There's always more to learn

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Q: Sometimes exercise is boring. How can I make it more fun?

A: First of all, exercise comes in many different flavors and it's important to try a bunch of different kinds to find the ones you like best (or dislike the least, as the case may be). Be patient and brave and curious and eventually you'll find a thing or two that gets your heart pumping, makes you sweat, and leaves you feeling accomplished.


But even when you've found the exercises that work for you, each and every day isn't going to be a breeze. Some sessions are more engaging than others, some days you're more positive and energetic, sometimes the weather is working against you, and sometimes you're just not feeling it.


These are the days when you get to practice brain training.


The brain training I'm proposing here is what I call the attentional control game. Attentional control is a way to practice controlling the "spotlight of your brain" and choosing what to focus on, rather than letting the environment or internal sensations decide.


When we're engaged in a task we find unpleasant, oftentimes our brain will get busy looking for reasons why we should quit. Some of those reasons can be pretty compelling and it takes a ton of effort to keep going in spite of them. Rather than entertaining those thoughts, playing the attentional control game gives your brain something else to do. I'll use the example of being out on a long run, but you can imagine doing this with any low risk, monotonous activity that just needs to get completed.


On a long run, your brain might start telling you that there's no point to this workout, that your legs hurt, that you didn't eat enough breakfast, that you need water, that it's too wet/windy/hot/cold to be out here, that you need to get home to do some task (that maybe you were avoiding by exercising in the first place, but that's a topic for a different day). As long as you are actually doing just fine on the run and not pushing through an actual injury, this is when to practice attentional control.


First, notice the rhythm of your breathing. Pay attention to how it corresponds with your footfalls; three steps to inhale, three steps to exhale, or whatever it's doing. Lock in to a comfortable rhythm.

Now tune in to your hearing. What is the nearest sound you can hear? Can you identify it? Listen. What is the furthest sound you can hear? Can you identify that?


Maybe you have music playing: Listen to one of the voices. Now listen to the instruments; can you identify the different instruments? Listen to the percussion. Listen for guitars. Now listen to the music as a whole.


Now check in with your body. Is something calling for your attention? Pay attention to that area. What do you notice? Is something sore? Tired? Unbalanced?


Now scan your body to find something that feels good. Maybe your heart feels strong. Maybe your stomach is cooperating. Maybe your shoulders are relaxed and your arms are moving smoothly.


Now go back to the listening. Did you stop hearing your music or your surroundings as you were focusing on your body sensations? It's interesting how the brain can only process a few pieces of information at once. Switch among these areas of focus for as long as you care to.


So often we feel like we are a slave to our thoughts and emotions but we are really just inexperienced at controlling what thoughts and emotions we allow into our conscious awareness.


Try incorporating the attentional control game into your exercise routine and see if it changes your perception of "boring" workouts. You might be surprised.