You want to work out…but you don’t. When you overhear another BURN-goer preparing for class turn to her friend and say, “I almost didn’t come today…” you nod to yourself. We ALL know what this feels like. We want to show up for all the reasons that we know exercise benefits us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The list is longer than your “To Do” and your grocery list combined. And yet, we don’t want to show up. If you are a morning exerciser, bed is warm and comfortable. Coffee or tea is a few footsteps down the hall. If you are able to take time during your lunch break to work out, a leisurely lunch, time with friends or colleagues, not getting sweaty in the middle of the day, might just lure you away. And evenings…do you head home, tired from all that you have done today, or do you pitstop to workout? Meet friends, go home to your partner, your family, or pitstop to workout? Go home, change clothes, go back out to exercise, or sink into the couch and unwind? I will say this once, LOUD and CLEAR, “There is ALWAYS going to be something else that calls to you!” This may be difficult to fathom, but it also equally true for the person in class who appears to be so in love with working out, you can’t imagine that a tsunami would keep them away. They are paddling their kayak through the floods to class, while you lie in your bed with a pint of ice cream, waiting out the storm.
I know very few people who don’t fantasize about hitting Snooze. We are all human, and this is a part of being us; our brains are wired to want two seemingly contradictory things at once. Yes + No, both wrapped up in the same, completely untidy package. We crave comfort; it is a part of our survival. And yet, the discomfort that we leverage when we raise our heart rate, fatigue our muscles, move our bodies in ways we did not imagine we had the strength and stamina for, is another version of the comfort equation. It requires something more complex from us. We are deciding, choosing, willing and bribing ourselves, to override a primary instinct, because we know mentally, that afterwards we will feel good or better. Sore but strong. Sweaty and spent, yet energized. In an exponentially better mood. A little bit closer to the version of ourself that brought us to our workout in the first place. Brighter. Healthier.
So what has to happen here? How do we do this, over and over again, day after day, and week after week? I am talking about what it takes to sustain motivation and commitment to a choice we make for ourself. A choice you have made for you, to create a sustainable fitness routine that you return to, that you override comfort for, that you plant into your daily and weekly calendar, along side of the other interests that compete for your attention. How can this goal transform into a routine that takes on a life of its own, woven into the fabric of your week, not in a rigid and static way, but as a dynamic, fulfilling, unquestioned part of who you are and the choices you make for yourself?
As a professional Therapist and Integrative Life Coach, who has worked with many clients over the past two decades, and as a woman who has worked hard to sustain an integrated fitness and exercise routine throughout the changing phases of my life, I want to offer up my wisdom of experience in 5 parts.
1. I firmly believe that how we live and move in our bodies is deeply personal. We all have a body story, that is connected to the body stories we have inherited, the ways in which our families did or did not take care of their bodies in healthy ways both physically and mentally, and they ways in which we have carried this into our adult lives. If you notice that you experience obstacles to creating a sustained fitness routine, it is important to take a deep dive into your own story, to understand how it has an impact upon your motivation and your resistance. Understanding your resistance, and having compassion towards it is a necessary step towards breaking old patterns and creating new and resilient ones. If this step is challenging for you to undertake through self-inquiry, journaling, or talking with close friends, then working with a supportive, holistically oriented therapist would offer great benefit to you.
2. Acknowledge your craving for comfort instead of devaluing yourself or that longing. What we know from current research is that it is far easier to extend empathy and compassion to loved ones than it is to ourselves, and conversely, if we are unable to offer this to ourselves, we will be limited in how we are able to be in unconditional support of those whom we love. If extending understanding to yourself is unfamiliar to you, it sounds something like this, “I know. It’s hard to wake up early every morning. I know you want to stay in bed. You do so much, and you are tired.” Note: If this sounds like you are letting yourself off the hook, please suspend this thought until we get through all 5 parts! And, if you struggle with cultivating self-compassion, there are profound meditation practices, and associated Bay Area workshops to support you with this important personal work.
3. Dual thinking. We are back to Yes + No, the part of our brains that is wired to want two seemingly contradictory things at once. I would love to get some rest; I would love to get some exercise. First, speak with the part of yourself that needs some tenderness, understanding, or a plain-old break from the hamster wheel of busy life. Let yourself be here for a moment, in this place of recognition. Just because you fantasize in your own mind about staying in bed doesn’t mean you will act on it, so give yourself permission to imagine resting for a while in that safe, comfortable place. Half of you wants to be there for good reason, and it is ok.
4. Now for your other half, who knows how good s/he will feel after working out, who can remember the sense of accomplishment that is waiting on the other side of the hour, who knows she feels more positive and optimistic after exercise, who knows he is more patient, and less irritable after a workout. Let’s talk about the comfort override. Sometimes it is necessary to recognize that you are depleted, and it may very well be that the self care you need means taking the day off from exercising. BUT…AND…if it is simply your resistance that you are encountering, and you have moved through the first 3 steps, then we are best served by entering the landscape of what Dr. Christine Carter, Senior Fellow at the U.C. Berkeley Greater Good Science Center calls, creating “Micro-habits”. This approach will support you to attain the health and fitness goals you have whole-heartedly set for yourself.
5. Dr. Christine Carter’s research supported list of “9 ways to ease overwhelm” includes the concept that we are best served by “making decisions about routine things once, to free our minds to focus on higher priorities.” What this process looks like is eliminating the back & forth, hemming & hawing, should I or shouldn’t I, by replacing it with a decided upon fact. “Should I work out today? I’m not sure I feel like it. Let me check the weather 5 times on myphone. Maybe I should call my best friend instead. Did I wash my workout clothes?” will be replaced with a factual “micro-habit” which sounds like, “I work out at Burn on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I swim on Thursday, and walk on Saturday.” Done. This becomes a non-debated, consciously chosen, thoughtfully implemented routine, which is entered into your calendar, stands as a commitment that you have made, and that you do not debate with yourself. If you notice that you continue to encounter obstacles, you can take yourself back through the first 4 steps. Alternatively, this might be the time to seek out a workout friend to partner with, book your BURN classes in advance through MINDBODY, or seek out motivational coaching that will support you to better understand yourself, and your specific challenges to creating a sustainable, realistic fitness routine.
Wishing you a thoughtful, fulfilling process of accomplishing your fitness and health goals!