In last week’s column on aging, one major factor I touched upon in growing older is the daily stress we place upon our bodies. And while the foods that we eat and the way we move largely determines the speed of biological aging, the other side of this equation is often completely disregarded by medical science (and most fitness professionals): emotion.
Faced with literally thousands of decisions per day– from what to wear in the morning to how to approach the boss for a raise– the way we react and perceive each situation is paramount in determining how our bodies feel and perform.
Often, our motivation– or lack thereof– is driven by the environment itself. For those surrounded by stressful situations or difficult co-workers, this could mean chronically elevated stress hormone levels, while the right activity or support from a friend can be the difference in losing 20-30lbs.
In each situation, these things influence the way we see ourselves and the world around us. This also has implications on the way we experience physical sensation.
Following an injury, our nervous systems communicate acute pain signals and emotional stress signals along the same nerve pathways– namely the spinal cord. The problem is this pathway can only process so much information.
For someone experiencing chronic depression or emotion distress, the competing signals will eventually result in the lowering of the body’s overall pain threshold. In non-science speak, this means negative emotions decrease our tolerance for pain and explains why conditions such as depression and anxiety are associated with chronic pain.
With this in mind, I am of the beliefs that just as we tailor a diet or an exercise program to fit a particular need, we must also look at personality in structuring one’s overall lifestyle.
Selective Self Awareness:
One question I ask all clients during our initial interview is to tell me what they were doing when they were in the best shape of their lives. Though answers range widely, this gives me a feel for the type of activities that provide motivation.
For example, do you enjoy working out with others or flying solo? Do you feel better tracking diet and exercise or simply executing (of the exercise versus the trainer)?
My purpose with these questions is to figure out the type of personality I am dealing with and how this will play in to their program. Generally, we can classify ourselves in to one of two categories:
• Act first, think/reflect later
• Feel deprived when cutoff from interaction with the outside world
• Usually open to and motivated by outside world of people and things
• Enjoy wide variety and change in people relationships
• Think/reflect first, then Act
• Regularly require an amount of “private time” to recharge batteries
• Motivated internally, mind is sometimes so active it is “closed” to outside world
• Prefer one-to-one communication and relationships
Determined through a simple test, each personality possesses unique needs and real biological differences.
One study found that introverts have more blood flow in areas dealing with planning and problem solving. Extraverts have more blood flow in the part of the brain which are involves in sensory and emotional experience.
According to famed psychologist Carl Jung, introversion and extraversion refer to the direction of psychic energy. If a person’s psychic energy usually flows outwards then he or she is an extravert, while if the energy usually flows inwards, the person is an introvert. Extraverts feel an increase of perceived energy when interacting with a large group of people, but a decrease of energy when left alone.
Conversely, introverts feel an increase of energy when alone, but a decrease of energy when surrounded by a large group of people.
The take home message here is that each type derives pleasure and personal fulfillment from different sources and embracing your type in decisions that you make can go a long way to eliminating undue stress.
Getting Hip to Being Square:
As a writer (and a self confessed introvert), one question I asked myself early on was what situations in my life really made me happy? Did I enjoy being in large crowds of people or was I better one to one? Why did I write about and study fitness obsessively versus simply lifting weights?
After drawing some hard conclusions, I decided to buy my gym and move home. While leaving the big city seemed crazy at the time, I can say working in a business based upon one to one relationships has allowed me to play to my strengths.
This soul searching process is the same one I encourage all of those seeking to healthy change to undergo. In regard to getting in shape, extroverts are motivated by variety, change and challenge while introverts seek a deeper understanding of their fitness program.
With this in mind, staying motivated with fitness largely upon whether you are “training” for your type. For example, I know I can count on an introvert to keep a nutrition and training log and adhere to homework.
By contrast, I am far more likely to use exercises in an interval format with extroverts who get bored quickly—otherwise they may end up doing “biceps” next to a mirror.
After identifying your type, here are a few guidelines to get motivated with exercise:
Introvert exercise guidelines:
• Find a form of exercise which allows for consistent and tangible progression. Some examples include running (track distance or time), strength training (track weight) or metabolic circuits (see our video of the week)
• Join a smaller team activities (Contrary to popular recommendations, I have found introverts thrive on controlled social interaction) such as partner tennis, running with a partner and partner personal training
• Keep a training and nutrition log to chart progress
• Engage in a structured exercise program which outlines action steps and outcomes. Some examples include setting actionable goals with your trainer and/or specific performance goals for an athletic event.
Extrovert exercise guidelines:
• Find a form of exercise which is fast paced and constantly changing. Some examples include team sports such as football and soccer with intermittent rest periods. Another example would be interval training.
• Join a larger group activity which allows for social interaction.
• Keep a loosely structured exercise program which allows for daily changes in exercises and intensity.
• Engage in competitive situations which encourage pushing to your limit
In this week’s video, I outline two exercise challenges to motivate for both the introvert and extrovert.