When you think of exercise, do you think of meatheads, bros, frat guys excessively curling to impress the new sorority pledges, women sweating away on the elliptical, or fitness classes where you sweat till you drop?
Before re-framing my mindset, exercise was 100% focused on aesthetics.
Yet, I would often feel disconnected from my regimen and purpose of exercising. This disconnect was a byproduct of my approach and mindset toward exercise.
As Damon Young, author of ‘How to think about exercise’, explains throughout his book, exercise has the potential to affect vast arrays of our lives.
What is exercise and why is it important
Exercise provides us the opportunity to educate our body and mind simultaneously. Showing up at the gym 3 times a week isn’t just developing your body—it’s teaching you consistency and dedication. Exercise isn’t just delivering you a nice butt, toned legs, and a sculpted chest—it’s developing a refined version of yourself.
Ancient Greeks were adamant about incorporating exercise within their education. They developed ‘virtues’ while adding muscles. Aristotle called virtues a ‘state of character’, which consisted of habits, desires, and free rationality.
This was more than mental or physical ability. This required combining all attributes together into what Aristotle called ‘phronesis‘ (‘practical wisdom’). This thoughtful practice arose from a myriad of circumstances and you would learn as much with your hands as you would with your mind.
If the Greeks sought and viewed exercise as a way for a complete wholeness of life—then what’s stopping you from applying the same thought to your life?
An overlooked reason for not exercising
Whether it’s habits and behaviors, laziness and apathy, poor time management and lack of priority—we blame something or someone for our shortcomings. Instead of placing blame on one thing, understand there’s a disconnect between mind and body.
Dualism and fitness
To avoid jumping into a philosophical rabbit hole, lets summarize dualism as a division of two concepts opposed to each other (it’s one or the other). Dualism could be a “disconnect between the mind and the body, thinking and doing, spirit and flesh” as Young points out.
In today’s society, dualism is apparent in the workforce. Most jobs are sedentary based (mind) where movement (body) isn’t a focal point. While we are ultimately responsible for our own actions, dualism possesses an ability to drain our spirits.
Young states, “dualism doesn’t straightforwardly cause laziness, but it can kill off ambition: we become more likely to tolerate a partial life, in which we push our intellects but not our quadriceps or lungs.”
It’s easy to become consumed with our work, racing for promotions and put our health on pause in pursuit of ‘things & statuses’.
”Gym memberships go unused not always because we are lazy or forgetful, but because the fear of illness or injury has gone” states Young. The immediate threat at hand vanishes and we go back to pretending the issues are invisible.
Why only workout when there’s a problem? Why only workout when we let ourselves become overweight, or feel inclined to impress others?
Instead of operating with tunnel vision at ground zero—approach your fitness from 35,000 feet above and keep the big picture in mind.
Get lost in your thoughts to unlock golden ideas
Some call it day dreaming, others call it being in a ‘trance state’, and if you want to impress—you can call it ‘reverie’. The point being, exercise goes beyond boosting our moods and shaping us up—it sparks our creativity to new heights.
Darwin, a dedicated believer in the power of movement, took an extended walk daily (no matter the circumstances) to help flush his thoughts out.
Exercise opens your world up, frees your imagination, and leaves the narrowness of your thoughts behind.
Gain a sense of freedom and escape from the everyday life
Lifting a bar from the ground or from the rack brings about a ‘natural high’ or ‘thrill’ from accomplishing a tough feat.
You gain some pride. Philosopher David Hume defines pride as “pleasure in oneself”. He splits pride into two parts: the cause of the pleasure, and the object we attribute it to. Hume states “with pride, the object is ourselves. We can never see nor touch this ‘self’, but we do have an idea of it.”
Example for exercise: having muscular glutes. I get pleasure from these because they suggest power, speed, and great fitness. These, in turn, promise more pleasure for me because: increase desirability with the ladies (ladies love a nice set of glutes), better biomarkers of health, and so forth.
As Young states, “we can also find pleasure in the promise of pleasure.” Pleasure isn’t random, it’s based on whatever we value. Pleasure transports psychologically.
A sense of beauty adds to the equation
There aren’t many things in this world that match the beauty and fascinating capabilities of the human body. When you see a body that is proportionate and flowing gracefully—it’s mesmerizing.
This proportion of sorts gives off an allure of strength, speed, skill, and sexual attractiveness.
Muscles aren’t the true beauty of this equation. The true beauty is what our bodies are capable of and their complex makeup. Muscles are the icing on the cake (some attractive icing though).
How much muscle is good enough? How much weight is good enough? What’s an attractive weight and frame? These are questions for you to decide.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Allow yourself to enjoy the process of chasing a goal and cherish the gift of movement.
Let’s take Young’s advice about muscles and “see them as aesthetic achievements, not existential props”.
A little piece of humble pie never hurts
Pride helps you continue along your journey, while humility doesn’t let you stray too far away from yourself. Humility makes you aware and honest with yourself.
Displaying humility is helpful because it allows us to approach fitness and challenges in life with an eager willingness due to understanding we’re not perfect, invincible, and can only do so much.
This doesn’t diminish us, but instead allows us to go after new challenges and dreams without fear paralyzing us.
It’s okay to experience some discomfort
From learning the guitar, to painting a masterpiece, to asking that beautiful girl out for dinner, to starting a business—there’s discomfort at every corner in life.
Exercise isn’t any different. Exercise builds your tolerance up and helps you embrace discomforting situations.
Lifting weights, holding a pose in yoga, or sprinting steep hills are tough. But, as Billy Ocean reminds us, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.
Discomfort will test our values: our perception to what is worthwhile in and out of the gym, and will expose us to what we’re willing to endure in order to reach our goals and fulfill our dreams.
Consistency is sexy and essential
Before Haruki Murakami was a daily exerciser and successful author—he was a chain smoking bar owner with a crappy diet. His body & mind wasn’t connected and it showed.
Only once he connected body & mind, did his career and life turn around for the better. As he says, “If I wanted to have a long life as a novelist, I needed to find a way to keep fit and maintain a healthy weight.”
This marriage of daily exercise (body) & work (life) helped him stay away from terrible foods and feel refreshed when it came time to write.
It doesn’t matter what your exercise outlet is, it matters that you stay consistent training your body so your mind will keep thriving.
A sense of wholeness
The Sanskrit word ‘samadhi‘ is a tranquil state of oneness, common to many mystical states.
As Young states, “Increased sensitivity to ones body is also a mental exercise”. Becoming aware heightens our sensations and provides a richer and clearer conception of ourselves.
Using exercise as a form of meditation will bring a sense of wholeness to your life. This happens by altering your attitude, relieving the anxieties of everyday life, and bringing a sense of clarity and calmness.
Striving for a perky butt or a chiseled chest is great, but that’s only the muscular aspect of the equation. Without the psychological component included, you’ll have a new body, but still possess the same issues and psyche as before.
The big picture and sendoff
Exercise can and should be an intellectual adventure that is fun and fulfilling. Young puts it eloquently saying, “to exercise intelligently is to develop an unusual fullness of character within the usual circumstances. It’s movement, change, transformation: you just become it. The ‘it’ is entirely up to each one of us.”
It’s something that doesn’t feel forced or dreaded, but something that is instead seen as enhancing and beneficial to all facets of your life.