On Exercising Gratitude (Thoughts on Forming New Habits)

In one of my favourite lectures, Sir Ken Robinson speaks about how schools and educational systems fail students, and mentions that children do not simply have bodies to transport their heads around, we are all beings with both bodies and heads, and we need educational systems and ways of understanding ourselves that acknowledge this reality. It’s an important point, and one that I confess I am guilty of forgetting all the time. I am someone with a narrow band of interests, and I’m not naturally an active, athletic person, and so when I have free time or I’m planning my day or I want to unwind, exercise/physical activity is for the most part, pushed aside. Though it’s been a goal for a long time, it’s always felt overwhelming and confusing to learn how to become stronger and healthier, and it’s never been a priority that has found its way into how I structure my time.

Until now. A couple of months ago I felt curious about the gym opposite my apartment in Toronto, and got a month-long membership and a few sessions to learn more about the machines. I went for a short period of time, and then stopped for several weeks. I’m back in BC now, have taken time to reflect and now feel excited about trying to develop new habits, and become physically stronger and healthier. I feel much more positive, and since Seriously Planning has always been a wonderful place to share reflections and learnings, I thought I’d share some of my discoveries here to remind myself first and foremost about things that work for me when I’m trying to develop new habits and navigate change. Hopefully this can continue to be a space to share learnings as time progresses.

1) The Why is Important

Whether it was at the gym or resources/advice online, much of what I’ve encountered recently has been focused on one’s physical appearance and trying to change how you presently look. But after fifteen years of explaining that my hijab/related clothing choices are in part because my interactions in the public sphere should not be based on physical appearance, but rather on personality, heart and character, it’s difficult to connect with discourse to the contrary, and all of these messages have felt stressful and overwhelming. In those initial sessions when the trainer tried to motivate me with images/descriptions of a different physical self, I just wanted to go home.

Very recently though, I came across a set of lectures by the Muslim Chaplaincy at U of T from a recent Holistic Well being Symposium that they hosted, and though I’ve just started listening, the resources and the work of the speakers in general have been really helpful. Thinking about movement and physical wellbeing as part of faith, and a way to be stronger and to exercise gratitude for the blessings you’ve been given has been much more motivating, and has been what has helped me try again at becoming more physically active. The lectures and speakers also talk about eating healthily, and after trying to sort through so many confusing (and contradictory!) ways to eat and cook that are available online, it’s been wonderful to think about a Prophetic diet, and to try and learn more about how food and movement can be another sphere to extend your practice of faith.  I’ve also tried to think of milestones I want to achieve God-willing, and am hoping I can try a camping trip in several months – something that is terrifying but also every so exciting to think about! New hobbies and experiences and health and an expanded understanding of faith are positively motivating things, and make a more active lifestyle something I really want to establish.

It turns out that regardless of how much you may hear something is good for you and important to do and something you should do, you need to find a reason that connects with you in order to give a new habit a chance of settling into your life.

2)Be Aware of Your Personality

For some people, I think negative feedback works. Sternness and shouting and harshness works, and motivates them to do more. One of the things I discovered in those initial sessions in January is that I am not one of those people. Gentleness and encouragement yields much more, and I feel encouraged and motivated to keep going when I’m in a positive environment. Since doing something is better than not doing anything at all, I’m trying to embrace small steps, to have gentleness and patience with the process of learning, to recognize that it’s ok that things are challenging and that I’m a beginner, and to just be persistent, because I do want to improve and learn more.

I’ve also realized that the more complicated the process of starting is, the more unlikely it is that I will begin. And I find choice overwhelming at times, so the more places I try and seek advice and direction, the more unable I am to act. To counteract both things, I found a DVD for beginners that I like that gives lots of instructions to help me figure things out, have put everything I need in a certain spot, and have picked a time to put in my schedule. Being able to work out at home without having to think about hijab friendly workout gear, or needing to go somewhere else has been essential.  And I also know that silly things can make me smile, so a few weeks ago I got pink sneakers that make me feel happier just by looking at them. When I feel like I just want to stop or don’t want to try, pink laces have felt instantly uplifting.

I’ve discovered is that considering your own personality and what works for you is a much easier way to create change and develop new things in your routine.

3) Believe the benefits

I’ve always thought of exercise as something painful, and it’s been astonishing to discover that even though I’m very much a beginner, I feel really good after a workout. In university I remember there were always pamphlets and seminars about how taking time to exercise would make exam period/studying much more manageable, but I always felt very skeptical about the benefits described. It turns out that was true, and having an elevated heart rate is a path to instant happiness. It is also a way to feel instantly energetic. When I do exercise, I get more done, I have more energy for prayers, I move quicker throughout the day, and I just feel so much better. It’s a magical feeling, and I’m so glad for this (albeit late) discovery.

4) Everything is Easier with Company

I tend to feel shy about sharing goals and letting other people people know what I’m working on/trying to accomplish, but recently, I’d discovered that having one motivating, encouraging, kind person to talk to and turn to and seek advice from is a wonderful beautiful thing. It helps you get back on track, talk through your thoughts, get a different perspective, think about new things and overall, stick to your intentions for your life. Everything it turns out, is easier and better with company and sharing.

5) While Adding the Positive, Remove the Negative

In addition to adding new things, I’ve been trying to look at my life and see if there are things that I can eliminate to be healthier. Can I sit less? Be more active overall? What are the activities of limited benefit that I can remove? What should I be pushing myself to try? As with all the points, this is something I’m still working on, but I’m trying to in general cultivate a more critical attitude towards how I spend my time.

Any tips for forming new habits that you’ve discovered? Please do share your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “On Exercising Gratitude (Thoughts on Forming New Habits)

  1. Sheena says:

    Love it! Remember that “women and weights” class we tried at UBC?? It was too intense. I have learned that I can only get motivated for exercise I actually enjoy doing ( not just the after effect). So enter yoga, running outside under the trees with a buddy… Biking to meet people in the city. All three are fun, and I feel so great after.

    I like doyogawithme.com! And spark people videos. Both free.

    Pink shoes and other cute gear really does help! And music sometimes.

    Big hugs and keep up the good work! I’m getting back on the wagon too.


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