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.

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