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It’s always hard to get moving when you’re out of shape, and what we tell ourselves will make or break us.  Here are mental strategies you can use to go from “I can’t do this” to “I’m active and loving it!”.

Change Your Words

For now, think “move” – not “workout”. The feel of each word is different, isn’t it? Telling yourself to move today seems like less pressure than telling yourself to work out.  Workouts seem so “all-or-nothing”, but just “moving” is something you can build on and doesn’t have the success-failure connotation to it.

Make the Right Comparisons

How do you define “success” in being active? Too often we compare what we’re capable of to some arbitrary goalpost.  We tell ourselves the thing we’re measuring ourselves against has meaning because we see so many other people using it.  Then, we go ahead and judge ourselves negatively for it.

  • I can’t run xxx distance, or speed.
  • I get winded after “only” xxx minutes.
  • I can’t crush the xxx workout in xxx days like the ads say I “should” be able to.
  • I can’t come close to xxx steps per day.
  • I’m not “fit enough” to try the xxx class.

What comparisons are meaningful for you, then? Figure that out and go from there.

  • How far did I go yesterday?
  • How hard do I have to work to get my heart rate to my optimal target zone?
  • How did I feel after moving compared to before I did it?
  • What can my body do today that it couldn’t do before?

Re-evaluate What You Think of Being Active

When you think of people who are active, or of physical activity itself, what comes to mind?

Does it seem unattainable? Do you imagine people who have killer bodies and are obsessed? Active people don’t all look alike, and most have very full lives that include regular movement built in.  They don’t all have expensive gym memberships and aren’t all training for a big race.  There are plenty of ways to integrate moving into what you’re already doing, and you can build yourself up from there.

Do you think it’s just plain unpleasant?  What are you picturing when you think of being active? Grunting while lifting weights, running hard with a grimace on your face?  Here’s something to consider:  How many four-year olds do you know that hate to run around?  We are built to move, and it’s inherently rewarding use our bodies the way they’re designed.playing is exercise

What did you like to do when you were small?  Play tag, climb things, splash around a pool? How can you adapt those things to “grownup” versions so they’re fun?  You can also pair physical activity with something you enjoy.

  • Listen to music, an audiobook or podcast while you walk.
  • Call an old friend on the phone and move the whole time.
  • Plan fun activities while you’re moving.
  • Step or march in in place while watching your favorite tv show.

Moving  your body doesn’t have to be unnatural, and especially not unpleasant!

Knock Down Your Barriers

Often we tell ourselves we want to get moving, but the same barriers continue to rear their ugly heads:

I don’t have enough time – I will bring you back to my first strategy:  Think move, not workout.  You don’t have to set aside a huge chunk of your day to be active.  There are ways you can build it right into what you’re doing already:

  • Walk while you talk on the phone.
  • Use the upstairs bathroom when you’re downstairs, and vice versa.
  • When at work, cut down on email and messaging, and walk to the person you want to talk to.
  • Carry one or two bags of groceries in the house at a time, and make extra trips.
  • Lift your bags of groceries a few times before you put them away.

I’m too tired to exercise – I’ve got a whole post about this one, but here are a few quick and dirty suggestions:

  • Walk a little bit here and there – don’t pressure yourself into a hefty goal.  You may find yourself perking up a little when you get going.
  • Yoga and/or stretching – you don’t have to be able to contort yourself into a pretzel to do it, you can adapt poses for your level of flexibility and strength.  It’s been shown to improve energy as well.
  • March in place – just get off the couch and march in place while you watch tv.  Remind yourself you don’t have to do much, just move.

Recognizing that starting and sticking with an exercise routine is mostly a mind game.  Use these mental strategies to win!


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