Embracing the Dark Side of the Force: How to Turn Exercise Into a Lifelong Habit

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Inspiration & Motivation

Warning: This article is for people in a constant struggle to find the will to exercise. It may not be appealing if you are not one of those people, or if you are the type of person who prefers to focus only on the warm, fuzzy side of life.

The Jedi & You

luke skywalkerThe Jedi Knights of Star Wars had it right—they knew about the force. They also knew about the dark side of the force and used that knowledge to fight evil and do good.

Young Padawan, you too must learn about the dark side if you are to find the motivation to exercise consistently.

Some people never start an exercise program. Others start a program but then end up quitting. Some of us exercise but only do so inconsistently.

A very small minority of people exercise as consistently as they eat or sleep. For those people, exercise is a habit that rarely, if ever gets broken.

What sets those people apart? How do they make exercise a habit? Do they have superhuman will power? Are they born with some kind of special exercise gene? How are they able to so strongly wield the power of the force?

False Paths

Some people say that to stick to an exercise program, you need to have goals. The idea is that having small, achievable goals will provide you with manageable chunks of stuff that are easy to motivate yourself toward doing.

Some people say that if you surround yourself with people who are also exercising, you’ll find the motivation you need.

And some people say you must pick activities you like to do to make the exercise habit stick.

I say none of these things are the key to understanding the force. I say they are merely “helpers”—they help, but none of them (even combined) guarantee success. I think this because I know people who’ve used these “helpers” and still failed to make exercise a habit. I bet you know people like that too. Maybe you are one of those people.

So if those things are not the way to the force, what is?

The True Nature of the Force

The key to making exercise a habit is having the right motivation. Unfortunately, this is where things get blurry for many of us. How often have we heard the phrase, “I just can’t seem to find the motivation to exercise”?

The Dark Side Reveals Itself

Question: What happens to most people when they are diagnosed with a terminal disease?

Answer: They are instantly motivated to act. They quickly educate themselves and begin the fight to win the battle before them. They are a Jedi in action. Why? Because, the person feels they are in serious danger, they know the problem requires immediate attention and that failure to act will result in dire consequences.

Question: What is the connection between someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, and someone who struggles with the motivation to exercise?

Answer: Both people are in serious danger. The first person may die soon and the second will eventually die but only after suffering from one or more of the following:

  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • lethargy (lack of energy)
  • debilitating pain (e.g. lower back pain)
  • depression

And all of these will worsen over time leading to a poorer quality of life and, perhaps, a premature death due to complications brought on by the above.

To assume that people who lack motivation to exercise are unaware of this stuff is rather patronizing, isn’t it? I mean, with all the information coming at us from television, the Web, at work and from our doctors, we know we should exercise because it keeps us from becoming unhealthy and … worse. You are nodding your head. I can see you. You know all this, don’t you?

Question: What is the difference between a person with a terminal disease and someone with no motivation to exercise? Why don’t we act on the very real likelihood we too would get sick and possibly die from not actively engaging the problem? Why don’t we act on the problem every day?

Answer: By and large, we humans are not very good at looking into our crystal balls and acting on things that may occur in some distant future. People who cram at the last minute for exams have this problem. People who never save a penny for their retirement have this problem and people who can’t motivate themselves to exercise have this problem. The disconnect is in not seeing how a problem that begins today will worsen every day after that and eventually lead too very, very bad stuff years later.

Give us a year to live and we’re on the problem. Tell us we have five years and we might get to it next week. Tell us what we do today makes a big difference twenty years down the road and you find eyes glazing over with indifference—some of us will start putting a plan together. A plan? You don’t need a plan! A plan is like trying to do something—it’s not doing something!

yoda.gifBe mindful of Jedi Master Yoda’s words of wisdom: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

How to Turn the Dark Side to Your Advantage

The secret—the “force” that will get you exercising is to embrace your fear of the dark side—the knowledge that by not acting today, you put your future in dire straights.

From the dawn of time we’ve been afraid. Afraid of starving, afraid of the elements, and afraid of being eaten up by stronger, faster predators. Fear is not a bad thing if it’s harnessed properly. Fear helped us survive in the past, and it can help you survive in the future. Fear is the strongest force a person struggling with motivation will ever find.

Fear is your ally.

The Way of the Jedi: How to Embrace the Dark Side & Come Out the Other Side With a Positive Future

  1. Every day, remind yourself of your fear for a future with sickness and unhappiness.
  2. Recognize that, through regular exercise, you have the power to miraculously change that future to one of health, happiness and longevity.
  3. Make a contract with yourself that the only way you can create that miraculous future is to work on it today.
    obiwan.jpgDo that each and every day and the positive ending to this dark beginning is that, one day, your fear will be gone—replaced by a positive habit that refuses to be broken.

    And you will have become a Jedi Master.

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. Do You Struggle to Make Exercise a Lifelong Habit? | GNMParents on November 18th at 7:50 pm

    […] Mark at the Complete Running Network puts it in perspective with this entertaining and true Star Wars analogy. […]

  2. Anon on November 15th at 10:20 pm

    Jedi? You mean SITH!

    All in all I believe fear is a poor motivator. Once you get over the fear the motivation goes away as well. What if you’re not afraid of disease and death? What if you’re not afraid of what other people think of you? Welp no motivation there.

    I here replacing your fears with love – love of yourself or others is better motivation to exercise. A love motivator is a much stronger motivator to exercise than a fear based one. If you had a true purpose and mission you’d want to exercise out of love to be able to carry out your mission physically to the best of your ability.

  3. Mark Iocchelli on May 23rd at 6:59 am


    I think you missed the point of this post. I began by saying that positive motivation (e.g. loving yourself) doesn’t work for everyone all the time. There is nothing wrong with using fear as a motivator if it *works* for a person.

    Of course, what you suggest for a focus is ideal – but it’s quite apparent that it’s not always possible for many people who struggle.

    Thanks for your comment. 🙂