Legend in my living room: introvert strategies for exercise success

If introverts hate noisy gyms, and if there are more introverts than we think, then it can’t be just me who hates the gym. Um, hooray?

Years ago, Marti Olsen Laney’s assertion in The Introvert Advantage that introverts are physically wired differently and don’t get the “runner’s high” that extroverts do from exercise literally changed my life. It was the pry bar I needed to start dismantling long-held mental models and assumptions about exercise that were getting in my way. Examples:

  • Exercise will give you more energy. Only in the long term. I almost never feel great after exercise. In the short term, it only makes me tired.
  • A gym membership will motivate me to exercise because I want to get value from my money. Nope. Gyms are big, bright, loud and always busy, an environment I can’t stand. Not using a service I dislike actually wastes money. (If the weight room was reserved exclusively for me 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, I’d have absolutely no problem.)
  • Exercising with others will encourage me to stretch my physical capabilities. Alas, this mostly frustrates and annoys me. I do what I feel like doing when I want to do it, not when others want to do it. Plus I’m slow and deliberate; I simply can’t keep up with a group.

It took awhile, but once I understood that my challenges were legitimate ones, based on my physical, mental and emotional styles, I started finding ways to turn this around. I found some good exercise advice posted by fellow introverts. Personality typing systems such as Myers-Briggs (I’m an INFJ) and 8 Colors of Fitness (I think I’m a White?) didn’t explain everything, but they did give me some helpful insights into my preferred exercise environments, motivation, and approach. Here they are.

  • Stop going. “If you’re an introvert and you hate going to the gym or to group classes, stop going.” Thanks to Scott Christ in “The Introvert’s Guide to Getting in Shape.” I am allowed to change my behavior instead of my attitude.
  • Find ways to challenge myself within my comfort zone. Pushing myself too far outside my comfort zone can backfire. I don’t need this when trying to develop a new healthy fitness habit.
  • Exercise in the right environment. For me this is usually outside or at home. (I do still sometimes go to the gym, because novelty is also a motivator for me, and the gym equipment lets me mix up my regular activities.)
  • Quit feeling guilty about exercising alone.

Scott Christ’s “Four Health Lessons You Need to Learn from Introverts” helped me assemble this list of advantages introverts have regarding exercise.

  • Advance preparation and planning. I study and research to get up to speed on an activity before I even start. Up front, I can learn the vocabulary, the moves, the benefits and risks, and how to get better at it and measure progress. I’m thorough, and more able to anticipate and avoid problems.
  • Better stick-to-it-iveness. Because I’ve invested more effort and time up front, I’m more loyal and dedicated, and less likely to jettison an effort when it runs into a snag.
  • Thriftiness. Due to my initial conservative approach to a new activity, I’m less likely to buy a ton of expensive gear and abandon it two months later.
  • Deliberate practice. My ability to focus helps me up the learning curve faster and makes it easier to get into and stay in “the zone.” Learning good form in weight training reduces my chance of injury, too.
  • Good listening skills. Intuitively listening to my body gives me lots of valuable information about my state of health and performance. I feel and appreciate a mind/body/soul connection.
  • Kinetic learning and cognition. For me anyway, physical activity often helps me find a solution to a problem, absorb a textbook chapter, make a decision, or sort through emotions. It’s a kind of moving meditation.
  • Get out of my own head. Conversely, physical activity can also get me out of “think mode” and into “do mode” and it can feel so good and be so beneficial that it makes it easier to actually do it.
  • Better handle on my motivations. My introspective nature leads me to an ever-greater understanding of what makes me tick, including what motivates me toward a healthy lifestyle.
  • Respite from social interactions. It’s easy and more socially acceptable to get chunks of alone time by going outside to “get some fresh air” or to “go for a walk around the block.” Most people won’t join me for that.

That’s a nice long list of strategies and advantages. Thank goodness, because as an introvert in a largely extroverted world, I need every single last one of them. But once I’ve got ’em, I’ve got ’em for life.

This post is adapted from Fit, Fudge, Fine, my nonfiction work in progress about working around the challenges of getting fit at midlife. Learn more at my author website, and follow my Medium publication Fit, Fudge, Fifty for more in this series.

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