12) Ninja Training, Part 3: My first Habit

To illustrate the process outlined in earlier posts, I am choosing EXERCISE.

This is a good one, because I’ve set it before, have partial success usually, but can never make it stick.

When I was 17, and spent my summer earnings from McDonald’s on a universal gym that I then built in my mom’s basement, I thought that was it — I was on the road to an Adonis-like physique and would spend my adult life with broad shoulders and impressive pecs.

I think I used that gym less than 10 times.  And every attempt since — pilates & yoga classes, pushup challenges, bodyweight routines, the ever-resurrecting intention to “hit the gym”…..has failed to stick.  Sorry body…..you ended up spending your life looking more like Adam Sandler than Adonis.

Okay, so, I suck at this goal.

And now…you ready??  Everything is about to change!


First, examine the SOURCE of this motivation:  Why do I  want to exercise?
Honestly?  Well…..ok, I admit, it’s……mostly about hotness.  (Or, more accurately, what I’ve internalized as my culture’s idea of ‘hotness’.)  Yes, I hang my head in shame and admit my pathetic shallowness.  I want to be hotter.

But seriously, who doesn’t?  And sure, I want to be healthy, have energy, live a long and active life, be a good role model for my kids, and lots of really great and impressive reasons like that, but the active ingredient, the emotional driving force that most often and forcefully expresses itself, is a feeling of dissatisfaction with my body fuelling a desire for less fatty parts, more toned muscle.

And I don’t even agree, consciously, with our culture’s shitty values!  But they’re still in me.

Now, let’s stop right here for a moment……because it’s important to realize how Introjected this goal is. By introjected, I mean that my ego has gotten hooked up ti this goal.  My self-worth and feelings of positive self-evaluation are now influenced by my performance, by ‘how well I do…’

What grounds it?  Insecurity, plain and simple.  Maybe it’s not such a surprise that I have never, despite many attempts and partial successes, developed a consistent exercise habit.  You see, right here is The Curse of Introjected Motivation, which is that at the core of the motivation lie negative feelings about the self. So every time you access that motivation and try to propel yourself forward to “look hotter”, you are also DISEMPOWERING yourself, by activating networks in your mind/body related to feeling BADLY.  And so, for me, there’s always this hump to get over when it comes to exercise.

And I make it worse by getting all earnest and self-flagellating and “I’m gonna prove it to myself, THIS time!” So I choose really ‘motivating’, SMART type goals.  Like 30-day yoga challenges. 100-day pushup challenges.  Bodyweight routines.  Various programs from various magazines, websites, etc.  I tell myself I’m gonna measure my progress, keep a spreadsheet where I track EVERYTHING, and look up EXACT programs to follow, so THIS TIME I do it right and stop being a loser.  And to make it just about as bloody impossible as I can for myself to feel good, I usually focus on my weakest and most disliked areas, which for me is shoulders&chest.

What do I FEEL when I contemplate exercising?
When I’m paying attention to myself carefully, I realize that the thought of exercising makes me feel blahhhhhhh. Like, basically, it’s me telling myself, “Start your damn exercise program already! Man…what’s wrong with you?”  And hmmmmm……astonishingly, that doesn’t usually help put bounce in my step as I head for the gym….

You will probably find this implicit layer of self-criticism and disappointment/rejection behind most of your own failed goal attempts.  this is your “Inner Critic.”  We’re gonna talk more in the future about what to do about this nasty person most of us have allowed to take up residence in our psyche. But for now, we can’t slay, or heal that Inner Critic here, so we’re gonna outsmart it instead.

Instead of trying to stubbornly ram my way through my resistances (gee, what a great sounding way to live joyfully….), this time I am going to do it WISEly.


WISE approach:  What is wicked, illuminating, sexy, & effervescent about exercise?  For me personally?

 Level 1:  engaging, enjoyable & fun
    What exercises do I LOVE doing?  What body parts do I LIKE the most?     
    — ok….the gym?  Blows.  I hate the gym.  My guts never want to be there.  My guts do, however, like biking. Fast. Urban daredevil-style.  When I’m biking like a maniac, I feel like a god.
Also, when practicing aikido moves, I feel pretty killer.

Body parts?  My legs.  Good ol’ legs, I can always count on you.  Also, my overall coordination; and balance. I feel pretty good about that.

Wow, that was surprisingly easy.  Extreme cycling, and home-aikido.  (NOTE: In 25 years of trying to exercise, I have never allowed myself to just start with what I love…..wow……)

“But wait!”, the Inner Critic screams. These aren’t even effective exercises, for the most part!  Biking isn’t going to build muscle, and aikido exercises aren’t strength OR cardio-relevant!  This exercise program is terrible!

Yeah? Well, too bad, Inner Critic.  Bite me.  This isn’t about doing things perfectly, it’s about building a habit.  And to do that, I need to get used to dedicating specific blocks of time to exercising.  So, I’m going to look at my weekly schedule, and find activities I’m actually gonna do! And THEN, once I have the time and am feeling more efficacious and less loser-y, THEN maybe I’ll add more standard exercises and start targeting body parts more systematically.  But for now, I don’t need that.  Sufficient unto the day is the WICKEDness thereof.

Level 2:  Meaningfulness
    How does exercise connect to my Identity?  My long-term goals?  My key values?
This is so obvious, it’s actually too obvious, so I overlook it.  Exercise so clearly connects not just to “looking hot,” but to being capable, having energy, and maintaining your ability to DO things when you’re old.  So, make this as concrete as possible.  What SPECIFIC things can I name or visualize that represent this “meaning”?

— being able to run around with my grandchildren
— being able to TRAVEL to the most rugged and wild places on earth
— having friends who do physically active things together
— enjoying my retirement
— participating in fund-raising runs/bikes for cancer research, because so many of my family members have fought cancer, including both my mom and dad

So, find your reasons.

Now, stick these reasons in your face, whenever possible, to remind yourself of this deep WHY.  For me, tonight, I’m going to print out pictures of
– a grandpa running around with kids
– hiker in a mountain range
– a person I know who has offered to train for a half-marathon with me
– my grandpa waterskiing at age 75
– my mom, dad, and Terry Fox

This goes on the fridge and becomes my DO IT!!! collage, which I’ll see every day.

What about exercise could be profound, heart-opening, or spiritually gratifying?  In what way can it help me Open?
I have learned that my body is a window into my psyche.  When I’m feeling badly about myself, I stand that way.  Conversely, when I stand strong, from my core, I feel myself get uncomfortable; standing-like-a-mountain is kind of ‘triggering.’  Especially when my chest opens, in a deep way, and I feel my internal collapse start to uncurl.  So, I am going to pay attention to this feeling, and savour it, allowing myself, at the end of an exercise seesion, to just stand, and feel strong.  For 30 seconds.  I’m going to FEEL, holistically, this embodiment of strength, and then I’m just going to let myself marinate in that good feeling.  Dr. Rick Hanson calls this “Taking in the Good.”

(But wait! Didn’t I just say this was often unpleasant and triggering?  Yes, and when those feelings come, I’m going to stay with them, and feel what happens when I stay with instead of trying to shut them off.  Because I guarantee (although this will be a future topic we’ll explore later), what I’m going to feel AFTER the shittiness, is compassion.  So, stay with the compassion, if I can’t stay with the feelings of strength.)

Then there are those moments of flow, when you enter a perfect sync of breathing and moving and being one with everything.  Ahhhhhhhh…..those moments.

The feelings of self-honouring and self-caring that I get when I do good things for myself.  It makes me feel….gratitude….

Yoga.  Just yoga.  So good.

Beauty, beauty, beauty.  The sky.  Squirrels.  Trees……the world pulses with beauty.  I especially find early mornings, sunsets and middle of the night jaunts, to be spiritually nourishing.

What about exercising makes me feel like a hot, lusty beast?
Sweating.  I love sweating. Like mad.
Pelvic movements and core work (of course…)
Sore muscles, that I can poke them obsessively throughout the day.  Like a bruise.  Soooo fun…..
The hot shower….ohhhhhhh godddddddd….
And hey, let’s face it — other people who are exercising.  Dayyyummmmm……

    What about exercising is simply delightful, joyful?

Laughing with an exercise partner
Racing my kids
Dancing by myself — think, Kevin Bacon in a barn. Except he could dance.  Otherwise, it’s identical…
Fall-rolling, like I’ve learned in aikido
Breathing HARD — cold air burning, like an early morning jog, or hot air filling my lungs to bursting, like in a hot yoga class
Jumping !!
Playing frisbee


Putting this all together, here’s,

The Plan

1) put the Wicked DO IT!!! collage on my fridge. Pause, and look at it often, especially when feeling demotivated.

2) Select a couple of easy activities to weave into my week:

– cycling — Every day, cycle to and from work.  Take different routes.  Find beautiful streets, parks.  Ride like a maniac.  Love it.

– when bored, go outside for a walk, jog, cycle, or throw a frisbee around with a friend or my kids.  Invite people randomly to join.  Find nature-areas near my home and explore them.

3) create a home-exercise time block, and choose awesome things to fill it with. Don’t try to be perfect, or ambitious. Just see what’s reasonably open in my schedule.

– Time blocks = 30 minute chunks –
Monday after kids goto school and before work
Tuesday evenings
Friday mornings before work, ideally at sunrise
Saturday nights after kids are in bed
Sunday evenings, after dinner, before bed, while kids are bathing & getting homework done

4) Select activities to fill these blocks with. Vary it a little to keep it fun.
– jogging — which I will call Checking Out The Scenery
– dancing at home — which I will call Getting’ Footloose
– aikido practice — which I will call Wax On, Wax Off
– pilates — which I’m not going to call pilates, b/c it makes me feel intimidated and too ‘earnest’.  Instead, I’m going to call it Sexy Beastercising
– skipping rope — which I will call Yo Adrian!!!
– yoga routine — just follow an online video, and build up some favs.  Especially balance work, legs, and chest-opening — I will call this, um… Yoga
– bodyweight exercises — focus for now on squats, lunges, pushups, pull-ups.  Do them slow, feel the burn.  Poke muscles lots in coming days…. 🙂  I will call this Pumpin’ You Upppp

5)  Every time I exercise, at the end, I will stand there for 30 seconds, happy at what I’ve done, standing tall, feeling killer.

6)  Every Sunday night, before bed, drop and do as many pushups as I can; perfect form, no cheating.  Plot my progress on a chart, and keep the line-graph open on my desktop so I see it every time I turn on my computer.

7) After the push-ups, choose the activities for the week, and stick them in my calendar. Now there are no decisions to be made.

AND FINALLY, expect to fail.  But don’t call it failure.  Learn what didn’t work, then try again.


That’s it.  Do this for one week and re-assess.
If it’s working, do until it is a habit and I barely need to think about it.  Then reassess and see whether I’m happy with that, or want to change some of the blocks to more formal and structured exercise routines.  But for now, just enjoy and Give ‘Errrrrrrr!!


Week 1: (I will formally start after this weekend….I’ll use some time this weekend to find good online yoga and pilates instructors, choose a playlist for dancing, and create a space in my living room with yoga mats, a skipping rope, and such ready for use)

Monday after kids goto school and before work — Checking out the scenery
Tuesday evening – Pumpin’ You Upppp
Friday morning before work – Wax On, Wax Off
Saturday, after kids are in bed — Sexy Beastercising (online pilates routine) (or Yoga, depending on mood)
Sunday evening, after dinner, before bed — Gettin’ Footloose (and kids can join if they want; we’ll have a dance party) — if they’re doing homework and music will annoy them, go to the basement and Yo Adrian!!!

— pushup challenge — (This is gonna suck the first time; experience it with compassion not judgement, and pride that things are changing!)
— choose next week’s activities

So, let’s see how this works….


  1 comment for “12) Ninja Training, Part 3: My first Habit

  1. October 29, 2016 at 4:57 am

    Hilarious! But oh so valuable! Thank you for being open and frank, but most importantly, light-hearted on a topic that can cause a lot of stress and frustrations. Your plan looks solid! Best of luck. Looking forward to reading the updates.

Please leave a comment below! Share your thoughts! :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.