Why do lunges hurt so much today? Are there too many reps to do? Am I using too much weight? Is my technique not up to par? I feel like I don’t even want to be here doing this exercise anyway – surely I can come back another day when it feels easier…. If only people knew what else I had going on in my life would they know how painful these things are right now! Sound familiar? This was the voice in my head for the past month and I’m sure you have experienced the same. The voice inside your head can seem like the devil in a red dress some days. When you don’t want to be there, it’s tempting to quit or cheat on the workout you had promised yourself.
So why did my mind wander off from the commitment I made earlier that day? I had decided to go the gym that morning, so why didn’t I want to be there right then and there in that very moment? Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the moment anymore. Why not? What happened?….
My mind wandered to another moment in time – that’s what happened! Where does your mind wander? Are you thinking about your day at work? What needs to be done when you get home? Or maybe it’s the ‘To-Do’ list that so many of us have tacked to our brains? For me it was the phone I had in my hand. Yes, that wonderful device we all carry around that’s packed full of multiple features and applications, including my workout program. Yes, my phone is also an easy portable reference tool for recording my workouts and progress. However, it soon became an easy portable distraction – Email and calendar pop-ups, text messages, social media prompts, software updates – you get it all. It was all there at my fingertips – everything to distract me from my present moment and shift me into another.
But surely a phone can’t be that bad right? Well, in the space of 2 mins, I said happy birthday to 1 person on Facebook, I got an email about a newly found plumbing issue at my house, I read a message from a friend asking about what to do on the weekend, and received a calendar reminder about a work certification due the next day. And so the mental multi-tasking began, and my energy and focus for the weights room began to dissipate. Why did my enthusiasm shift downwards? Doesn’t multi-tasking let you get more done and put you at ease?
It would be wonderful if we were all fantastic multi-taskers, but the truth is we are not. It takes a lot of energy to switch tasks. Even just the mere thought of doing a task or making mental preparations in advance soaks up the brains resources. The human brain can only task switch at lower levels of engagement. Talking and walking both require minimal effort, but talking and sprinting is an impossible duo. The more tasks you add, the harder it gets and working out hard is like sprinting and talking. Another analogy is imagining pushing a kid on a swing until the swing builds up momentum and requires only a guiding touch to keep it going. Now imagine pushing 10 kids on 10 swings all at the same time. At the least it would be impossible, and at the most would give the kids as much excitement as a new pair of socks at birthday time. This is similar to what the brain goes through. In a nutshell, if you want the best of something, then focus your attention on it. If you want half-measures and sub-par results in life, try lots of things at the same time.
We live in a world run on multi-tasking, but multi-tasking isn’t just limited to the work environment. It pops up in all other areas of our lives just as readily – when we socialise, when we relax, when we eat, when we think. We all seem to feel this urge and anxiety to do something aswell as or instead of the task at hand.
Attention and energy can easily be divided for the more physical times in life too. I’m always surprised by people who manage to talk whilst doing repetitions of an exercise. Good results come with good effort and if you are dividing your attention and energy between talking and lifting a heavy weight then you are not giving maximum effort to either of the two tasks. And if you’re not giving your all to a task, then it’s hard to expect the best possible result – this is especially true in the gym. To do things well and be happy with your efforts, you need to focus your energy and efforts on just one thing at a time, whether it be mental or physical.
So what solution did I find for my exercise dilemma (or should I say perceived dilemma) from earlier? Well, I put my phone on airplane mode, took a few deep breaths, cleared my head and focused solely on the task at hand. I accepted my prior decision to be at training and remembered the reasons why I decided to train in the first place. In essence, I kept my attention on the activity that I chose for myself. What was the result? I felt reassured, I spared my mental energy from fruitless anxiety & distractions, and I felt a lot better about myself. Oh and as for the lunges…. they didn’t seem so bad after all, I actually started to like them.
Now more than ever, it is so easy for us to get caught up in what else is happening around us all of the time. One of the chief causes of anxiety issues for people today is fixation on the future and what will happen next. In a real sense, we become so future minded that we are of no present use. When you make a decision to do something, accept your decision, be in that moment, and do it! This reasoning has relevancy for all things in life – When you are with your family, be with your family. When you are listening, be only listening. When you go to work – work! When you are training, be there training! Live in the now! – you will be amazed at how much better life is and how good it feels. If you find yourself getting anxious and distracted, then have a little time in silence, take a few deep breaths and realise that you can be in the moment and enjoy it.
Oh and one last thing…. do your damn lunges!