Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Follow my mom’s advice: change your perspective

One writer’s journey to making exercise a priority

Follow my mom’s advice: change your perspective

As we approach the start of another school year, it is hard to keep our expectations from growing about how we will make this year better than the last, and how we will succeed at the goals we’ve been harboring but have not yet reached. I myself am very familiar with the pattern of goal setting whenever a new chapter in life begins (a new year, a new season, a new month).

I head back to school hoping that I will finally be able to get myself to the gym regularly, something I’ve attempted to achieve many times before. Before summer break began, I set up an intense workout schedule for myself to follow, which ultimately did not go quite as planned. I had attempted similar workout goals during the spring semester, but had fallen out of it early on as other responsibilities took over my priority list. As the weeks went by, I looked at students through the Cassell Fitness Center window, feeling a sense of disappointment in my failure to commit to my goals.

I imagine that almost everyone knows how beneficial exercise is to health, not just physically but also mentally. Like nearly every college student I’ve met, I regularly find myself struggling with anxiety and self-critical thoughts. On a day that I get to the gym or head outside for a run, I find it easier to cope with stress and am generally in a better mood. I remember a favorite quote from Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”  I repeat the phrase in my head - exercise makes you happy. I’ve heard it from all around me: my parents, the internet, fitness magazines with tanned and toned celebrities smiling on their covers wearing unrealistic sportswear.

So why do I continue to find myself in a cycle of getting motivated to start exercising regularly only to give up after a week or two? Despite the highs I get from the exercise, the lows from my failure to continue are incredibly discouraging.

While researching what successful exercisers had in common, one word kept appearing: perspective. A favorite saying of my mother’s came to mind: when things were going wrong, she would say, “change your perspective.” My perspective and attitude toward exercise was, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, that it would improve my physical appearance.

I don’t believe I am alone in this. Sadly, many young people, especially young women, inadvertently link their self-worth and self-confidence to their physical appearance. Exercise becomes a vehicle dedicated to improve attractiveness, or at least society’s standards of what it means to be attractive.  However, this mindset may be one of the biggest barriers to committing to daily exercise.

If you’re heading to the gym picturing future you with six pack abs and glowing skin, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed. This is not to say that goals like those are unobtainable but they are bound to cause frustration when they don’t happen overnight. Newsflash: they won’t. Motivation based primarily on improving one’s physical appearance is likely not enough to get a young person exercising everyday. If you fit this description, take my mom’s advice and try changing your perspective.

In a study done by Dr. Diane Klein, an expert on exercise psychology, a group of men and women who had been regular exercisers for an average of 13 years were given an extensive questionnaire to determine what they did to stay motivated. Their top motivators included improved mental health, increased energy, better sleep, increased productivity and enjoyment of the activity. Physical appearance was on the list, but it was last. Dr. Klein found that the most common characteristics of successful exercisers was that they were self-motivated.

They also believed in the importance of their own self-efficacy, the belief that you can accomplish the task (in this case getting active) before you even begin. Across the board in Dr. Klein’s study, daily exercisers emphasized making physical activity a priority as a huge component of their continued commitment. When planning their day, they make  sure that scheduling time for exercise is non-negotiable.

Realizing the benefits of exercise aside from the desire to look hot in a bathing suit could make your commitment to exercise feel like it is simply part of your normal routine. Thinking about what it can do for you inwardly -- make you happier, more productive, more energetic -- can change your whole attitude and make you want to keep going.

Refusing to let the desire for a nap or anxiety inducing amounts of homework take precedence over your active time is vital toward becoming a regular exerciser. Even finding 20 minutes to go for a quick run or do some yoga poses will benefit you. It is your decision to make exercise a priority.

You don’t have to run marathons to be an active person. Overall, be kind to yourself. Know what benefits you. Find the activity that brings you the most joy, whether it be biking, kickboxing, running, swimming, whatever. It is possible, no matter how many times you’ve tried and failed in the past. When you find yourself wanting to crawl into bed rather than hitting the gym like you’d planned, change your perspective -- I know I’ll be trying right along with you.

Olivia Richter is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a columnist for The Eagle.

orichter@theeagleonline.com


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