I was running this morning and thinking about what the point of exercise is. I realized that beyond the obvious health benefits, that there's a lot of mental / emotional power-ups that exercise gives to you. I've long known that certain kinds of exercise effects my general sense of well-being, confidence, and happiness. Dancing, running, biking, and tai chi activate certain pleasure centers for me like nothing else.
I realized just this morning that there's something else that exercise does — it helps me work on and test my mental toughness, for lack of a better term.
Every time I run, I'm struggling against everything that keeps me from running — my warm bed in the morning, the late night I had last night, my aches and kinks in my body. While I'm running, I'm fighting against the wind, the cold, the hills, staircases, but I'm mostly fighting against the part of me that just wants to stop, to give up.
When I exercise, I'm competing against myself and my own inner demons, the ones that tell me that I'm too old, too short, too slow. And each time I have to prove them wrong by pushing myself further than I thought I could go — doing five more pull-ups, running an extra mile, biking up a daunting hill. And each time I do that, I push those inner doubts further back into the recesses of my brain, and I invite forward the angels that tell me that I'm fit, strong, and worthwhile.
I believe that building up the practice of pushing myself past my doubts and fears has repercussions that go far beyond physical exercise. If I can run up the seven hills of San Francisco, I can ace this presentation to the board. If I can push through a 90 minute street dance workshop, I can persevere through an awkward first date. Success breeds success.
From this perspective, it doesn't matter that my run pace might slow down year after year, or the number of pull-ups I can do doesn't continually go up. I don't have to continually get faster or physically stronger, as long as I keep pushing myself and staying mentally strong. That's something I can do in my fifties, my sixties, for my whole life.