Social psychology tells us that everything we do or don't do or choose to do or choose to not do stems from a single aim: to achieve a sense of control over our life. When we examine this in a strictly logical fashion this is crazy. The way we feel, for instance, is the result of the countless sensory signals from our immediate environment that our brain processes. We have zero control over things like the weather, other people and their thoughts and actions, socioeconomic movements or political events. We barely have control over our own thoughts: if we're left in a quiet room without any external stimulation for five minutes a gazillion thoughts begin to race through our mind.
Yet, the sense of control we do feel we have helps regulate whether we feel anxious or at ease. This, in turn, affects the secretions of the microbiome in our gut which affects the hormonal profile in our body and regulates both our thoughts and mood.
Since a sense of control is so important to us the question arises: how do we square this circle? How do we get a sense that we can affect the direction of our life and chart a path that takes us towards where we want to go?
This is where 'simple' physical exercise comes in. I say 'simple' because there is nothing simple about exercising. We actively choose to move our body in three-dimensional space in ways designed to make it feel uncomfortable. The ability to do this for a sustained period of time changes the way our brain is wired. We become a little more comfortable with discomfort. We learn to reframe how we feel in a particular moment in time to take desirable, long-term goals into account. We get to understand a little better our own physical and mental capabilities and the the limits of our body.
All this leads to a deeper sense of understanding of who we are. It makes us a little more confident in ourselves. These changes in self-awareness and perception then allow us to interpret what we see and experience of the external world differently. We see change as less of a threat and more of a challenge. We observe external events as things we can deal with. This change in perception makes us more resilient. Resilience is the sense that we get less anxious when faced with the unexpected and less fearful when we deal with uncertainty.
Less anxiety and fear reduce the stress level we experience inside us. Anxiety and fear are expressed in the body through specific toxic hormones and neurotransmitters. Reducing them leads to internal organs that remain healthier and stronger for longer. We tend to get ill less, experience stress less and live healthier, longer lives.
One key element of all this is to be able to frame our presence in the world. This is called agency in psychology. It is literally the better understanding of who we are and what we want coupled with the awareness that we are also, largely, of no consequence. The world is a very large place. We should always take what we do seriously but not ourselves.
Miyamoto Musashi, who authored, A Book Of Five Rings put this best when he said: “Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world”. The world around us often appears weird, dangerous and unexpected. Yet it is made up of the actions of each of us. It is then also amazing, wonderful and full of surprises.
Intentional training, as Musashi wrote, leads to epiphanies when we least expect it. It is also fun. And it is, always, life-changing. We don't often think about all this. We focus on surface-level attributes like strength, a six-pack, how heavy we are on the scales. We can, for sure, exercise with these goals in mind and there is nothing wrong with that, but there are deeper effects at work we don't often think about. If we do think about them we amplify their power and effectiveness and can become better versions of who we are, faster.
As always, hit me up with any questions on any of this.