Exercising shouldn’t be something we do out of obligation. Yes, there will always be those mornings when you’d rather hit the snooze button than get up and go to the gym. But exercising should be something we do because we love and respect ourselves, and we have the desire to care for our bodies. It doesn’t need to be something we do just to avoid the feelings of guilt or failure that too many of us feel when we skip a workout. It’s all about cultivating the right attitude. So how do you do that? Here are a few tips.
Ditch the guilt
Yes, it’s a good idea to establish an exercise routine, and to stick to it as closely as possible. Consistency with exercise is beneficial. But if you miss a workout, don’t guilt trip yourself about it. Life happens, and sometimes we’re just not able to squeeze in a workout. Or sometimes we’re exhausted and we need to take it easy and recover. That’s okay. Missing a workout doesn’t mean you’re unmotivated, or that you’ve failed. It’s just part of life, so cut yourself some slack!
Find exercise you love
If you’re forcing yourself to maintain an exercise routine that you don’t enjoy, it’s going to feel like work. Not everyone loves going to the gym, and that’s perfectly fine. Whether it’s jogging, walking, hiking or yoga, find something that’s genuinely enjoyable to you. That way, you’ll sincerely want to make time for it in your day.
Listen to your body
If you’re feeling sluggish, or your body is feeling tired, go easy on yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having an easier workout now and then. In fact, it’s an important part of your routine, and will help you avoid burning out and injuring yourself. Or even take a day off if you really feel like you need it. There’s often the attitude that it’s somehow admirable to push through the pain, but that’s not always the case. Listen to the wisdom of your body, and it will tell you when you can push and when you should ease up.
Surround yourself with positive people
If your friends or coworkers are always talking in a negative way about their weight loss efforts, for example, or how hard it is for them to work out, or what they dislike about their bodies, try to steer the conversation in another direction. Negativity spreads quickly. If you find it helpful, seek out a workout buddy who will encourage you and inspire you to keep going. Or if you prefer to exercise alone, find someone in your life who supports your efforts to lead a healthier lifestyle, and who will be your cheerleader when you need it.
It’s easy to compare ourselves with others — and with the dominance of social media, it’s simpler than ever. Don’t feel bad about yourself because your mile time isn’t as fast as someone else’s in your running group, or because you can’t hold a yoga pose as long as others in your class. You’re exactly where you need to be on your journey to health. Maybe you’ll reach the same level of achievement as those you’re comparing yourself to — or maybe not. That’s not really the point. What matters is that you’re doing something good for yourself and your body. You don’t have to compete with anyone.
Remember what it’s really about
Far too often, both women and men turn to exercise to achieve what they see as the “perfect” body type. In fact, we’re often told that the sole purpose of exercise is to lose weight and build muscle. But that’s not the case, and not all of us match the body types we see over and over in the media. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. We should love ourselves at any size. Exercising isn’t about looking “perfect” — and what’s supposedly perfect is completely subjective anyway. Plus, even if you achieve the body you want through intense exercise, it won’t actually make you happier in a deeper way if you haven’t addressed the underlying emotional issues — the reason why you feel you must have that perfect body in the first place. So exercise to be healthy, exercise because you enjoy it, but don’t exercise to force your body to fit a particular shape.
For many of us, our first inclination is to minimize our own accomplishments, especially when we feel we have farther to go, or when we compare ourselves. But don’t do this! Take a moment and acknowledge everything you’ve done. You don’t have to set a new personal record to congratulate yourself. Just remind yourself that working out at whatever level is best for you is an accomplishment that you should be proud of. And if you need a break and take a day off, you should be proud of that too, because it means you’re listening to your body.
Mix it up
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do the same workout over and over. Too many of us force ourselves to stick to a routine that may be so regimented that we get bored. If you’re feeling a little burned out, try a new jogging route, take a new class at the gym, whatever you’re inspired and motivated to do.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. You can make it fun for yourself. Put together a playlist of your favorite songs. If you’re a techie, treat yourself to a fitbit or to a new, free or cheap exercise app. There are all kinds of things you can do to spice up your workout. The important thing is to allow exercise to be something that you genuinely enjoy, and to allow yourself the chance to play.
Sarah Cooke, is a Certified Body Image and Eating Psychology Coach and writer who is passionate about organic food and helping others heal at the deepest level.