In my teens and early 20’s, I worked out because I felt like I had to. I wanted a certain body, a certain life, and a certain satisfaction. I didn’t really care what the workout was; I just knew I had to do it if I wanted to achieve that imaginary Medal of Honor I so badly sought.
As I got older, I realized that there is nothing more tantalizing than trying to live up to popular consensus. There was nothing in my being that truthfully wanted to workout to attain a certain physical, social or cultural ideal, so I stopped chasing a six pack and perfect thighs and started pursuing real, substantive experiences.
Now that I’m in my late 30’s, the way my body moves during training has itself become an experience. I’m more selective of my workouts. I pay attention to what and where the exercise is. If it’s dull or monotonous, I don’t waste my time. I want movement with a view and a bangin’ playlist. I want movement that challenges me both mentally and physically. I want movement that feeds and leads into more movement. I want and need an all-out, sensory-overloading experience.
Sometimes, I need to feel the sand creeping into my socks, smell the salty ocean air, see the picture-perfect backdrop, and hear Jay-Z in surround sound. That’s when I hit Baker Beach and run the Sand Ladder, a set of sand-covered stairs. When I need to feel each drop of sweat fall off my nose, hear the rhythm in my breath, see my legs quiver, and taste the cold water to quench my thirst, I grab my mat and head to hot yoga.
Fulfilling an experience craving is much easier than forcing yourself to do something that doesn’t call you; it’s also far more sustainable and enjoyable. It keeps you extremely present as you begin to notice all of the little things. It makes every single workout feel new, no matter how familiar that activity may be. The best workout is the one that you will actually do. If you are drawn to a specific exercise that your body enjoys, you’ll want to keep doing it. People will often try to do what they have heard is a trending exercise or simply copy what their friends are doing. If you do something that feels like an experience, ignites your curiosity, and stimulates your senses, chances are you might want to experience it or something similar again.
We don’t all have lives in which we can construct a perfect sweat experience every single day, but we can absolutely find an experience in what we enjoy doing. Think about your senses. Although you might not be able to activate all of them in one given sweat session, pay attention to the ones that are used.
Studies show that spending time in a scenic environment can have a positive impact on one’s well-being. Even if you can’t find an attractive landmark, catch a sunrise, or head to a beach, finding something that heightens your sense of sight, such as watching your favorite show, can have the same effect.
Listening to music while you train can boost your performance, especially if the rhythms of the songs and your exercise are synchronous. Even if music isn’t your thing, what you hear matters. If you run, for example, pay attention to the repeated pattern of sound as your feet hit the pavement.
Focus on your taste buds when you’re in need of a drink or something light to eat. Having water, an electrolyte-boosting beverage, or a Gu packet while noticing the flavors you take in can intensify your experience. Switching on your sense of smell may be as simple as eliminating unfavorable odors, particularly if you have allergies. Fresh air is
Switching on your sense of smell may be as simple as eliminating unfavorable odors, particularly if you have allergies. Fresh air is ideal, since it allows you take deep breaths without being irritated by unwanted scents.
You trigger the sense of touch the most during training. Whether you lift barbells or rub chalk on your hands, you receive sensations that affect performance. Concentrate on them, and think about how they influence your experience. If what you’re currently doing doesn’t literally and figuratively move you, find something that does. Crave the experience, seek it. And if it doesn’t exist—create it.