The education of attention would be an education par excellence. —William James
The study of happiness has accelerated in recent years. More and more scientists are finding that there are specific actions we can take to make ourselves happier. Though our genetic set point plays a role (generally about 50%), a mere 10% of an individual’s happiness is dependent upon outside sources (big house, fancy car, lots of money, etc.) This leaves 40% unaccounted for and scientists believe it is within this 40% that our individual power lies. You might be asking yourself what this has to do with health and fitness. My answer is a lot.
When looking into the psychology of happiness, it’s hard to overlook the theory of flow. The two seem to be inextricably linked. That which some other cultures have known for years is just beginning to become part of western pop culture. It seems we are most at peace when we are fully absorbed in something that we can lose ourselves in, requires our complete and undivided attention, and gets us into the coveted state of flow. Now comes the part about exercise.
Research has shown time and time again that physical activity makes people happier. Our brains literally change when we workout, releasing “feel good” chemicals that promote energy and decrease stress. So what if you could tap into flow at the same time? The following are three ideas to make exercise as beneficial to your well-being as possible:
1.) Find something you enjoy: It goes without saying that it’s hard to become absorbed in something you hate. Like any middle school student stuck in their least favorite class of the day knows, doing something you don’t want to do will only make you wish you were doing something else. And daydream about doing something else. And think about what you will do when you get this s*&t over with. Don’t make your workout an exercise in escapism. The more you enjoy what you are doing the more you will do it and the better chance you will have of finding flow.
2.) Turn off the T.V., Lose the Kindle: Let me first say that walking on the treadmill while watching your favorite T.V. show is a great idea. The same goes for reading the Kindle (as long as you can keep your balance, that is). However, if you are looking to find flow it is going to be impossible doing two things at once. I get the whole getting your mind off exercise so you can burn through 60 minutes without even realizing it theory, but mindfully exercising is a totally different experience. Try working out and noticing what muscles you are working, how it feels in your body, how deeply you are breathing, etc. Maybe not every time, maybe just once a week….and don’t worry, listening to some music is fine, just keep it light so you don’t lose yourself in your tunes instead of your exercise.
3.) Try something non-repetitive: The rhythm of a run or a trail walk can definitely be relaxing in its own right, but repetitive exercise tends to cause the mind to wander after a while. Though a run is great for working all that mind-stuff out, it’s tougher for most people to find flow doing repetitive tasks. One trick is performing exercise that requires your full and constant attention. Many sports are great for this, as are dance classes, some forms of tai chi and yoga, or even kickboxing. Try to find something where you don’t have much “down-time” and where the varied movements force you to pay attention. You won’t have time to think about anything else and just might fall into a little flow in the process.
Make your workout productive in more ways than one, find your flow!