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High intensity interval training or “HIIT” is a training technique for running and other sports that has been incorporated into group fitness classes.
The idea is simple enough: alternating periods of high exertion with shorter periods of rest. One of my favorite versions calls for doing a specific exercise at peak intensity for 20 seconds and then 10 seconds of rest, this pattern to be repeated eight times, and then another round with a different exercise, and so on. There are conceivably dozens of variations that work, but the idea is always the same.
Even though I know it is good for me, sometimes I have to convince myself to go one more round. I remind myself that the greatest improvement comes from what I do after I wish I could stop. In those situations I find that it is mental as much as physical exercise.
How Life’s Tests Train Your Soul
Life itself happens in a similar way, though rarely in bursts just a few seconds long or in that 2:1 ratio. Still, the comparison holds if we consider that times of difficulties are sandwiched by times of rest and recovery. In life, we do best when we accept the inevitability of tests, anticipate satisfaction when finished, and believe in improvement through the process. As the Baha’i teachings say:
Not until man is tried doth the pure gold distinctly separate from the dross. Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 120-121.
While doing my HIIT workout I sometimes think of the children’s story The Little Engine That Could, changing the line “I think I can, I think I can” to “I know I can, I know I can.” Positive self-talk helps build confidence and distracts from discomfort. My mind tells my body to keep going, knowing that the more I do the better I will get. This is a maturing process, helping me to learn to persevere in other situations as well. If I can go breathless for yet another 20 seconds, then I will be stronger in meeting the challenges of my daily life.
Exercise is self-directed, and there are ways to cheat. But who gains if I cheat? No one will. Who loses if I do? I will. Being honest with myself is yet another way this activity influences my character. The phrase “honest sweat” fits here.
Life’s tests present varying levels of intensity. Sometimes the test is relatively simple and short term, such as an annoying companion, an unpleasant event, or an inconvenient task. At other times, though, a test can feel crushing and never-ending. In these situations, we must trust that it will end, that a way will be found—even though presently we feel distraught, discouraged, and overwhelmed.
I enjoy exercising with others, as their presence keeps me motivated. Likewise, some of life’s problems can be shared. We can confide in a friend, consult with others for clarity and inspiration, or turn to loved ones for comfort.
Ultimately though, the actual work is done at an individual level. No one can live my life for me, just as no one can exercise for me. Because of this, the rewards—satisfaction, relief, and growth—are mine to enjoy, too.
Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 51.