We all have obstacles to exercising, whether it is a lack of motivation, a busy schedule, or adopting a harmful “all or nothing” mentality. Working out looks different for everyone and we all have different ways of honoring our commitment to our health and fitness. These habits can interfere with your workouts, but there are ways to overcome them.
Waiting to Feel Like Exercising
Even the most devoted exercisers don’t always feel like getting out of bed at 5:30 for a workout. It isn’t the desire to exercise that gets them out of bed, but a combination of habit, discipline, and persistence.
Too often, we wait for the motivation to exercise, but often, the workout itself comes before the motivation to do it. Committing to something more often may come before you feel the motivation, and that’s okay.
What to do Instead
Create your own motivation.
• Give yourself a reward for finishing your workout: a new book to read or a night out.
• Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it on your alarm clock or your steering wheel. That reminder may be enough to get you started, which is always the hardest part.
• Don’t skip your workout. Before you give up, ask yourself some questions. Will you regret your decision? How will you make up that missed workout? Don’t let yourself off the hook until you’ve made a reasoned, rational decision.
• Make sure you’re doing the right workouts for you. Assess your workout routine and make sure you like what you’re doing (or at least sort of like it). There’s no way you’ll do your workout if you hate it.
When we fail at exercise, we usually respond from the most
emotional part of our brains, the part that says we have to fix
this and we have to fix it fast. And how do we fix it? Sometimes
we cram all the workouts we missed into a week of punishment and
This sets us up for even more failure. If you try to sustain an
impossible level of exercise, you become vulnerable
to burnout, injury, and, of course, more failure.
What to do instead
Think marathon, not sprint.
• Ease into it. Maybe it makes you feel better to maximize
your exercise, but that will only last until the next
morning when you can’t get out of bed. You’ll make real,
lasting progress if you take your time and gradually build
• Keep it simple. Don’t let guilt drive your
workouts. Instead, set up a program that matches your
current fitness level, not how fit you used to be. If
you’ve only been off a week or two, you can probably go
back to a pared-down version of your previous workouts. If
it’s been weeks, months, or years, start with a basic
walking program a few times a week and an easy total body
• Hire a trainer. If you have a history of starting and
stopping exercise, this may be a good time to call in the
experts. You may simply need some tweaking to your program
or some new ideas for how to exercise and stick with it.
Setting Unrealistic Goals
Yes, it seems like working out diligently and limiting your calories for a week or two should lead to noticeable weight loss. The reality is usually less than thrilling. Sometimes, nothing much happens (at least externally) except sore muscles and frustration. Sometimes it’s even worse…you may actually gain weight. This is usually temporary, but it’s still no fun to experience.
What to Do Instead
Particularly if you hope to lose weight, it’s important to be realistic. • Set measurable goals. You can’t always predict how much weight you’ll lose each week. Forget about weight loss and look at outcomes you can measure and control: Completing a certain number of workouts a week, for example, or working out at a certain intensity.
• Know that exercise isn’t a magic bullet. There’s no shortcut to weight loss. It takes more exercise and more time to lose weight. In fact, it could take up to a year to see real, permanent changes, simply because it often takes that long to learn how to overcome the obstacles in your life.
• Accept that you can’t control every aspect of weight loss. You can control eating, exercise, stress management, and sleep patterns, but not age, gender, and genes, just to name a few.
Keep an exercise calendar and check off your workouts, then celebrate each week you’re successful.
We can all come up with tons of reasons to skip exercise and they all seem important. We’re too busy, we’re tired, or we really need to clean out the car. Oddly enough, people who exercise have the same issues and obligations, yet they somehow manage to exercise every day.
What To Do Instead
Turn yourself into a person who exercises, instead of one who avoids exercise. • Look for opportunities to exercise, rather than reasons not to. If you don’t have much time, try lunchtime workouts, shorter, more intense workouts or splitting your routine.
• Change your negative thinking about exercise. If your workout is just another obligation, how excited are you to do it? But what if your workout is a chance for some quiet time to yourself? Or a time to watch your favorite TV show while on the treadmill or lifting weights? Paint your workout time in a more positive light and you’ll be more willing to do it.
• Be honest with yourself. When you’re lying in bed, negotiating with yourself about whether to do your workout, ask yourself this: Are you really going to work out extra hard after work or tomorrow to make it up? Part of creating an exercise habit is committing to it no matter how warm that bed feels.
Thinking It Will Be Easy
Buying a machine or a gym membership or even hiring a trainer isn’t magically going to make exercise easier, no matter what those infomercials say. If you want to change your weight, body composition, or health, you will need to work hard.
What to Do Instead
Don’t let the challenge turn you off.
• If you want to lose weight, be realistic about how much exercise you need. Most people work out at least an hour a day, most days of the week, to lose and/or maintain weight loss. Most of us need time to work up to that amount of exercise, which means weight loss is simply going to be slower as you take that time.
• Also be realistic about your fitness level. How much exercise you can actually do depends on your schedule and also on your fitness level. Even if you have the time, your body may only be able to handle 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Think about what you can mentally and physically handle and start there. You can add more over time.
• Understand that it will be uncomfortable. Frequent exercisers make it look easy, but it’s not. If you want to change your body, you have to get out of your comfort zone. That will be uncomfortable, but understanding the difference between good pain and bad pain will help you figure out what’s normal and what’s not.
Waiting for the Perfect Time to Exercise
We often think we will wait to exercise until the kids go back to school or get out of school. Or we wait until after vacation or after we change jobs or after a wedding. If you think that way, the perfect time will never come.
What to Do Instead
• Stop procrastinating. Just like getting married or having kids or cleaning out the basement, there’s never a perfect time. So, start now. Put on a pair of shoes and take a walk. There: You exercised.
• Work with your life the way it is now. We’re always waiting for things to calm down, but when does that actually happen? Don’t try changing your schedule to fit a workout. Instead, try fitting a workout into your schedule, even if it’s just 10 minutes at a time.
• Focus on a healthy lifestyle. The phrase “healthy lifestyle” is overused, yet it’s the perfect phrase to describe the behaviors you need to focus on to really lose weight: Exercise, but also a nutritious, balanced diet; sufficient sleep; and stress management.
Being Afraid to Fail
If there’s one thing that’s certain in life, it’s that we will fail at something and, inevitably, we’ll fail at exercise. You simply can’t expect to be able to exercise all the time. There will be occasions when you’re sick, injured, exhausted, on vacation or going through something else that forces you to abandon your exercise program.
What to Do Instead
The trick isn’t to try to be perfect, but to allow for those times in your life when you just can’t work out.
• Forgive yourself. Most of us try to guilt ourselves into exercise after quitting, but you may find you make more progress if you actually forgive yourself.
• Lighten up. Remind yourself that this is just exercise. It’s not brain surgery, rocket science, or anything that will cause anyone to die if you don’t get it perfect all the time.
• Get back on track and move on. It’s hard to face our bodies after a long break from exercise and, for that reason, some of us prefer the head-in-sand approach. Eventually, you’ll need to get back to it. The best way to do that is to just move on. Forget what you did wrong and focus on what you can do right, right now.
Thinking you’ll just squeeze in a workout whenever you have time almost never works. If you end up having extra time, which never happens, are you really going to work out? Probably not.
What to Do instead
So how do you avoid this pitfall?
• Plan your workouts ahead of time. Sit down with your calendar and schedule your exercise time. Then plan what you’ll do during that time. If you only have 30 minutes, for example, circuit training might be the most effective workout for you.
• Prepare for your workout time. It starts the night before as you organize everything you need for your workout: clothes, snacks, water, iPod, etc.
• Make it easier to exercise. Put your clothes next to your bed, choose activities that are accessible and don’t require too much preparation or equipment, join a gym that’s on your way home or to work. Remove as many obstacles as possible to get yourself moving.
• Be flexible. Many people have rules about workouts: They have to be at this time and last this long and include this activity. If even one of those elements isn’t present, they might say “Guess I can’t work out!” If your workout doesn’t fit, change it until it does.
Going It Alone
Many people struggle with exercise and weight loss, but it’s a shame how many of them struggle alone. It can take tremendous courage to admit you’re struggling, but doing so to the right person can be a huge relief.
What to Do Instead
Finding support may be just what you need to keep going.
• Ask for help. It’s hard to lose weight and it gets harder when you have friends or family working against you. How can you eat carrot sticks when your partner just brought home an extra large pizza? Talk to your family about how they can help you, such as by eating healthy dinners with you and saving the pizza for when you’re not around.
• Find a support system. We can often find the best support from our friends, coworkers. or online. That support system can give you motivation when you’re flagging, accountability when you’re slipping, and understanding when you’re struggling.
• Talk to a pro. Many people are afraid to hire a trainer or dietitian for help. Maybe it’s the cost or maybe you’re embarrassed to talk about how far you have to go to a stranger. Luckily, professionals are just that—professionals who are in business specifically to help people with these issues.
Trying to Be Perfect
We love to use guilt and shame to motivate ourselves to exercise, but it often backfires. When you’re not perfect, you feel bad about yourself, and you may turn to food to feel better.
What to Do Instead
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional pity party, but if you’re always comforting yourself with emotional eating, it’s time for a new approach.
• Get some perspective. Imagine telling your story of failure to a trusted friend. Would they say, “You know, you really suck. You should probably just give up”? Probably not. Imagine what you would say to a friend in your shoes, and then say that to yourself. • Take the pressure off. When you make a blunder, your first instinct may be to panic. Ignore that instinct and remind your inner critic that you’re allowed to make mistakes. Give yourself all the chances you need to succeed, no matter how many it takes.