When the lightbulb goes on

I gave a talk at one of the King County Library System branches on Saturday afternoon, and watched a very cool thing happen. A lightbulb went on in someone’s head, and I think I actually watched it happen.

I watched a lightbulb go on in somebody's head this weekend. Not literally. But, you know - she got a new idea about how to motivate herself to exercise and lit up. It was fun to watch.
I watched a lightbulb go on in somebody’s head this weekend. Not literally. But, you know – she got a new idea about how to motivate herself to exercise and lit up. It was fun to watch.

The audience member shared that she was having difficulty getting motivated to exercise. She doesn’t like classes or groups, so she has to motivate herself to go out alone for her exercise. And it’s hard. (It’s always harder if you choose to go it alone. Not impossible – just harder, because there’s no one there to keep you accountable.)

So she asked: How can I get myself motivated?

There’s actually two parts to this answer, both of which are inspired by a great talk that the author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, gave a couple of weeks ago to the writing group I was studying with in Los Angeles. She mentioned that we shouldn’t try to manage our emotions, like our enthusiasm or our motivation. Instead, if we manage our schedules and our habits, everything will eventually fall into place. So if we schedule our workouts – say, every day from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m., we’ll do something (even if it’s an easy day or a rest day, I try to walk for 45 minutes to an hour). Eventually our bodies come to expect it. It’s a little like putting a toddler on a meal and sleep schedule. Eventually, hopefully, the kid gets it. Dinner is at 6, story time is at 7, bath time is at 7:30, story time #2 is at 8 (you can never have too much story time when you’re a toddler), and night-night is at 8:30. Or whatever.

So that’s scheduling. But there’s another nifty idea Gretchen talked about, and that’s called pairing. Essentially, in order to get something done that you might not be super-duper gung-ho about doing, you pair it with something you’re really gung-ho to do. I shared my story of how I save my big band jazz orchestra music for my long runs, because then I look forward to my long runs so that I can listen to my jazz. (Just bought two new Grammy-winning albums today on iTunes. And ran 18 miles listening to them. Yesssss…)

Well, I shared this idea with the audience at this talk, and the audience member who had been looking for inspiration just lit up. There is no other way to say it. Her eyes gleamed, her skin shone, and she just came to life.

“I love mysteries,” she said. “Every time my husband and I take a long drive, we get a mystery to listen to. I’m going to go get some mysteries and listen to them when I do my walks!” [Awesome that this all happened at a library, where she could check out a bunch of audio mysteries right there and then.]

Considering what a bear of a week I had last week in other ways, that particular moment made my day. It was so lovely to see someone relatively new to this whole exercise habit light up at a new idea, a new way of getting exercise to be a regular part of her life. Yay for us.

Yesterday’s #every48 workout: RUN – 18 miles long and at a very easy pace, in preparation for Boston. Felt really good. Awesome to be out there. And, get this – it was sunny in Seattle. Extra points.

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