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In this lesson, I want to talk about two related and fantastically important topics when it comes to the exercise habit … and in fact, for any habit:

1. Mindfulness during the habit
2. Your story about your habit

These are crucial for developing the habit, and I hope you’ll hear me out …

Mindfulness during the habit

While you exercise … it can be very tempting to listen to podcasts, audio books, and language lessons while exercising. I’ve done it many times, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it!

However, I advocate single-tasking while you exercise. Just exercise, and be mindful as you do it. Be fully present. Notice how your body feels, notice your mind’s resistance, notice the ground, the air, the light.

Your mind will rebel against this, wanting to do more … wanting to check your phone or do a work task or read something or listen to something. This is normal. You also don’t need to follow the mind’s urges. It’s a good practice to notice this urge to do more than the exercise, and to just stay with it, not act on it.

Why is mindfulness so important in forming this habit? Because:

  1. It puts you in a state of being mentally present for what you’re doing.
  2. Mindfulness helps you appreciate the moment, rather than looking for the things you don’t like about the moment.
  3. This helps you develop a better story about the habit.

Let’s talk about this “story” that I keep mentioning, and why it’s so important …

Your Story About the Habit

We all tell ourselves a story about whatever habit we’re doing … actually, about anything we’re doing.

What do I mean by “story”? It’s the way you look at something, or someone … for example, if you’re married, you might have a story about how wonderful your spouse is, how romantic your relationship is, how loving you both are to each other … or you might have a story about how your spouse is always making you feel bad about yourself, or isn’t considerate, or doesn’t want to have sex anymore.

This story you tell about your marriage has been found to be crucial to whether your marriage lasts, to how you weather arguments and other difficulties in the relationship, to how respectful or contemptuous you are of each other.

The same is true of exercise, or any habit really. If you have a story about how wonderful the exercise is, how good it makes you feel about yourself … you’re more likely to stick with it, and weather any obstacles you face, any disruptions.

But if your story about your exercise is that it’s a chore, that you hate getting all sweaty, that you don’t have time for it … you’re not likely to last when things get disrupted or difficult. In this way, your story has made your habit more fragile.

A good story makes your habit more anti-fragile.

What story are you telling yourself about your habit? Listen as you think about doing the habit today, or as you review how it’s gone. This listening is a form of mindfulness — paying attention to what you’re telling yourself.

Is the story a positive one or a negative one? How does this story influence how you feel about doing the habit each day?

Changing the Story

What happens if your story about your exercise habit is already negative? Can you change it?

Yes, you can … but it’s not always easy. If you’re serious about forming the habit, though, you should work on this …

Here’s how you might change the story:

  1. Be mindful of what your story is, as much as you can.
  2. When you notice a negative story, be aware that this is just something you’re making up … instead drop into the present moment and see what’s going on right now, in your body and around you.
  3. Notice that in this moment, everything is fine. You have all you need. Nothing horrible is happening to you.
  4. See if you can notice nice things in the present moment, especially as you exercise. Notice the little things that make the moment lovely.
  5. Start to build your new story around these little moments of appreciation. As you approach doing the habit, think about the nice things you’ve noticed. Be grateful that you get to do the habit at all.

This process can be repeated, over and over, until eventually you’re telling yourself a good story.

Know that neither the good story nor the negative story are actually true. They’re fabrications, and the real truth is in the present moment. However, we can’t help telling ourselves stories, so while the negative story is actually harmful, the positive story is helpful.

I encourage you to look at your own story today, and start using mindfulness and appreciation to build a more positive story.

Exercise for Today

Practice mindfulness as you do your habit this week, and use appreciation of the moment to start rewriting your story about your habit.

Please take a moment to discuss this lesson in Slack.