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Read this if you don't like exercise
Let's discuss mindset, comparison, and Daria Morgendorffer.
Bear with me as I talk about numbers (😱) for several paragraphs.
I can hardly believe there are people who enjoy working with numbers and finances. Geometry teachers and calculus professors, accountants, financial advisors, statisticians and economists and engineers: Oh, what providence, what divine intelligence* has bestowed their gift of numeracy! If the world was populated exclusively by people like me – I count on my fingers, do plate math on my phone calculator at the gym, and am deeply grateful that restaurants have started putting tip calculations on receipts – it would fall to shambles, I know.
My dislike for numbers, math, and dealing with finances runs deep to my marrow, and I do the bare minimum necessary in my interactions with these odious subjects. If you told me that someday I’d become an actuarial scientist or something – I had to Google “jobs that do a lot of math,” because IDFK – I’d laugh you off the face of the globe if my husband or mother or best friend (a former math teacher, bless her) didn’t do it first; my I Hate Numbers™ brand is strong, baby.
But if you told me 15 years ago that someday I’d become a competitive powerlifter, a certified fitness instructor, and an all-around gym rat, I would have guffawed you into the void just the same. That I eventually became these things, which was unimaginable back when I was a mostly sedentary anxious wreck with a binge eating disorder who blacked out every time I drank, has proven to me that humans are ever so capable of surprising ourselves.
I know I’m not going to become an actuarial scientist or whatever other job for nerds, not only because I’m totally disinterested but also because I know my mind is not … let me offer myself euphemistic grace here … sufficiently attuned to high-level calculations. However, when it comes to money, here’s what I did some years ago:
I stopped ignoring my bank accounts. I started creating budgets. I figured out how to do my taxes without crying. I set up daily “here’s your balance, bestie” texts from my credit card companies and bank, as a kind of exposure therapy. I know this is normal life stuff, but I was painfully avoidant about money for a long while and this was a massive shift. I once thought of myself as perpetually Bad With Money, as if that’s an immutable personality trait rather than a choice. I said as much to a friend once, who offered this: “You need to reframe how you think about yourself. You don’t have to be ‘bad with money’ forever. You can say: ‘I struggle with managing my money sometimes, but I’m trying to get better.’ Then you work on trying to get better.” Wow!
I did get better. This doesn’t mean I’m going to become a finance bro, but it does mean I’ve figured out how to interact with this boring, annoying shit I don’t like just enough to get by, because doing so is essential.
You knew this was coming: This is how I encourage you to think about exercise if you don’t like it.
You do not have to become an exercise professional. You don’t have to ever really like it. But you do have to interact with it just enough to maintain your personal well-being. You might find it helpful to Mad Libs the statement my friend made into one about exercise: “I struggle with getting into exercise/maintaining an exercise routine sometimes, but I’m trying to get better.” I admit it I find it obnoxious (because I’m predisposed to cynicism and one of my earliest role models was Daria Morgendorffer) when people say cheerleader-y, life coach-y things like “Just shift your mindset!” but damn it to hell, it works. If you stop thinking about yourself as a hater, failure, and struggler, it’s easier to start thinking of yourself as a trier, at the very least.
Here’s what else: Stop comparing yourself to or holding yourself to the same standard as people who like exercise, if you don’t really like to exercise. Too often, fitness influencers and exercise professionals offer advice that ignores the crucial fact that it’s easier for some people to exercise because they ACTUALLY LIKE TO EXERCISE. Crazy, I know, but the dizzying tableau of humanity comprises characters that are into all kinds of freaky shit, exercise included.
Just as I thought of myself as someone who would forever be Bad With Money, I also used to think of myself as someone who would forever Hate to Exercise. Once I got over the initial hump of starting and sticking with it, I liked it almost immediately. It just clicked. Strength training in particular appealed to various elements of my personality, body type, and lifestyle, so it was easy to like. Now I love it. Gross!
That might not be the case for you. You might get started (because you are rebranding as a trier) but still not love it or even like it, but find that you’re able to tolerate it enough to get it done. That’s fine! That’s like me with my finances, slogging away on life’s blah tasks even though they’re a little painful. I know how tempting it is to sprint in the opposite direction from anything that strikes us as boring or uncomfortable, but we live in a Dopamine Nation that’s facing a Comfort Crisis and as it turns out, embracing a little discomfort is pretty good for us. Alas.
If I were a gambling woman (which I’m not, because I don’t understand statistics 😇), I’d bet that once you get started and stay started with exercise, you will like it at least a little bit more – endorphins and the antidepressant factor and newbie gains and all that – but I won’t promise you that you’ll like it as much as me or your favorite fitness influencer, and the good news is you don’t have to. Fanatical devotion is not a prerequisite for developing new habits. You don’t have to stan, nor do you have to suffer. You just have to get on with it.
Coming next month: The first in my long-promised NEW SERIES for paid subscribers, about the nitty-gritty details of getting into exercise. The first post is (tentatively) titled: “Tired/sad/lazy girl* fitness,” and builds on this piece with more about shifting your mindset when exercise is the last thing you want to do. Can’t wait to share!
[*Not just for girls, but I’m writing it from the tired/sad/lazy girl perspective.]
If you liked this piece, please click the ❤️ at the bottom, or share it. If you use Substack Notes, please Restack it! Notes is the new social media of my dreams!
New: Inspired by, I leave with you with some only somewhat-related questions for discussion. Please juice up my comments section, I want to hear from you!
Did you watch Daria? I was like 9 when it came out, but I watched it later on MTV with my cool older friends, even though I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV, lol.
Do you listen to Hidden Brain? That’s where I heard about Dopamine Nation.
How are you with numbers and finances? Will you do my taxes?
I almost dropped this quote into the whole “mindset shift” train of thought but I talk about Mad Men too much as it is. What’s the best Mad Men episode and why is it “The Other Woman,” not “The Suitcase,” like everyone thinks?
Do you use a money management app? I love Digit because it saves money without me having to do anything. Everyone tells me about Mint but I couldn’t get down with it for some reason. I’m a tedious Word Doc budget gal.
What is your least favorite exercise in the whole world? (If you read my linked piece up there, you know mine’s running, bleh.)
*This is from “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists, and I was once at a party where a singalong to the entire 8-minute song took place. Sounds insufferable, but you had to be there!!! Singalongs: Y/N?