I like exercising – really, I do. I don’t exercise often right now, but I used to. I wasn’t into exercise growing up other than the occasional bike ride or run with friends which was, let’s face it, more of a social activity than for my health. It wasn’t until I walked onto the University of Iowa Novice Women’s Rowing Team as a freshman in college that I got my first taste of consistent exercise.
Following my time on the Women’s Rowing Team, I kept up with the regular exercise for almost a decade. You name it and I did it: cycling, step classes, kickboxing, kettle bells, running, weight training, and so on. I was intentional about getting in some kind of activity 6 days a week… until I had my babies, that is. I stayed active as best I could after my first son was born, but struggled for forever to simply recover from my second delivery which ended up being an emergent c-section. By the time I was fully recovered, I had absolutely NO interest in exercising.
I remember making up a list in my head everyday of all my “shoulds” and “oughts.” Every day I’d tally them up and every day I’d fall short – way short. I was putting so much pressure on myself to be everything to everyone and do everything that I “should be doing” that I was exhausted and being swallowed up by my list of “shoulds” and “oughts.” I eventually got fed up and waved my white flag in surrender. I surrendered to the idea that there are seasons in life where we must prioritize to SURVIVE. In that moment, I decided I would exercise again but only when I really wanted to. I no longer felt like exercise was something I HAD to do. I simply let myself enjoy the activity when I felt like doing it.
This mental shift was liberating! And truthfully, I didn’t exercise again for probably the next year or two. Granted, I had two young babies at home and then spent a good chunk of that time being pregnant with a third baby. But believe me, I was pleasantly surprised when about 6 months after having my third child, I actually felt like exercising. I felt like exercising – so I did! Most of my exercise consisted of riding bike or running outside. It was great while it lasted… but now it is white and cold outside; need I say more?!
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I have no desire to return to the guilt-ridden place where I make up lists of “shoulds” and “oughts,” but I am in a completely different place now than I was 2 years ago. I now have the mental capacity to make goals for myself. And given that I am no longer in survival mode, I would love to have more consistency in my exercise practices. However, I seem to have maintained the “I’ll do it if I want to” mentality because I still only exercise every once in a while.
On that note, the other day I stumbled upon a blog post about self-care. The writer was talking about how self-care doesn’t mean pampering ourselves. Sometimes self-care can be things that aren’t necessarily fun, but make our lives better. She also said that “self-parenting” can help us achieve some of the unpleasant self-care tasks. The term “self-parenting” struck me. The idea is that we “parent” our children by making them do certain activities because they are good for them, but we can apply this approach to ourselves as well. Hence the term “self-parenting”.
Here is where I envision a younger version of myself laying on the floor of Menards, kicking and screaming because sometimes, “I don’t want to!” It’s like when I tell my kids to go brush their teeth and when they say they “don’t want to,” I tell them to do it anyways as I describe the semi-exaggerated process of their teeth falling out. Now that I am in a more stable place, exercise should be like brushing my teeth. I self-parent my inner child by saying, “Heather, go exercise! You’ll be glad you did.”