I Am That Girl Now

Monday, April 18, 2005

Exercise: motive, impulse, and goad

Motive, the dictionary tells me, means "something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act", and that "implies an emotion or desire operating on the will and causing it to act". Very basic. Doesn't make a real judgement on what the nature of those emotions are, or the way they work on the will.

Impulse, though similar, "suggests a driving power arising from personal temperament or constitution". Something which is part of you, although sudden and spontaneous and, I have to say, not altogether controllable.

Incentive "applies to an external influence (as an expected reward) inciting to action". This seems more pro-active. There seems to be thought involved; if you have incentive to do something, you consider and then act based on what is at stake.

Inducement "suggests a motive prompted by the deliberate enticements or allurements of another". In short, a bribe. It seems closer to impulse in the way it works on the emotions and the will-- something that works on the childlike hindbrain rather than on the thoughtful forebrain.

Spur "applies to a motive that stimulates the faculties or increases energy or ardor". Again, this seems reflexive, operating on the hindbrain; if you are spurred to do something, you have a spike of energy from high-running emotions. Very adrenaline-based. Doesn't seem to be long-lasting, from the feel of the word.

Goad "suggests a motive that keeps one going against one's will or desire". You do it because you have to, not because you want to; this seems to be in for the long haul, something that keeps going, one day after another.

The reason for this little dictionary exercise is that a friend of mine recently informed me, regarding the fact that I get up every morning and exercise, that I am "a big ball of motivation." The way she used the word seemed to indicate that it was more along the lines of an impulse, something that's inherently part of me and that the energy to do this is created by that impulse. I will admit that I have motivation for getting up every morning, all right, but it's not impulsive, it's not something I wake up and decide to do. It's more like I'm goaded into it, against all my preferences.

My friend seems to believe that I bound out of bed in the morning, bursting with energy and with the intense desire to lift freeweights or run on a treadmill or do stretchy things to myself on a yoga mat. This, she thinks, is motivation. This, she thinks, is what is required in order to have an exercise program. And since she does not have that, she has an excuse not to exercise.

This definition of "motivation", my friends, is a myth. To put it more bluntly, it's bullshit. This is not some fantastic ability that I have and you do not. If you are using this as an excuse-- I'd like to exercise, really I would, but I'm just not motivated!-- then honey, you are lying to yourself about what this really takes and what you're capable of doing.

Look, remember when you were a kid and your parents made you brush your teeth and take a bath, and you hated it and didn't want to and whined your way through the process? Somewhere along the line, though, you got it through your head that hey, if I don't brush my teeth, they feel nasty and furry and my breath gets so bad that I can taste it, and hey, if I don't shower I feel disgusting and smell horrible and people avoid me! You know in theory that there are actual health reasons to brush your teeth and bathe, but that's not what you're thinking of when you haul yourself to the bathroom every morning. Really, by the time you get to be a genuine adult you aren't even thinking of the stinky/icky issues; you brush your teeth and bathe because that's what you do in the mornings.

People, listen to me: this is the same exact thing.

At 5:30 AM, I'm not thinking about the health benefits of exercise, or about the excellent things I'm getting out of my fitness quest. If pressed to consider it at that time of morning, I will admit to the vague knowledge that if I don't exercise-- particularly considering my continuing struggle with binge eating-- then I will gain weight. Let me tell you, though, at 5:30 AM I really don't give a rat's ass about my weight, even if I remember it; my entire being is consumed by the desire to stay asleep or laze about over breakfast until I'm forced to go to work. When I'm more awake, I can think about my weight, and my fitness levels. I can consider the long-term health benefits and all that jazz. But if you think that I have the cognitive ability to ponder those things when I first wake up, or the innate spontaneous desire to bound out of bed and exercise, you're dead wrong-- and frankly, if you expect yourself to have these things, either, you're crazy.

At 5:30 in the morning, I have no damn motivation other than okay, time to get up, time to eat breakfast, time to start exercising otherwise I'll never be done by 7 AM which is when I have to take my shower. I do it because it's time to do it. Which, as you'll recall, is what I just said about bathing and brushing my teeth. I may have formed this habit for health reasons, for weight reasons, and in order to get the bonus of being faster, stronger, and more flexible, but that's Big Picture Thinking. I am not really capable of considering or appreciating Big Picture Thinking in the morning, so what I go on, day to day, is just the habit. Period.

Motivation is not the problem because motivation is not the issue. Time is an issue, because exercise is something that takes up time you're used to using on other things (which is why I advocate starting small, 5 minutes at the same time every day, because hey, what can't you put off for five minutes?). Intimidation and embarrassment are factors; fear of having to dress in unflattering gym clothes in front of those fit bastards at the gym, fear of having other people watching (and criticizing and judging) while you struggle to learn a whole new set of skills. Resentment is a factor-- because yeah, there are a lot of people out there who don't have to do this in order to lose weight or maintain a loss, and there are a lot of people out there who were born on third base and think they hit a home run, fitness-wise-- got lucky with metabolism and genetic predispositions to muscle mass and fat storage, got lucky with upbringing, and so when they started working it was so easy to get really fit really quickly. Rebellion is a factor-- who the hell is society to tell us that the way we look is unacceptable, or to tell us we're lazy, or to otherwise criticize us?, well fuck them, why should we exercise just 'cause they think we should? Self-esteem is a factor-- particularly for many of us who've been fat for a long time, it's hard to think that you're important enough that, when other people are clamoring for attention, it's possible and acceptable to say "No, I have to go exercise first, then I can deal with you."

There are a lot of real reasons that people don't exercise, but if you're not even looking at what those reasons are, you can't find ways around them. Claiming that you "just don't have motivation" is a smokescreen answer-- for others, but mostly for yourself. Yes, it's hard to get this exercise thing going. Yes, it takes work and concentration. Yes, it takes time out of your day. Yes, you may have to deal with some issues of identity and self-esteem and self-image when you see yourself in a mirror. Yes, other people need things from you that you feel are more important than getting exercise in your day. People, there are ways to deal with all these things. Figure out what your reasons are for not exercising, then invent an ingenious plan to circumvent them.

But don't blame motivation. That's just not right.

There are many, many reasons to build yourself an exercise habit. Most of them are Big Picture Ideas like health (cholesterol, blood pressure, bone mass... really, there are a million reasons) and weight loss; some are Medium-Sized Picture Ideas like "I want to be more flexible," "I want to be able to run a 5K," "I want to be stronger"-- more specific than the Big Picture, but still a bit loose on details. Then there are those picky Detail Ideas like "I want to be able to fit into that red dress" or "I want to look good on my vacation" or "I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded" or even my current favorite, "I want to keep my body active enough to be able to eat like a pig one night a week without paying for it later."

Those are motives. You have them. You have motivation. Trust me on this. Only you can say when your motives for exercise begin to outweigh your motives against exercise, and I won't argue with you. Just know where you are. Know yourself. Examine your motives on both sides of the issue. Some of them may surprise you; some of the pro-exercise motives may be more important than you thought they were, and you might find that some of the anti-exercise motives sound like "I don't WANNA brush my teeth because the toothpaste tastes funny!" excuses. Or maybe not. You're the only one who knows. If you're lumping it all together as "no motivation", though, you'll never find out, and you'll never give yourself the chance to find out what that miraculous body of yours is capable of.


  • Can't believe you have no comments here, because this resonated like blazes. Awesome post.

    Oh, and you write like hell (that's a compliment).

    And from someone who has a tendency to struggle with re-use/overuse injuries from attempting to lose weight too fast (plus congenitally bad knees - who knew? But it would have been nice to have a doctor with a clue at around 10 or 12 years old) ---


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:46 AM  

  • You are right on.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:15 AM  

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