, or dancing. It doesn’t matter. It’s all physical activity. And if you enjoy it, it’s going to add to your life experience.
Getting rid of the all-or-nothing mindset surrounding exercise is what actually gets you moving your body. It allows you to try new and interesting things that you either might not have ever thought about before, or you assumed it wouldn’t be good enough.
Giving yourself permission to just try things is what opens the doors to new and exciting physical activity. The path of an active lifestyle takes many twists and turns. What you do today is unlikely going to be the same exact thing you do 20 years from now.
So don’t go into this thinking you have to make a forever decision. You don’t. Commit to having experiences with your body. Move it and enjoy it. Move on to a new activity when you aren’t feeling the passion of the one you’re doing. And go deep into the things you become passionate about.
This is what creates a new identity around exercise. You become a sum of your experiences – each phase of your life influencing the next. And at times you circle back around to a past love. But this time you experience it differently, because you’re a different person now.
So go with the flow. Commit to moving your body in whatever way sounds good to you. Let go of the long-term commitments to specific types of movement, and instead start seeing your exercise through the lens of an active lifestyle.
We tend to think of exercise as this separate compartmentalized thing we do. We have our life, and we have our workouts. And at times, these two things can become very different entities. This is unfortunate, as the more we can integrate health and fitness into our day to day life so that it simply becomes our life, the better the exercise experience will be.
It might be easier to think of exercise as an active lifestyle, a culture, or even an identity. Physical activity becomes a part of you. When that happens, it’s easy to be motivated to work out.
It’s the reason why there are people in certain fitness communities who seem obsessed with the kind of exercise they do. It’s as if nothing can keep them from doing that thing.
I’ve seen cross-fitters, runners, bikers, gym-goers, hikers, basketball players, swimmers, and every other kind of fitness character you can imagine integrate these physical activities into their life as a whole. They live and breathe these things. They aren’t just things they do a few times per week to be healthy or change their body – they’re hobbies and passions.
That’s the kind of experience we’re trying to create with exercise, or as I prefer to call it – physical activity, as it’s movement of every kind, done at any time, that we’re looking to make part of our life. When I talk about improving your life experience, this is part of that experience.
But that’s hard for some people. Exercise has such a negative association to dieting, body change, and self-worth struggles, that it feels like a chore and an obligation. They have busy lives, or have desk jobs, and can’t imagine a world where they’d actually want to work out with that kind of passion.
And that’s OK, because you don’t have to call yourself a cross-fitter or a biker to create a better exercise experience. All you need to do is start viewing your physical activity differently and try to blur the line between exercise and life.
How can you make these two things one and the same? When you think of your life, in what ideal scenario could you picture physical activity being an integrated part of it? What kind of movement is in your life? What would you look forward to doing? What would enrich your life?
You won’t get the right answer if exercise is a synonym for body control or burning calories. You probably won’t get the right answer if you think of exercise as a means to improved health either. While physical activity can change your body and impact your health, it’s the experience it creates in your life right now that adds to your fulfillment.
Your body and its ability to move provides you with an amazing asset to get the most value out of your life. Exercise doesn’t have to be a means to an end. It doesn’t have to hurt. It doesn’t have to just be a tolerable thing you do. It’s a vessel for enjoyable experiences, and the more movement gets integrated into your life simply because it makes you happy, the more you’re going to want to do it, and the more you’re going to reap all its benefits.