Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tip #2 - Work it out

Working out has possibly been the most important factor in me keeping my last shreds of sanity over the past two years. I had never been a big sports person, nor a fan of sitting in a room doing repetitive motions to sculpt a perfect body - my daily exercise through college consisted mostly of walking around the city.

But sitting at a desk all day began to take its toll on my body, and the back pain and migraines had to be addressed. I've tried a little of everything since then - from the slow and contemplative to the fast and exhilarating. Personally, I have found that while slower things like yoga can help perk me up for an hour or so afterwards, the hard and fast sports can change my whole mental state for days.

In fact, working out is so tied to my mental well being that, thinking back on the last few months and my plunge into PhD Depression, one obvious thing that is missing is a consistent workout regimen. As I mentioned before, there have been some recent shake-ups in my life which have pushed me off of my usual schedule. Unfortunately, one of the first things to go was my commitment to all things good for me like working out and eating right. It has been a slow downward progression for me of slacking off on exercise, followed by lethargy that makes me want to exercise less, leading all the way down to lack of motivation and energy for anything in my life - my work, extracurricular activities, even friends. Laying in bed or vegging out in front of the computer/tv start to be the only things appealing to me.

With this realization, I choose to get myself out of this hole I've dug and start taking care of myself. It is as important to my PhD as publishing because I don't think I could muster the energy or enthusiasm to publish without a well-taken care of body.

So here are the rules I have found worked for me in the past and will try to follow as I restart my regimen, maybe they can help you. If you have any techniques that I left off that help you get to the gym, please post them! :
  1. Make some social or monetary commitment
    • It's just too easy to say "not today" when you have no commitment to anyone.

    • Exercising with a friend is good, just make sure it's not a flakey one - it's best if you can find an uptight one that will be furious if you flake.

    • Sign up for something - the gym, a class, etc - the more specifically you can see your money wasted when you don't go, the more motivated you will be. A gym membership is too abstract for me - once I've paid it, the money is gone and out of my head. What works best for me is signing up for classes offered through the school that meet on a regular day and time. When I've paid $100 for the 10-session class offered, I can calculate that every session I miss adds at least a dollar to how much the other sessions are "costing" me (even if it's prepaid). Maybe it's convoluted thinking, but I almost never miss a session in a structure like this.

  2. Schedule it like any other meeting
    • It's non negotiable and you cannot choose to skip it because you are right in the middle of something or you're hungry or a friend just called. There is nothing more important than your health and it has to be one of, if not the, top priority.

    • If it helps, refer in all cases to it as a "commitment" instead of "going to work out". If someone wants something that conflicts, simply say "I have a previous commitment". I find this helps me feel less guilty about keeping this date with myself when I think and refer to it as a commitment as important as any other in my life.

  3. Remove all potential deterrents
    • Find someplace close by (especially if you're walking), even better if it's on your way home from the University so you can drop in on the way home.

    • Wear your gym clothes as much as possible. If you're already dressed, that's one less lazy excuse.

    • Keep an extra set of gym clothes nearby - in your backpack, at your desk, wherever - that way you can go on a whim if you need some stress relief or just feel like it

  4. Pay attention to how you feel
    • If you can really focus on how good you feel, then motivating yourself next time will be that much easier. It will become less of an obligation and more of an addiction

    • See how the aggravation over the reviewer's comments melts away

    • Notice that adrenaline rush after

    • Pay attention to the longer lasting physical and mental benefits (how do you feel the day after? Two days after? If you exercise for a week, track your optimism levels for the week)

    • If you aren't noticing these benefits, and even if you are, try something new. You're trying to get away from the monotony of PhD life, so don't let your sports life get dull!