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I hated being bored. Here’s why.

  • September 24, 2021

When I trained at Gym Jones (a world-renowned private training facility in Salt Lake City), we did this workout they called the SMMF—the Single Movement Mind F***. The one I remember the best consisted of one thousand ball slams. Literally, that’s it. Take a weighted med ball from overhead, slam it to the ground, pick it up, and repeat. For one thousand reps.

Ten years ago, I hated these workouts. I found them boring, repetitive, and struggled to get through them, complaining the whole time. I would do anything—even sprints on the Airdyne—before I took on a SMMF. Yet today, I voluntarily program them into my own training. Not because they’re “good for me” or out of some masochistic tendency, but because now, I see them for what they are.

In preparation for the Chad 100x workout I’m doing with GORUCK to support veteran’s mental health, I’ve been doing one hour of weighted step-ups once a week. Wearing a 20-lb. pack on my back, I step up to a 20” box, then step back down. Repeat 25 on one leg, then switch legs for another 25. After 100, I’ll make a mark on my whiteboard, catch my breath—then get right back on the box for another set.

Up, down. Up, down. The same box, the same movement, for one hour.

Last week, I did 611 step-ups in an hour and posted it to my Story. And dozens of you said, “That workout is my worst nightmare.” Not because you don’t like step-ups or the box would be too high—because the idea of doing any single thing for an hour straight is just a giant NO THANK YOU. I wonder if the reason you hate this is why I used to hate this?

There’s nowhere to go

This workout is repetitive as hell. There’s nothing to remember about what comes next, how much weight to use, or which exercise you’ll do after this set. There’s no “mixing it up,” switching equipment, or running from one station to another. There’s no variety at all. Which means there is nowhere for your mind to go except inward.

Sure, you’re counting. But that’s pretty repetitive too, and as soon as you figure out a reasonable pattern to count and keep track, that becomes automatic. And now you’re back to just you, this box, and a seemingly unending stretch of minutes.

Sixty minutes is a long time. One thousand reps is a lot of reps. And they go like they always do, one at a time. You have no distraction. No escape. No way out but to grind through the workout, counting by ones. There’s no opportunity to game it, no way to get creative.

My therapist once asked me, “How often do you experience boredom?” I quickly leaned back, like I had smelled something awful. “Never, oh my god, no.” He laughed and asked, “Why do you have such a visceral reaction to the idea of being bored?” I had no answer, other than that boredom was the scariest idea in the world, and to feel bored was intolerable to me.

That is exactly why I hated these workouts, back when I was stuck in an unhappy marriage, in a new city with no friends, trying to get a fledgling business off the ground while conscientiously avoiding my trauma. I said, “but it’s boring,” and yeah, maybe it was. But was it just boring, or did I not want to be alone with my own thoughts? Was it boring, or had I been avoiding dealing with things by swiping, clicking, turning, and moving? Was it boring, or was the inside of my own head a terrifying and threatening place to be?

I didn’t want to turn inward. I didn’t want to see what I’d been stuffing down. I couldn’t create any space at all for that to come forward, because I wasn’t prepared to look at any of it. So these workouts, with nothing but a blank whiteboard and a ticking clock, were hell.

The zen art of movement

That was ten years ago. Today, I’ve done a ton of therapy and my own work. Today, I’ve learned to listen to my body and process things physically and emotionally. Today, the inside of my head feels like a safe space. Today, I love these workouts, and consider them a vital part of my mental health.

Yes, for the first five minutes or so, they still feel hard. I’m getting my body used to the movement, figuring out technique and pacing, deciding how I’m going to count. But after that, it’s all automatic, and it’s just me and my brain. Lately, what I’ve observed here is the same pattern I observed when I first started my friend Todd’s “mindright” post-workout meditation practice more than four years ago: Physically processing how I’m feeling first allows me to emotionally process more easily and effectively.

With every rep, I am physically processing my feelings, thoughts, self-limiting beliefs, negative energy, and past experiences, even trauma. That stuff stays in the body, and is moved when you move. With every step, it comes up, and with every exhale, with intention, it comes out.

The movement itself opens the door to into my head and my feelings—my fears, anger, resentment, frustration, inadequacy, and shame. There is nothing else to distract me, tempt me, or draw me away. I have nothing to think about except the things I haven’t wanted to think about, and have been able to thus far keep away with email-TikTok-Netflix-phone-call-laundry-dishes-meal-prep-reading. I don’t have any of that here, and so I think, and whatever comes up, comes up

It’s CATHARTIC. I have realizations. I have ideas. I make connections. I find peace. I get angry. I get sad. Sometimes I have no idea what I’ve spent the last hour even thinking about, but when I get done, I start crying. Nothing about this is a physical challenge. It’s 100% mental—a SMMF.

There’s science that says we all benefit when we’re bored. It prompts creativity, problem-solving, and improves mental health. Boredom is good, desirable, even. But I avoided it at all costs, for a very long time, because the inside of my head did not feel safe. Through therapy and movement, I’ve been able to create that space for myself, and now use these workouts as a way to go deeper into my self-care, explore some much-needed shadow work, and come out feeling lighter, cleaner, and more at peace.

Sometimes, the workout isn’t really the workout at all.

XO Melissa

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