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Forming A Healthy Habit Starts from Within

“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs.” ~James Allen

I recently participated in a 21-day online fitness support group. I needed some external motivation to help re-establish a daily habit of fitness activity. My lazy butt was so reluctant to start this! Nevertheless, by the last day of the challenge, I was enthusiastically back into the habit.

We all know it takes three weeks of daily repetition to form a habit, so my success may not surprise you. What surprised me was why I ultimately met my goal.

It turned out that nothing about my success was about the physical aspects of daily exercise!

When I retired a few years ago, somehow that translated into retiring from regular fitness activity. Retirement meant I could rejoice in not having to do anything. No expectations. No shoulds. Just do what I want to do, every minute of every day.

We’re constantly told we “should” exercise—30 minutes daily, or 3x/week, or 10,000 steps a day, or blahblahblah.

Yes, but I also have a lifetime resolution to eliminate “shoulds.” My attitude toward exercise had become resistance-based because of all the “should” advice. I’d given myself permission to avoid it. Hey, I’m in charge of my own body, right?

But now, a few years later, my body has begun to show the deterioration symptoms of being ruled by my retired, lazy butt. I needed to put a stop to that. I decided I “should” exercise.

Gradually, this 21-day fitness commitment reminded me that my lazy butt is a mental state, not a state of butt!

First, I realized how easily I’ve been letting anything—whatever—thwart my exercise plans. Any excuse was a good one. Grocery shopping to do? Well then, I certainly can’t fit in that aqua-fit class! Rain? Yay, I don’t have to go for that walk!

By the end of the first week, the long-forgotten physical benefits of exercising began to show up, in spite of my daily resistance. Reminding myself about these benefits had been the whole point of my making this 21-day commitment.

Then one day, with my key motivation still being the obligation to report in to my online exercise buddies, I went to an aqua-fit class eagerly. I had the best class! It was fun! I put out more energy than usual. Magically, I didn’t feel any of the usual achy aftermath. Instead, I was refreshed, energetic, and buzzed all day.

A light bulb went on! My attitude was what had been holding me back from enjoying fitness activity.

My retired self had decided that exercise was an externally-imposed “should” and therefore something to avoid. This headspace had made me feel completely grumpy every time I thought about doing a workout.

There was more I had yet to learn about myself and exercise. Something more spiritual.

Since Louise Hay published You Can Heal Your Life in 1984, I’ve used her ideas about the mind-body connection to help heal my body. Whenever there’s anything untoward going on with my body, I explore possible non-physical causes.

During this 21-day challenge, my sciatic hip pain began telling me to stop all this walking and working out. Louise wrote, “The hip carries the body in perfect balance. Major thrust in moving forward.” Ah-ha! It made sense. My hip was certainly showing its resistance to moving forward into a lifetime of daily exercise.

Rather than cutting back on my workouts, I began saying Louise’s suggested hip affirmation to myself during all exercise: “Hip hip hooray, there is joy in every day!”

I said the affirmation instead of complaining about the pain or giving in to my lazy-butt attitude. It seemed to be speeding up the healing.

The mind and the body are so very connected!

Then, in week two, I hit another wall.

It was the inevitable Lazy Butt’s Last Stand. It was the wall of “What was I thinking?! I really don’t want to do all this exercise.”

I spent all morning sitting at my computer, resisting activity. It certainly hadn’t yet become a habit. My intellectual appreciation of the positive effects of regular exercise hadn’t become any kind of emotional or physical enthusiasm.

However, I knew I had to report my day’s exercise to the group. So I pulled out one of my mind-manipulation tricks, telling myself, “Go for just a 10-minute walk today.” That gets me going, and then I always end up enjoying the walk and wanting to continue longer. Isn’t it funny how we can fool our own minds over and over again with the same trick?

On that walk, as I chanted “Hip hip hooray, there is joy in every day,” I realized that if I was going to stick with daily fitness, I would absolutely need to put more focus on the benefits to my spirit, joy, energy, mood.

Forget about the body; I needed an attitude workout!

Within a few days, this focus led to my next insight. I began to recognize that the most significant benefit I was getting from this daily workout was not physical. It was the huge improvements to my whole outlook on life.

I felt lighter, happier, more energetic. I wanted to eat better. I was increasingly more creative, inspired, and had begun planning new art-craft projects. I felt more open to making other plans and other new commitments.

I was re-discovering the fitness of Kate’s Inner Self!

Not just my body, but also my mind, mood, emotions, and spirit had switched over to acceptance rather than resistance.

I had let go of the bad energy that comes with resistance.

Suddenly, this commitment was less about daily physical activity and more about truly recognizing how much this daily activity influences and improves everything internal.

My key to success finally became apparent. I was reviving and renewing and re-integrating my Mind! Body! Soul! Joy! Enthusiasm! Energy!

My biggest obstacle? ME!

ME is the person who creates clever excuses, justifications, rationalizations, for not getting off her butt. ME is the person who resents the fact that she has to stay fit to stay healthy. ME is the person who often says, “Just give yourself a break; there’s always tomorrow!” ME is always trying to sabotage my good intentions about physical fitness.

Those 21 days helped me discover my “cure” for the obstacle-called-ME. The cure was to fall back on what I know absolutely works for me—a focus on the more internal, spiritual aspects of self-improvement. I needed to convince myself that I’m not actually doing those physical fitness “shoulds”—I’m using my body to help accomplish a mental, emotional, and spiritual workout.

I need to let my Spirit, my Higher Self, be my physical training coach!

If the mind is in it, the body will follow.

Maybe it’s just a mind game. But it works for me. Whenever I need a boost of energy or spirit, I can use my body to help me get there. And now I’m happy to have a habit of doing this daily, no matter what.

I’m looking in the mirror these days and seeing a more radiant, positive person from all this activity. I’m feeling grateful to myself.

Keeping fit is a true gift to Self. It’s no longer an externally-imposed should.

And you? How’s your mirror looking these days? I’m not talking about size or shape or weight. I’m asking about your radiant, energetic self. Is she or he there, in your mirror?

Photo by dyozi

Avatar of Kate Britt

About Kate Britt

Kate is a retired teacher, editor, and technical writer living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She blogs sporadically at http://ponderthepreposterous.wordpress.com/.

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  • http://Mazzastick.com/ Justin Mazza

    Well done Kate. I know how easy it can be to put exercise on the backburner. Ultimately though we feel the effects of not exercising and we receive messages to the mind to get moving again. It’s true about the mind body connection. When our body is tired or sick our mind will reflect that.

    P.S. Kudos on being a teacher!

  • abigail1

    no radiant glow here im afraid. Just a very lazy attitude!

  • mj

    would you kindly share the link to your 21 day on-line course, thank you

  • Caldonia007

    Can you give me some information about the group you’re working with?  I totally need something like this!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

     Thanks, Justin. Your feedback and support are important to me and will help keep me going on my new activity routine.

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    I did it through Celestine Chua’s Personal Excellence website. Here’s the link to the session I did, which was in February. http://personalexcellence.co/challenges/2012/02/21dfc-overview/ She does other types of short-term goal-accomplishing workshops online (http://personalexcellence.co/challenges/), and I’m sure there will be another fitness session at some point in the future because it was very successful for most participants.

    I wish you all the best in getting going toward meeting your own goals for fitness. Even without a group, you can just begin. Today, right? Once you’ve begun, it’s a little easier to continue, but I agree, a support group that makes us accountable is a huge help!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Hi MJ, the link is in my reply to Caldonia007, above. If you can’t find a group that’s going right now, how’s this for an idea: Caldonia007 and MJ start a mutual support group, and maybe others from here and elsewhere will join! Maybe on Facebook or some online messaging forum or email or….

    You can do this! Good luck! Please post a followup if you do get together, so others will know they can join you.

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    LOL abigail1! Thanks for posting and thanks for the chuckle this morning.

    I hear you. And you know that I know what that’s like, what delightful peace there is in a lazy attitude. I’m just saying here that there’s other kinds of delight to be had after a change to more activity. I’m old enough that keeping fit is pretty much essential to health and weight control, thus the “should” approach. But it was wonderful to find out that my attitude can be both energetic and up and happy from the exercise endorphins AND lazy when I’m not doing fitness activities. We can have it ALL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1653932249 Mark B Hoover

    There is definitely a connection between the ol’ bod and the mind. I’ve been “suffering” malaise for a while now, knowing full well I need workouts. I am also retired, having dropped back on physical activity in a large way. Thankfully I am not a drinker and I DO eat very well. Still, I feel the stress of carrying 10-15 pounds extra pushing my wardrobe to less comfortable straits. Winter turns me into a mole, having just moved north from Florida and at great odds with cold weather. Now I can get out and bike. I have made a commitment to ride every day for 5-8 miles. It’s nothing extreme, but gets me to sites where I can photograph nature and create a stock photography inventory. So, at the very least, I have created a financial incentive. The route you took works well due to the accountability factor. I’m just not accountable. *sigh* But I AM present.

  • Kathy

    I really appreciate this piece!  I’ve had a love-hate relationship with fitness my entire life.  I love to push my body and feel that endorphin rush, however I can easily fall out of the routine and make plenty of excuses not to get moving.  Focusing on the spiritual aspect may make a real difference for me!  I am going to concentrate on the spiritual/emotional benefits of fitness!  I use this focus while engaging in other activities (eating, for example), so it just makes sense to use it for fitness, too.  After my hip surgery this week, I’m anxious to get out and get moving and I will carry the ideas you’ve presented with me.  :)

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Hi Kathy. I hope you are recovering well from your surgery and also that it makes a positive difference for you once it has healed. You sound very open to the possibilities of a focus on the internal aspects of exercise, so I feel sure you’ll reap the benefits when you are able to get going again. Let us know how it goes for you!

  • Jessi Freedom

     I very much enjoyed this post. Thanks. Just today I suddenly remembered Louise Hay’s book – and now you mentioned it. This means I’ll pick it up and look for an affirmation for one of my own ‘complaints’…
     I can relate to the ‘trick’ of telling myself I’ll be doing just ten minutes of exercise. I too end up doing more once I’ve started. But even if it should only be those ten minutes, it means I still can pat myself on the back for doing what I said I’d do…

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Thanks for the reminder, Jessi, about giving ourselves a pat on the back even for just 10 minutes. For me, making the effort means I kept my promise-to-Self to do something active every day. Keeps the habit going. If I break the habit, it’s so easy to break it again, and then again….

    I’m glad you had the double-reminder about Louise Hay’s book. She’s so wise and that particular book is like having our own mental medicine cabinet for our body’s dis-ease.

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Thanks for your comments, Mark. I completely relate to what you’re saying about choosing to be less active after retirement, and then feeling the physical results in the wardrobe. Also about feeling like a winter mole (I live in Vancouver, Canada, which has relatively mild winters, but I was born a northern-prairie girl, and winter still makes me get that urge to hibernate.)

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve made your commitment to your bike rides and photography project. There’s nothing like adding a creative aspect to get us going! Good for you! Nothing like the present to be PRESENT!

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ TheMadlabPost

    Nope! My radiant, energetic self is not in my mirror. I’ve found that it’s been zapped by disappointment and discouragement but I know it’s a temporary thing. I like that line in your post that says “If the mind is in it, the body will follow!” :)

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Thanks for posting your thoughts. I’m sorry that things have been making you feel disappointed and discouraged. I can also see, though, that your wisdom is intact and you have an optimistic attitude about the temporary nature of what you’re feeling. I hope you find some ways to encourage your radiant, energetic self to come on out again soon. I wish you the best!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/D5VTJA4VOW7Y4U2TFOF64LSCQI M*rk

    Kate,
    I understand your situation, in fact, I am the male version of being a retired teacher who decided to look at my first year of retirement as a “gap year” which in reality has become a “lazy butt year”.  I was not nearly active as I was when working.  I indulged in earthly delights often and became great at excuses and rationalizations. I gained weight.  Recently I found yoga and have been doing it 4 times a week.  It has energized me but I still have to find more direction for the other 23 hours of the day.  I volunteer at a few places and have dinner cooked for my wife upon coming home from her job.  I have traveled a bit but I need a more focused routine that does not include checking emails and visiting news sites all too often during the day.  I laugh at myself that I don’t always get my mindfulness meditation practice done on a regular basis because I’m busy myself with other mindless activities.  Sort of like that old song:  Looking for love in all the wrong places.

    The part that concerns me is nothing in the past year has grabbed me by the throat like wanting to teach did.  Although I willingly retired after 36 years in the classroom and I don’t regret the decision since I didn’t feel effective the past few years and Education has changed so much with the emphasis on numbers at any cost, I am hoping that I will trip over something that will inspire passion again.  Maybe my volunteer opps will lead me to my next love?

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Thanks for posting, M*rk. Yup, you sound just like me. Personally, I don’t think there’s any need to do any one thing in retirement, or find a purpose, or be productive, or be focused, or have a direction, etc. My favorite saying is a Rumi quote: “Human being, not human doing.” In retirement, I can BE, and not have a direction, and just go from one thing to the next as the impulse takes me.

    You’ve had a wonderfully long career, so you’ve made your contribution, left your mark on the world, on many minds and souls, and it’s fair and good that you (we) get to have our relaxation, do-nothing times.

    However, I also understand what you’re saying about wanting something to reach out and grab you by the throat, because having that buzz is important. It’s good if there’s something or many somethings to regularly make us feel alive and excited and energized.

    When I did that exercise support group, I was artificially imposing on myself something that I knew could do the trick in terms of getting my body moving. When my body feels great, my mind always follows. It’s 3 months since I did that, and I’m sticking with my physical routines (mostly) and it’s still having the same effect — giving me that internally alive feeling. With that, there’s nothing else specific that I feel a need to “do”, and “being” is in itself energetic and happy-making for me.

    I hope you can find something to fill that gap you’re noticing, fulfil your need to feel passion about something. How about writing? It seems like you do it well, based on the above. Perhaps a blog?

  • Kat of LA

    Beautiful….I just finish a five week bootcamp….I am learning how to enjoy working out for my health, mind and spirit!!!!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Yay for you, Kat! I’m sure you can keep it up after bootcamp is over… because after 5 weeks of it, I’m sure you are feeling the benefits for body, mind, and soul!

  • DeboraSol

    This article made me smile, because its everything I needed to hear.
    I have always had an issue with starting new habits. Im horrible im taking care of myself. I have always been the chubbier one of my family and have conformed to that. There is alwaya something holding me back. Not really sure what it is, but its heavy and doesnt allow me to do anything. Ive tried to gwt a group of people to be able to be accountable bur have always manages a way to go around it. I have been able to be under the radar. And i know i am the onlt one that is paying for that.

    What can i do to reverse this ugly mind set that holds me from being my authentic self?

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Hi Debora,

    I’m glad I made you smile. Thank you for your very honest post. Perhaps some of the wise community here at Tiny Buddha will have some suggestions for you in answer to your question. I can see that you’ve tried several approaches and are willing to keep on working at it. That’s so important, the willingness, along with the self-analysis you’re clearly willing to work with.

    The only thing that comes to my mind, based solely on re-reading what you’ve posted here, is that it might help you to re-read the James Allen quote at the beginning of my article. That statement seems so true for me. If I’m honest about examining the way I’m acting or reacting in a given situation, I can learn something about myself and my own beliefs. So I wonder if you can try that. Re-read your own post as if you’re a a stranger to Debora who doesn’t know anything about her other than what she wrote about herself. What is she saying about herself — I mean, in the context of that quote? Within your wonderfully honest post — the way Debora is describing her “outer conditions” — what does that indicate about about how she thinks about herself?

    We can work from the outside in, as I described my own process of beginning to exercise more and finding out how it improved my inner being. And we can also work from the inside out — believing we’re actually quite fantastic already, like right now, and letting our actions begin to reflect that belief in our wonderful Self.

    Something I read once — “ACT as if it’s so and it will BE so”, or
    something like that — turns out to be true for me every time. As much as possible, change your thoughts and your words (self-descriptions) to reflect that you are beautiful exactly the way you are. You will soon come to believe it, too. Decide to just BE your “authentic self” and begin to act as if you are already there.

    When we start with just one small change that makes us feel like we’re being true to ourselves, it feels good right away. Then later we can add another small change, only when we’re feeling ready. Carry on with just one small change at a time. None of us can make all the changes we hope for all at once, but each of us can accomplish a tiny change at a time.

    I truly wish you all the best as you go forward with this work. You can do this!