The phrase “Living In The Moment” means focusing totally on the current moment with no thought of the past or future. In one sense, when you’re trying to solve some problem then the ideal is to be totally unaware of pretty much anything. You’re so focused on thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve that you don’t have the bandwidth to think about thinking about it.
But I’m talking about the other sense of the word, when your brain is off the clock and the meaning changes to appreciating what’s going in your life right now. At the best of times, to be happy and to know it, right then and there. But too often the moment at hand is not worth living in because the result of appreciating it may not be so pleasant, as in “I appreciate the situation I’m in and I don’t really care for it”.
Although true in the larger sense, for our purposes I’m talking more about the day-to-day. For instance, let’s say you stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning programming and you drank a lot of coffee and ate too much food, so you didn’t sleep well at all and at 7:00 am you can’t sleep at all so you’re up and feeling miserable. Upset stomach, groggy, totally out-of-sorts. Not worth appreciating even one little bit.
And, of course, this moment is brought to you by all the moments from about 11:00 PM the night before, which are well out of reach. No use crying over spilt milk and so forth, but yikes, who wants to feel like this. So, what can you do? Well, if you don’t do anything, time will take care of the situation, but you’re going to be pretty miserable for most of the day, maybe all day. Or, you can climb on an exercise bike, do your best to turn your brain off, and start turning the pedals.
Either decision is miserable in the short term, but if you opt for the bike, and keep turning the pedals, after a few minutes you start to feel better. And if you keep going then after about 15 minutes you feel human again and if you finish out 30 minutes you feel great. You can take a shower, go back to bed for a couple of hours, and wake up feeling like a new person.
I know for a fact that works. I know for a fact that 5:00 am morning runs in Army basic 43 years ago made me forget my misery and actually enjoy a mess hall breakfast – me and about 100 other guys just as miserable. I know for a fact in the 70’s when I used to go in early to avoid traffic and so I’d use the company gym before the work day started I felt good when I got to my desk rather than dreading the next 8 hours.
And that leads up to what this article is about. Exercise improves your future moments. To put it another way, all things being equal you will always be happier if you feel good than if you feel bad. Exercise increases the number of moments when you feel relatively better than you would have otherwise, so exercise will make you happier. Not necessarily happy, but happier.
In general, aside from overeating, I can think of four general scenarios that make moments hard to appreciate in a positive way:
- Lethargy / Angst
Not much you can do about fatigue except get some sleep, but in my opinion the other three can all be improved upon by getting some exercise. I can’t speak to genuine depression, but I know when I’m feeling depressed or anxious, exercise either relieves it entirely or takes me out of it for awhile, depending on what I’m depressed or anxious about.
As for lethargy, if we’re talking about the lethargy at the end of a work day behind a desk which for me is sometimes like a kind of mind-numbing angst, then exercise is exactly what you need. Relieving that feeling is what got me to commit to “just starting” a ride every day – without a doubt the best thing I ever did. And as I’ve experienced over and over again, especially in the early days, the days when you feel most lethargic and the most cynical about how stupid it is to get on the bike when you know good and well you’re just going to get off again, so why bother? – the more you feel that way, the more you need to get oxygen into your blood and the better your ride will end up being. You cannot fight blood chemistry – you will not look forward to getting on that bike – it’s impossible that you would – but if all you have to do is get on, turn the pedals a few times, and get off … anyone can do that, if they just will.
But you have to suspend the belief that it’s a waste of time and “Just Do It”. When it was a commitment to 30 minutes, or even 10 minutes, it can be just too much – I get it, I’ve been there. But if all you have to do is go through the motions? Fulfilling that simple commitment will get you past the inertia and if you just get moving that’s half the battle. As Woody Allen more or less said “80% of success is just showing up”. And envision trying to put in 5 minutes if you know you can stop after 5 minutes as opposed to the first 5 minutes of a 30 minute commitment – there’s no comparison. And once you’ve done 5, maybe another 5, or not. Just make a good faith effort. One mantra that used to get me past the first few minutes is “If I stop now I’ll feel just as crappy as when I started”. Then when you hit the point where you know you’ll feel better you’re generally into it. But if that doesn’t happen for you right away, don’t worry about it, just keep up the chain of “just starting”. The worst thing is to break it just because you “don’t feel like it”. And if it does happen for you right away, beware still, because there will be days when it doesn’t.
In my opinion, people who don’t exercise pretty much every day rob themselves of about half the enjoyment they could have gotten out of life. If you exercise after work every day then you get about 4 hours of enjoyment that would have been spent just existing until it’s time to go to bed so you can get up and then get up and go to work in the morning. I know that’s an exaggeration and varies by individual, but you get the point.
But as time goes on, your overall physical condition starts to improve, so there’s a constant slow increase in your overall enjoyment of life. Then when you hit old age, pretty much how you feel 100% of the time is affected by how much exercise you got in middle age. Do you think I could jump rope the way I do for as long as I do if I hadn’t started that daily workout 34 years ago. No way!!! If exercise didn’t make you feel good I’d be in terrible shape, or dead.
And, over all those years, the reason you got you started and keeps you coming back day after day is still there. You still get that day to day boost of endorphins. I’m still amazed at how I can go from feeling total angst when I get home from work to feeling like I got a brand new start to the day after jumping, or before JumpRock, by riding the exercise bike. I used to be puzzled as to how to describe this feeling, but JumpRock has made me recognize it as a touch of euphoria. A feeling of being in a better mood than seems quite normal. It’s not the same euphoria as when I’m jumping, which sometimes seems to take me completely outside of myself. For me JumpRock is the ultimate example of living in the moment.
To summarize the problem: We live in a world that makes Kublah Khan’s pleasure dome look like a sideshow for the rubes. But we stunt our enjoyment of it by not giving our bodies the physical stimulation needed to maintain themselves in good repair. So from late middle age on our moments get less and less worth appreciating.
But at least that’s one thing you can do something about starting in the moment at hand. I’m saying that it’s possible to mechanically establish an exercise habit throught simple repetition, even if you don’t believe it will work, because of the built in reward system generally called endorphins (last time I checked), and because of the residual effect of getting oxygen back into the bloodstream. By pursuing that feeling, it’s possible to get all the other rewards. Don’t get fired up about it. Millions of people get fired up every day and nothing comes of it when the fire dies down. Just make the simple commitment and stick with it. It’s certainly not physically challenging.
I’m the proof it works – I can truthfully say that results are typical for the test group of me. I try to demonstrate those results through JumpRock and getting continually older.