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How to Stick to Your Exercise Plan When You Don't Really Want To

Posted Jan 02 2010 5:04am

"There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."                               Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix.


It's a common problem.

You know you should exercise. You can rattle off a list of medical and health reasons. Lower blood pressure. Weight control. Improved cognition. Maintenance of bone density. Improved hormone levels. Joint health. Improved energy. Prevention of diabetes. And on and on.

But, when it comes to actually doing the exercise day after day, you bail.

Yet, you don't want to bail, you want to exercise - so you say.

What's up with this?

You're living in the Crap Gap. The gap created by what you say you want and what you actually do.

The truth is you put your energy and time into the things you want and most of those bring you some type of pleasure. You move toward pleasure and away from pain unless you develop the mental and emotional muscle to over ride it.

Most exercise is not what you would call fun. Playing games is sometimes fun, like soccer, basketball, or running with friends but as you age, many of the games of our youth become hazardous to our health. I finally quit playing basketball after in the course of about two years, I had over 30 stitches in my head and face, broke my right foot, and sustained a nasty left shoulder injury that concluded with surgery. I couldn't train hard enough and consistently enough to play competitively.  So, I hung up my basketball shoes. I had to find some other means to stay fit, strong, capable. And, regardless of the method, it's generally not a lot of fun to exercise your muscles intensely or your heart and lungs or challenge your balance.

Why Exercise is Not So Much Fun

We make decisions from the heart and use our head to justify the decision. Why else would you buy 55 inch LCD, high-definition television? You don't need it. You could buy a smaller, less advanced TV. You buy it because it makes you feel good. You then convince your self you can afford it, it's a good deal, it's on sale. etc. The heart wins.

When it comes to exercise, most people look for a heart-based experience, like the feeling you might have buying the 55 inch TV, and then discover that in the moment of exercise there is no such feeling (there are some people who find the exertion, the sweat, the burning and trembling of muscles to be fun but most don't). It's a lot of hard work. One of my clients likes to shout, in the midst of a routine, "Me no likey!" several times but he shows up and does the work.

The benefit of the exercise shows up between the sessions. It's what it does to you and for you and you have to recognize those changes in your self and even celebrate them to build the connection between the effort (pain) and the payoff (pleasure).

Steps to Take

To build your mental and emotional muscle to exercise regularly when you really don't want to, try these things:

  1. Make a written commitment to someone else. Accountability is a key factor in behavioral change. We don't want to let other people down.
  2. Make an appointment with your self. You keep appointments with other people so why not your self?
  3. Exercise with friends. This really works. The friendship creates "fun" in the midst of the hard work. And, it is another form of accountability.
  4. Be disciplined. You're probably saying, "Well, yeah that's obvious." But, being disciplined is not forcing your self to do something when you don't want to do it. Discipline is derived from discere which mean "to learn". Being disciplined means carrying out what you have learned. It's taking action with knowledge.
  5. Get a program. It's a lot easier to execute an exercise program if you have a written plan and don't just wing it. It gives your process structure and most of us function better with more structure; not less.
  6. Follow Nike. Just do it. It just comes down to action. Do something. Anything. Just lace up your shoes, and get out the door.
  7. When you don't feel like doing your usual routine, do one thing. I mentioned in my last post that over the summer my training had become sporadic but I did keep exercising if not training. I would do some intervals, or some distance work, ride my kick bike, or even sometimes just walk with my dogs. The hard part was accepting that the little bit I was doing was ok. The important part is to keep moving.
  8. Vary what you do. Doing the same things over and over is boring and boredom is a hop, skip and a jump from quitting.
  9. Give your self a star. You laced up your shoes, went out the door, and did something, some part of an exercise routine. Don't be shy about high-fiving your self. No one else is likely going to do it. Just don't eat a donut or drop by Starbucks for a peppermint mocha.
  10. Rest and Recover. Every four or five weeks, take several days, four or five, off. Just do something else. Read. Walk. Things you enjoy. Then, get back at it.
Maybe some of you have some motivational secrets you would like to share? Maybe I missed a few? How do you keep going when you don't feel like it?

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