THE BLOG
12/01/2014 12:17 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

When You Exercise: Check Your Motivation

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It's 5 p.m. Assuming a reasonable amount of sleep, there's only about five or six hours left in my day. I contemplate how I should spend them. Time is limited, so I must prioritize. I have to finish my homework; that's a given. I need a few minutes to eat something; another given. So this leaves an hour or two to do something extra. My mind instantly assumes I should use this time to go to the gym. Now, please note that I teach workout classes four times per week, and I walk about 30 to 50 blocks of New York City per day, yet, whenever I have even a brief sliver of time, I assume I should use it to continue "toning up." Why? Because I won't look perfect if I don't.

Even though, with my lifestyle, there is no way I'll ever be out of shape, I still carve out or squeeze in time for "toning." I persuade myself to believe that if I don't look completely shaped, being in shape isn't good enough. I don't want to do that anymore. So how can I change my mindset?

I take a step back to conceptualize, to think about what being perfectly toned (having outstanding abs, a perky butt, and flawless thighs) really does for me. I realize something interesting: it does not do anything at all.

Looking tight and toned should not be mine, or anyone's, motivation to be active. I shouldn't rationalize exercise as an opportunity to look perfect; I should rationalize exercise as an opportunity to feel perfect. Being in shape should not be about looking beautiful, but about feeling beautiful. To ensure that I don't forget this, I've decided I need to ask myself the following: Which comment would I prefer?

Here are my choices:
Comment One: "You're hot." OR Comment Two: "You're inspiring."
Comment One: "You have a lovely body." OR Comment Two: "You have a lovely smile."
Comment One: "You have a great butt." OR Comment Two: "You have great ideas."
Comment One: "You have awesome willpower, because you always go to the gym." OR Comment Two: "You have awesome willpower, because you're determined to make a difference."

Comment ones will definitely make me feel high and mighty, but only for a second. After that second, they will serve as incentive for me to go spend whatever extra time I have doing repetitive workouts, to maintain my "hotness," my "great butt," or my "awesome willpower." Comment twos, on the other hand, will serve as incentive for me to learn, be proactive, and inspire. When I ask myself the question of which comment I would prefer, I realize that the most important thing about going to the gym is not to achieve a model's body. The most important thing about going to the gym is to achieve health, which will foster my ability to do the things that make me worthy of receiving comment twos.

When my body is impeccably chiseled, it is because I prioritize going to the gym above anything else. And I don't want to do that. I do want to keep exercise in my day and be the healthiest, highest functioning version of myself that I can be. But when I have an extra hour or two at the end of the day, I don't want to spend it making sure my body looks perfect. I want to do something that will add value to me as person on a deeper level, beneath the surface of rock-hard abs.

Some people in the world can do both: they can be perfectly toned and put meaningful time into other things. I have the body type, however, that will only be model-esque if I spend my extra hours at the end of the day doing squats, dead lifts, and repetitive HIIT cardio. And I've resolved that I can't spend my extra time doing that. Being in shape by walking around the city and teaching a few fitness classes a week is going to have to be good enough. I'm not resolving that no one should do repetitive squats, dead lifts, or HIIT cardio with their spare time, but the next time that you do those things, make sure you take a step back to check what your motivation is. Is it to hear someone make a comment one about you, or a comment two? When you decide that your New Year's resolution is to work out more, make sure it's for the right reasons, and that you're not squeezing monotonous workouts in the place of something that is important to who you are as a person.

Life cannot revolve around looking perfect. It must revolve around feeling perfect.

After all, life is about we feel, and about which comment we would prefer. Personally, I would prefer comments/compliments that go beyond the superficial. So I'm going to be active and exercise frequently, but in a non-forced way centered on what I feel, and not on what I see.