How to use movement to calm down and be kinder

You know the old saying that things are a “blessing and a curse?” Well, I believe that this is ALWAYS true. I often stop and remind myself:

  • The extent to which something is a blessing, it is a curse to an equal extent.
  • The extent to which something is a curse, it is a blessing to an equal extent.

As an example, I am an introvert.  SCORE!  I have a very rich inner life, I don’t need gadgets to keep me entertained, I don’t get hurt when people ignore me (because I don’t notice) and I’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on social outings.  Blessing!

On the other hand, being an introvert (especially and introvert educator who talks for a living!) means that I am sometimes trapped in my own head.  And it isn’t always that there is SOMETHING bothering me (this is very confusing to my husband), but rather that my thoughts have gotten disordered.  They need to be sorted out and reorganized.  If they do not get re-organized in time, then I get GRUMPY.  I start getting desperate for time alone, I get snippy about dumb stuff, and I can be found staring out windows feeling like I might cry if I wasn’t so angry… about what?  No one knows… not even me.  CURSE.

I’ve long been an avid journaler for just this reason– If I can get my thoughts out on paper, then I can move them around.  I can reattribute and reassess things that bother me, chew on a thought that is unsettled until it falls into place, and generally let a lot of stuff go.

I use the analogy of those old de-fragmenter programs that I used back when I had a PC.  The visual from this program shows the computer moving from an angry mess of multicolored boxes to a carefully ordered array of blue and gold.

Journalling is a really great way to do that kind mental sifting…  but it can take a long  time! And I don’t know about you but time is something I really don’t have… especially at the end of the school year!  Sometimes I have to write for a few hours to really unblock something and let it go.  When the issue is truly a problem (i.e., how can I talk to this person about that thing without causing a political firestorm?) then I find that journaling really is the best way to go.

But here’s a secret I uncovered in the last few years: exercise is a much faster, much less intense way to do the same thing when the issue at hand isn’t a clear problem, but rather is more of a disgruntled state of mind.

For example, when I’m cranky because I haven’t had any time to process things– having gone from one committee meeting, consulting project or child’s need to another without any time to stop and think about what I think about what I think (see? introvert= Blessing and a Curse)– I can go for a run and come out the other side feeling ordered again. In less than half the time! Bam!

It is no secret that I started running as a last resort; I was the anti-athlete for most of my life.  Part of the reason for that, I’m convinced, is that I’m an introvert.  Gyms are loud and garishly social, competition is of no interest to me, and the introvert brain doesn’t create that “runners high” that extroverts get (making the immediate impact of running different… they feel awesome, I feel tired).

Check out the Facebook Live Video embedded below about the psychology of introverts and exercise!

But, once I made it through the turmoil of learning how to run, I started to notice this unexpected and amazing de-fragmenting benefit. As my body pounds the pavement in the background, my brain is wandering, pondering and processing.  I find that good ideas come to me on runs without any conscious effort: a gift idea for my son’s birthday, a new way to structure some data, a way to ask a question in class, an acknowledgement that I was mean to my daughter and should apologize… all of these things get processed at warp speed when running.  After half an hour  or so of running, I return to my life with a clearer mind and capable of much more kindness.

I also found runs to be a helpful way to process grief.  When my Dad died suddenly in 2013, for example, I couldn’t bear to think about very directly. Journalling, therefore, was completely out of the question. Every time I would try, I’d find myself highly agitated or consumed by grief.  The mindset of the run, on the other hand, gave me a way to dip in and out without being overcome- allowing me to process my grief in tiny pieces until I could approach it more directly.

In short, regardless of whether I’m just generally cranky or feeling fragile running has been, much to my surprise, a very efficient path to peace. It is not the only path, for sure.  If you don’t think that running is for you check out the PDF download where I recommend a few other options!

I know how hard it is to consider running if you’ve never done it.  If you do want to give it a shot, I unequivocally recommend doing a Couch to 5k program (C25k). It ensures that you don’t try to do too much all at once– which will stop you in your tracks!

If you wonder whether running is right for you, I’ve created a cheat sheet to help you decide.  It asks you some questions and describes the C25k program along with links to get started.

If it turns out that running just isn’t for you (reasonable), the cheat sheet also includes other exercise activities that I’ve personally tried that will give you at least some of these same brain-settling benefits.

Check it out and then tell me what you think in the comments below or on the Facebook page!

Check out the Facebook Live deeper dive into the psychology of introversion and exercise!

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