Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ta-da! moments work against ruts

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published May 3, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Exercise is all about repetition. Doing something over and over again to get faster, better, stronger. To build stamina. To stay in shape.

Think about runners putting in their miles. Swimmers doing laps. Weight lifters pumping iron. Yoga students practicing poses. Why else do batting cages and driving ranges exist? Repetition is the way to perfect your form and improve your game.

All this repetition takes time, and to make sure it gets done, you have to establish a routine. I know someone who sets his alarm clock for 4:20 every morning so he can get a full workout in before his paying workday starts.

I know many others who devote certain days to specific exercises—or to exercising specific parts of the body. If it’s Monday, it must be upper body weights; Tuesday, speed work on the track, and so on.

Some people carve their routines in stone, they’re that inflexible with their schedules. They’re like Billy Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, doing the same things in an endless loop.

That’s one of the dangers of routines; it doesn’t take much for them to turn into ruts. Then you find yourself becoming bored, losing momentum, hitting a plateau.

Routines, by their very nature, are hard to change. That’s why they’re called routines. For those who can’t, or won’t, change their routines, it helps to find new ways to inject fun into workouts. I do it by imagining Ta-da! moments.

These are the small breakthroughs that let you know you’re making progress. They can come when you truly get lost in what you’re doing or when you visualize a positive outcome and it happens. Batters who are hitting well often say the ball looks bigger. So do tennis players. Basketball players say the hoop seems so big, they can’t miss. It’s a mental phenomenon with an impact on reality.

Ta-da! moments are intrinsically motivating. I don’t even have to say the word aloud to smile and feel the energy. Think of the finale of every magic trick ever done. The woman who had been sawed in half moments earlier climbs out of the box in one piece, and Ta-da! The only thing left to do is bow.

I started thinking about “Ta-da” moments after visiting the chiropractor. Like a magician, most of his work is staging. You’re brought into a room, you answer questions about how you’re feeling, you climb onto the table, maybe get a heating pad while you relax and wait. Then, at the right moment, the doc sweeps into the room for the main event. He performs a few quick, expert moves and— Ta-da!—you’re back in alignment.

Once I applied the Ta-da! concept to exercise, I began noticing moments everywhere. Keeping up with the boys on a weekday run. Finally being able to balance my entire weight on two hands in a squatting yoga pose. Finding that my aqua jogging has improved my road running. Moving up in weights at the gym. All Ta-da! moments.

Repetition gives you the discipline you need to make progress. It can also dig a rut so deep you begin to feel stale. To keep things fresh and interesting, it helps to find a new perspective.

For most of us, no matter how hard or long we exercise, there will never be any first-place finishes or gold medals. But there are always Ta-da! moments to be found. You just have to start looking for them.
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