But Be Aware, This Is Not Another 5-Step Beach Body Guide
The Moroccan sun was hitting the small surfer town Taghazout hard this afternoon. ‘You lookin’ really fit’, a blond English girl tells me, while we were sipping our wine on the rooftop of our hostel. I had to laugh. Fit? Me? Definitely not. I had not seen the inside of a gym in months, maybe went for a run twice this whole year and my favorite walks have been to the donut shops in Melbourne downtown.
The term fit has been defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “sound physically and mentally: healthy“. However, my motivation to work out, to be fit physically and mentally, simply to be healthy, had seen better days.
If you are reading this article, chances are, you’ve been there yourself: The couch calls your name in the evenings, your bed does not let you go early in the morning, especially not for a run and only the thought of going to the gym is nothing but torture.
That has been me, for basically the whole year. Until about two weeks ago.
Thinking about the role of media, different types of motivation and mindfulness have turned my lifestyle upside down.
The realizations I have made recently will not give you a six pack in 2 weeks, will not make you run a marathon and most definitely will not make you loose 10kg.
They might, however, make you think differently about ‘being fit’. And maybe, they will also turn your lifestyle upside down.
The media tells us how to be physically fit
Shockingly, almost 80% of U.S. women and 34% of men are dissatisfied with their own bodies, according to a study conducted by Park Nicollet Merlrose Center.
Most commonly, women strive for weight loss while men tend to focus on building strong muscles and a six pack.
But why is it, that we think skinny women and big men are fit?
The answer is simple: Because we are told so from all sides: magazines, social media and our peers.
The Men’s Health Magazine which reaches over 21 million men worldwide, claims to be able to tell all men whether they are weak or strong. One article states: ‘you’ll find our definition of fit—10 simple (though by no means easy) things every man must be able to do before he stamps himself “in shape.” Says who? Says us.’ It is no surprise that men feel a pressure to lift heavy and squat low, when they are confronted with such made up benchmarks.
However, the definition of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, brings a little twist to our notion of fit. Their definition of physical fitness says, it is “a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to the ability to perform physical activity.”
At this point I would like to shortly introduce you to Ismail, a 23-year-old surf instructor from Morocco. He is no taller than me, if you count his blond curly hair, he might be as tall as 1.70m. His body is skinny and it is impressive how he jumps over the rocks with a surf board that is far too big and probably weighs as much as he does. He paddles strongly, moves quickly through the ocean, catches every wave. Going to the gym was never an option for him. He would probably not be able to satisfy the author of the Men’s Health article, but he has taught himself the needed attributes that relate to the ability to surf like a pro. Ismail is physically fit in surfing.
What does fit even mean?
Jen Sinkler, a writer and personal trainer, poses an interesting question in one of her articles: ‘What is your personal definition of fit?’. She explains how she is personally very fit lifting weights, but due to personal conditions, very unfit when it comes to hiking.
When we talk about physical fitness, we should move away from asking: Are you fit? And instead, as Jen Sinkler recommends, ask: What are you fit in?
I realized that the media cannot tell me how fit I am. They cannot tell me what I should look like.
It is a matter of our very own perception and feeling of well-being.
We do not need the media to determine our personal fit.
Fitness is not just about your motivation
If a little motivation were the key, we would all be active regularly. But how often have you found yourself in the evening on the couch with the option of binge watching some Netflix with a glass of wine, or hitting the gym, going for a run or doing some yoga? More than once I assume. Lately, I have found great excuses: No time, no energy and my favorite one, no motivation. I kept telling myself, the motivation would come back eventually and then I will start being active again.
Fact is, that mindset did not get me off of the couch and before I knew it, seven months had passed.
When it comes to motivation, it is important to be aware of two different types: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Ryan and Deci have studied the scale of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, explaining the drives of human behavior.
To sum it up: working towards that beach body, fitting into those new jeans or wanting approval from your peers, all fall into extrinsic motivation. It is an award from the outside which is out of our control. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from the pure joy of doing it. It is a matter of personal fulfilment, which is entirely up to us and our mind.
I asked Ismail, the surf instructor, why he spent so much time surfing. ‘It’s only happiness. You go in the water with a problem in your head but come out with nothing but happy feelings. I just love to surf, always have.’
Talking to various people who have continuously advanced their fitness level in a certain area, it seems like passion and consistency are the key factors, rather than relying solely on extrinsic motivators.
At the end of the day, it is up to each one of us to find out what works best. Most common seems to be a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to keep us going.
The magic link of mindfulness and fitness
Brian Grasso, author of Mindset Matters Most, says that mindset “refers to the stories you tell yourself, about yourself”.
While our mind can be our greatest fan, it can also be our greatest hurdle. We decide the role it plays and how it shapes our perception of reality.
As Buddha once said:
We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
So how will mindfulness lead our way to a fit lifestyle?
If goals such as a number on the scale, fitting into jeans again or decreasing our body-fat-percentage do not motivate us, we should take a closer look at our mindset.
We must move away from numbers and towards the goal of making workouts a time of pleasure and most importantly, a habit.
If you hate the sticky air at the local gym, try and go for a run. If you do not enjoy the exhaustion, try a dance course with some friends. And if you feel like no workout has brought you any joy, try something new. The options are countless: climbing, cycling, swimming, volleyball, soccer, basketball, hockey…
We should spend some time on figuring out what we enjoy doing, what we do not, and why.
Once you have found one or more sports, make it a habit to work out regularly.
Believe in yourself and find joy in the exercises. Being mindful during your training will help you to identify moments of happiness. They might be a runner’s high, your team winning a match, or lifting that extra weight that seemed impossible a week ago.
When we are mindful about our feelings while working out, we can consciously create a joyful habit.
Suddenly, we will actually look forward to getting off of the couch and becoming our personal fit.
Tell yourself the right stories. Tell yourself: You are fit.
How these realizations turned my lifestyle upside down?
Out of frustration with myself, I felt like I needed a drastic change. I was sick of being lazy and thus came the spontaneous decision to go to Morocco for one week.
Seven days of surfing and yoga.
Forcing myself into this new situation, I finally found joy in working out again.
Now that I am back home, I still do yoga every day, my love for running is suddenly back and I am even hitting the gym again.
Realizing that I was doing it for myself and not with the goal to please anyone else, was the first step. Then realizing that I had to find joy in the actual exercise was the next step.
And now, I am making it a happy habit. I am becoming my own fit.
What are your thoughts on ‘being fit’? How would you describe the role of media when it comes to body image? How do you motivate yourself to keep going? What kind of sports do you enjoy?
Share your thoughts, spread some knowledge and be a motivation 🙂