Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is Suffering Ever a Useful Strategy?

Probably, but first some brief back story to serve as an illustration.

I turned 40 in August. And like many with big birthdays I decided to make some resolutions and included among them was weight lifting. I'd been fair to middling at aerobic activities all my life, but had never really focused much on resistance training. The thing is, as far as health and aging goes, resistance training's probably king, and so....

Anyhow, since August, aside from a brief back injury, I've been working out nearly daily. I've been alternating weights with something aerobic and Monday, Monday was weights day.

I truly didn't want to go. Now there have been days here and there where I haven't fully felt like exercising, but Monday was by far the worst. I was dreading exercising. I was tired, and the last thing I wanted to do was my weights.

I procrastinated for near 10 minutes in my office and finally, grudgingly, headed back to my gym.

My routine our fitness director Kelly has me on right now is a pyramid. I've got 2 groupings of 5 exercises and I'm supposed to run through each of the exercises 3 times in succession.

By the end of the first set of the first two exercises in the first grouping I was already trying to rationalize either stopping altogether, or dropping it down to just 2 sets of each rather than 3.


I sucked it up and did it all.

And I'm not going to blow smoke and tell you I was so glad when I was done, that I felt great and alive. I actually felt pretty miserable.

The reason I pushed through? Not because one day of exercise really matters in the grand scheme of things, but rather because I didn't have any good reason not to do it and I knew that if I gave myself permission for no particularly good reason to shirk my exercise, it'd be that much easier to give myself permission the next time.

Of course sometimes there are great reasons not to follow through with various best intentions, plans and resolutions, but when there's no good reason, and it's just you vs. you, I recommend not giving yourself that proverbial inch.

But wait, didn't I just post yesterday that suffering was a bad idea?

Yup, but there's a difference. If every single time I headed to the gym I loathed it, well that'd be a clear cut sign that I'd better find myself another way to exercise. That'd be excessive, non-sustainable suffering. On the other hand, if I generally enjoy it, and here and there I don't feel like it, well that's a clear cut sign I'd better stay on top of myself, as follow through and consistency are how habits are gained (or broken).

And it doesn't apply just to exercise, it's life in general. Our human nature can easily get the best of us, if we let it.

So whatever you're trying to accomplish, sometimes, for your greater good, it might be worth suffering through a rough day, as habits? Well they're the things that persist through thick and thin, but at their beginnings, sometimes you need to really muscle through the thins.