Check Your Head

Every morning during my workout, my mind goes to the same place. Unfortunately, it’s not a place I’m excited about. My morning routine triggers thoughts about an unpleasant situation with a family member. The first thought of this situation usually strikes when I’m brushing my teeth, but I’m able to refocus my thoughts and set it aside. But as soon as I start my workout a few minutes later, there it is. Just like the day before.

If I let my mind do its thing, it runs my story of this family drama for the umpteenth time. It replays old conversations and imagines future conversations. It justified and rationalizes my side of the story. Left unchecked, my mind would basically re-run the same imaginary argument with itself every single morning. Sounds like a great way to start the day, huh?

It’s not a coincidence that this mental routine comes up during my physical routine. This particular mental rant and my morning workout co-occurred for the first time in the Spring of 2002. Yes, I remember the exact Tae Bo session during which I fumed about this family drama for the first time ever; eight years later, I can still see Billy Blanks and the specific kick-punch-kick sequence like it was yesterday. Since “what fires together wires together”, I obviously set this pattern in motion back in my Tao Bo days (my exercise habit has since evolved, in case you were wondering). While I haven’t thought about this family situation every single morning for eight years—it depends on what else is taking center stage in my life, if I’ve had recent contact with the family members, etc.—it still comes up much more than I’d like.

The mind loves habit and familiarity. They promote efficiency and speed so the busier our world gets and the more options surround us, the more our mind relies on common and familiar thought patterns. Our brain if full of mental “ruts”—neuro-pathways—that serve as the path of least resistance for new thoughts. There is lots of physical support for our habitual thoughts.

The good news is that this can be used it to our advantage as much as to our detriment. If left unchecked, I end up spending the first 40 minutes of my day focusing on what I don’t want and drawing more of that into my life. But noticing those natural directions of the mind and refocusing is a habit just like anything else. So, now I’m working on harnessing that early morning mental energy and using it to my advantage. When we make our mind work for us, instead of letting it run wild and turn against us, everything changes.

All it takes is two steps:

1) Noticing, which is generally pretty easy once you get used to paying attention to the thoughts that run around in your mind. And

2) Refocusing, where you simply shift to what you’d rather think about. The only trick to refocusing is that you may need to do it a few thousand times until it becomes a habit. But, I promise, it does get easier each day as your brain forms new default pathways. Before you know it, your workout triggers thoughts that work for you rather than against you. You can form a thought-habit that creates exactly what you want to show up instead of a thought-habit that magnifies what you don’t want.

–Of course you can refocus to anything that feels good to you, but I highly recommend forming a habit of gratitude (try a rampage of appreciation, like Jessica’s), or basking in the fantasy of the way you want things to be. That way you get what you want in life and you get to enjoy your workout a little more.

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