I hate exercising. I mean I really, really hate it. I hate sweating, and I hate sore muscles, and I hate feeling out of breath. I also have bonus on-going injuries from a car crash, which means I approach exercise with caution, because one wrong move and I can be dragged back into the super-fun world of chronic pain.
BUT I know that exercise is good for me. So what to do?
Here are some things I have discovered that, in the space of six months, have turned me from a non-exerciser into a person who walks 30-40 minutes per day, and goes to the gym a minimum of twice per week.
1. Have a goal, or don’t have a goal
I am not a goal person. As soon as I set a goal, I feel a rebellious urge to deliberately not do what would be necessary to achieve the goal. If you’re like me, I find it helpful to keep it light and vague. Instead of focusing on a goal, I just tell myself, “I’m going to do this stupid exercise fandango because I’m an able-bodied human, and I should make the most of that.” I remind myself that it’s not for weight management, or because I want to “achieve” anything, it’s just because it’s a healthy thing to do, like eating vegetables.
2. Incidental exercise
Yep, I’m sure everyone has already told you, “just get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way!” “Do walking meetings instead of sit down meetings at work!” The exercise hater’s response is pretty much, “Yeah, cool story bro.” But those ideas can really work if you find a way for it to work for you. My annoyance with this strategy is that, if you’re walking the rest of the way to work in the middle of summer, it’s likely you’ll turn up looking sweaty and bedraggled, which isn’t a great motivator for someone who is starting exercise from scratch. To get this to work for me, I started getting off the bus a few stops earlier only on the way home, not the way to work. Turning up at home when you’re sweaty and bedraggled is nowhere near as big a deal because (presumably) you’re pretty close to a shower. Even if this isn’t as much exercise as doing it to and from work, it’s still better than the big old pile of nothing I used to do.
3. Find a way to tolerate the gym (unless you’re an outdoorsy type!)
This was crucial for me. I was raised to believe that gyms were full of scary dudes, pumped full of steroids, grunting a lot and using really crap slogans like “No pain, no gain!” But the great thing about the gym is it’s exactly the same no matter what the weather is outside. I am a great finder of loopholes (“Ooooh slightly chilly outside. Stay in bed.” Or “Oh no — cloud in the sky. Will probably rain. Stay in bed.”) But the gym can close those loopholes pretty easily.
Tolerating the gym for me came down to a few things…
First, I needed to figure out if I was self-motivated or if I needed classes. I need classes. I can turn up and do as I’m told for a bit, and then turn round and go home. But, if I’m left to my own devices, I might turn up and spend less than five minutes on a treadmill, and tell myself that’s enough exercise for that day. If you hate classes, you might be someone who can get an exercise plan online or from a trainer and follow that.
Second, I found instructors that either pissed me off but who I could tolerate, or who I genuinely liked. If you’re like me and cannot stand the instructors who shout abuse at you, then don’t go to those classes. The only exception to this is that I used to go to a class just because I hated the instructor because I used the hate to motive me and spend the whole time thinking things like, “Fuck you, Instructor! Fuck you and your motivational bullshit! I’m going to lift these weights in fury!” I find that liking the instructor and their style makes me more likely to show up and do as I’m told. I especially favour instructors who treat the class like they’re all exercise haters rather than exercise lovers, because I find they tend to be more encouraging and less “Feel the pain! The pain is your friend!”
Third, find your threshold. I find that I want to tap out of any class that goes for more than 45 minutes. I tried going to hour-long classes but found I hated it so much that I didn’t feel inclined to turn up again. I think it’s better to turn up to a 45 minute class than not turn up at all to an hour class. Even if your threshold is 20 minutes, at least you went. Which leads me to…
4. Make sure you aren’t too hard on yourself
I used to have this mentality that if I didn’t exercise for “long enough” (I really don’t even know what that means) then I might as well not have bothered. I’ve since realised that this is a really flawed way of thinking. I think that it’s much better to tell yourself “I am going to do something. No matter what it is, at least it will be something.” I find that if I tell myself that, or tell myself “I’ll just go for one half hour class” then I’m more inclined to stay for a second class while I’m there, or to go for a walk afterwards.
I think the biggest take home message is that it’s important not to do what other people say is the “right” way to incorporate exercise into your life. Find what works for you, whatever that may be, and I think you’ll be more likely to succeed.
These are just things that worked for me. You may be completely different! How did you motivate yourself to exercise?