Have you ever found yourself on your brain’s dread-mill?
When I was navigating my divorce, I used the gym as part of my daily therapy. I went there after work for about 2 hours each night.
Most nights, I spent an hour or so on a treadmill (I recently heard it nicknamed the dread-mill and I can totally see why).
One night I was walking on my treadmill and looked around at all the people, side-by-side, walking nowhere together. Well, maybe not exactly together—because we had headphones on and TV screens capturing or trying to distract ourselves from a pretty mundane way of being active.
Where are we all going? Nowhere I thought. All those miles logged that didn’t move us any further IRL (in real life).
Then I realized walking on these devices was so similar to the wheel I was on in my mind. Constantly going— analyzing, thinking, worrying, mind-twisting and logging time—and for so much of my thinking, taking me in an endless loop.
What enjoyment do I get from an hour of analyzing why someone did or did not respond to my email?
It got me thinking that not all exercise—literally and metaphorically—is the same.
When I am out walking in nature, I don’t need headphones or anything else to distract me— I want to be right smack in that moment. If a fox crosses my path or a fawn juts its head out from behind a tree, I feel the wash of joy and connection of all things.
When I am caught on my brain’s treadmill, I am pulling myself out of the present moment. I’m in the past. I’m in the future. And I’m for sure not typically enjoying myself.
I wonder if we counted up all the miles we’ve accumulated—from a treadmill or from our mind’s treadmill—would we feel like we truly accomplished something that brought us joy?
Something to ponder in our world that chases a lot of movement but where movement isn’t all the same. Some choices echo in our hearts for the rest of our lives and others are just a shadow of an echo we probably will never remember.
How do we know the difference? Start by asking “Is your thinking moving you toward what you most want in life or keeping you on a loop? Does your exercise fill not only your physical desire for movement but also your heart’s?”.
If you answer no to either of these questions, you have a choice. What could I choose instead? Ask yourself, “What do I truly want to feel?” And then a secondary and important follow up, “What would most align with that feeling?”. Those questions can help cultivate clarity in our minds and help us to discern how we want to spend our time and energy in ways that will energize us.
Of course, I’m not opposed to treadmills per se—I am advocating for us to be intentional in how we want to interact with and in our worlds. If we are only going through the motions rather than living our motions, we may feel more disconnected, more tired and more depleted from our day’s adventure.
So the next time you find yourself in an endless loop of thoughts or movements that aren’t fueling your joy, I challenge you to mix it up and try something new. “How else could I see this?” and maybe a walk outside in nature to ponder that very question amongst the trees. Or, a few deep breaths to ground yourself into what you are feeling in this moment and even a different song in your ears as you move across the treadmill or a switch to a new machine at the gym that you’ve never tried before. Because joy is always an action that we can choose.