Structure, Spontaneity, Intuition.
Intuition is about the experience itself, in the context of an understanding of consequences.
Not consequences in a negative way, but just – when you have an understanding about how a thing effects you. A lived experience of cause and effect.
Intuitive eating is different from demand feeding. Intuitive training might or might not be structured, or based around a thing, and it might be either considered or impulsive.
Experience teaches us things. If you know you respond badly to a thing that you do enjoy in the moment, wisdom teaches us that it might not be worth it in the long term. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t. And desire fluctuates.
You will feel disinclined to exercise if you are depleted, sick, or if you are in any way rebellious and you feel like exercise is a thing you are only supposed to be doing, that you should enjoy, but that you do not. You will feel disinclined to train if you feel the pressure that you need to be made different, that you need to be improved, cleansed, or otherwise changed. You might feel that if you choose to undertake exercise because of that pressure, that you are participating in your own debasement. I have said it before: exercise on your own damn terms, or not at all.
All of this may be irrelevant to you, or it may need to be resolved, however you can, in time. I have been known to get stuck in my own head.
It’s hard to teach an intuitive approach to training. I’ve been trying to do that, but it is so variable, you can’t really systematise it. It’s like personal training. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some programs are better for achieving certain things than others, but if you hate the program, if you’re not going to do it, it’s useless. This idea that there is some best method, or even an ideal method – we don’t all possess the same temperament. Even if we did all have the same narrow goal, we would not all walk the same path to get there.
I think you can strike a balance between structure and impulsiveness. It happens to me frequently – I have some idea of what I want to train – maybe weightlifting, push-ups, maybe tai chi or martial arts, maybe I’m swimming or walking, or playing a game or some sort of activity – there’s the initial idea, and since the world is chaotic, every time I find myself training, something will change in the moment. Maybe I’m a bit weaker, or I’m feeling strong so I adjust the weights. Maybe I’m wearing the wrong pants and I’m chafing, so I have to go home rather than walk or jog in sweaty weather. Maybe I’m happy playing in the water, but if I swim for serious laps, I’ll rush and experience anxiety.
It’s a fairly narrow list of things that might happen. Maybe it’ll rain, maybe I’ll care and maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll be having a bad day, and I’ll quit early and just leave it. Or maybe I’m having a bad day, and if I quit early I’ll feel shitty, so I’ll push on. Or maybe pushing on will make me feel worse? It’s different all the time.
Allow yourself to have a plan, and to be spontaneous. Allow it to be considered, yet fluid.
I remember a fantastic definition of play: when a game has given rules, you may participate eagerly, but if it’s free play, the rules may change at any time, at a whim, when it suits you. Imagine a bunch of kids doing whatever – “okay, that’s good, and now you have to do it all while hopping!” And then back to whatever else again. Free.
I was at a seminar one time, about writing. When I was young, I used to write stream-of-consciousness style. Just whatever thought came to me, I’d put it down on the page. Then I got into structure, and made a lot more progress, because previously my ideas would just fade, dwindle, the drama, the intrigue wasn’t there.
But I lost the ability to write naturally. I asked the presenter at the seminar, and she said that you just need to be balanced. You’ve got a plan, but it’s not rigid, you allow it to change as you write, but you can come back to it – she expressed it more betterer. It’s fluid. Use what is helpful. Use your head, and listen to people, but do not blindly expect what works for someone else to automatically work for you.
Structure and spontaneity.
You might decide to lift weights, and three minutes into the session – or on the way to the gym – decide that a half hour of stretching is a better idea for today. Or seventeen minutes in, your shoulder feels shaky – maybe you’ve done enough. We fatigue early for all manner of invisible reasons.
It doesn’t matter. If you’re a competitive athlete, you’ll have a different approach but it still needs to be fluid. You only get overwhelmed by all the intense exercise you should be doing if you’re distracted by the idea of burning calories, or if you’re not interested in training in the long term. It only really needs to be intense when it’s fleeting. If it endures, it’s right that it will fluctuate.
Once you’ve put a couple of years in – maybe you’ve only gone to the gym or you’ve worked-out two hundred times – once or twice a week for two years would only be one or two hundred sessions – but once you’ve put in a bit of time, you’ll notice that you don’t need to hit it hard every time if you want to develop your fitness. You only need to keep turning up, and you’ll develop at something, whatever it is you base your training around. You learn to hold it lightly. If long term health and fitness is what you’re after, there’s no rush. There’s no need to risk injury in the name of progress if you don’t desperately need to be somewhere super quick. There’s no need to waste time on pursuits that you find meaningless.
Instead, you can just roll with the punches. See what interests you, and move slowly towards that. Your interests will change over time. Of course they will. But the best way to stop yourself from training is to start expecting every work-out to be like some sort of performance, or for it to result in a new personal best, or for the scale to read less every time you step on it. It doesn’t work like that. The reward is really in the moment – training will make you feel good, or bad, and if you follow your intuition – if you plan, based on things you know you enjoy, and you make sure you keep that plan, or your approach, fluid enough that you can also allow yourself to be spontaneous, then you maximise the chance that the training itself will make you feel good.
You don’t need to set a new record every time. You don’t need to set yourself unachievable tasks and then feel like a failure for not reaching them. I remember one time I asked a client to do an exercise she was unable to do. She felt like a failure, but of course, I just felt like I had misjudged her capacity. If you’re incapable of doing cartwheels, or a backflip, and someone asks you to, you don’t take it as a personal failure that you were unable to do something you knew damn well you were unable to do. No, instead, if it interests you, you work on some sort of plan for development.
We’re not even talking about results. Of course you’re going to feel good if training makes you look more attractive. That may happen over time. Of course you’re going to feel good if you notice strength or range of motion improving, or if you successfully rehabilitate your injuries, or if you manage to improve your energy levels.
But none of that happens in the moment, if any of that’s going to happen it’s because of accumulated time, training sessions, effort – these sorts of things. Luck too, oftentimes. Access. A million things.
What’s going to satisfy you in the moment? What’s an activity you enjoy, that is also at least reasonably well-aligned with your long-term interests, desires, or goals if you have them?
Often we notice improvement when we just start on a new thing. Something challenging, but not too ambitious. A lot of development happens quickly – the brain-body connection improves, coordination develops, we notice progress. Sooner or later, it slows down. You need to work hard, and be patient. If all you’re interested in is the result, this will become a very frustrating time. At this time, you might consider cross-training in some way, or pouring your efforts into more considered, planned approaches.
I remember after about a year of martial arts training, I noticed that my rate of progress started to diminish. I could get a fair way on talent and enjoying the process, but certain techniques – if I was ever going to be good at them, there were certain things that – it became apparent – I was really going to have to work at. And work hard.
But I was still guided by a thing I ultimately enjoyed, that I wanted to be good at, and if a new method held some hope of development, it was easy enough to throw myself into it, give it a try and see how it went. It was not really about discipline. That developed, it’s best to think of discipline as a skill that develops over time as you practice it, rather than as a character trait, but if I hadn’t liked martial arts, if it had not been satisfying and enjoyable, I would not have continued.
It’s been twenty years. I have tried many things, many approaches, many techniques. Some things worked out much better than others. I suppose – there is no substitute for personal experience. Try something, without prejudice. That’s the best place to start.
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