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Exercise Like Sisyphus (But with More Joy)

Posted by Adam Naylor  November 20, 2013 04:12 PM

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Sometimes exercise can feel like a Sisyphean task. In the beginning: We set goals. Week one: We take initial steps towards our goals. Week two: We are fairly excited we’re onto week two of exercise and feel pretty good about ourselves and our increased physical prowess. Week three: We brag a bit to friends and family. We are, “Fitness buffs,” and they should be informed. Week four: Life happens and we skip exercising. Skip to week eight: You are no longer an “exerciser.” Repeat this humbling routine again three months later. Like Sisyphus laboring over getting a boulder to the top of a mountain only to find it roll back to the base.

Fitness is a repetitive task. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Reach your goal. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Reach your goal. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Reach your goal. The unfortunate challenge is too often efforts at regular exercise can be repetitive false starts.

Greek Gods have watchful eyes, so Sisyphus preserved in his seemingly mundane task. Most of us do not have such fortune of deities “urging” us on during every workout. Therefore something more personal is needed to continue to nudge us forward. Science has shown us that, monotony is mastered through meaning.

So often the key to exercise is seen as goal setting when the reality is that the key to adherence to exercise is more likely “meaning making.” Certainly set goals, but do not neglect the potential for curiosity and passion in daily workouts. When swimming is about completing 40 laps swum back and forth, motivation may wane. Yet when it is about experiencing the water through one’s fingertips or seeing how far one can propel one’s self with a single dolphin kick, meaning is made. When solely about running 13.1 miles, it could be a one-time deal. Yet when it is about being part of a community where all struggle, strive, and laugh together, meaning is made. Exercise is repetitive… make it meaningful and you will repeat it well.

NaylorMug.jpgDr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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