I had an interesting moment in my work the other week that got me thinking about how we get ourselves to consistently work out or do a class or go for a run etc.
As a Psychotherapist, I am always advising my depressed, anxious or otherwise less than content clients to exercise. The data is absolutely clear that exercise regulates mood as well or sometimes better than drugs in most moderate cases of negative feeling mood disruption. (as a side note: it is amazing the verbiage I will spew to avoid pathologizing states of anxiety and depression)
When I “prescribe exercise”, I set the bar pretty low. Sweat isn’t necessary. All I want people to do is move a little every day. In these discussions, I always encounter the intense self-judgement that failing to exercise creates. I have noticed that the narrative is pretty similar across a broad range of people and it resonates personally too.
We all know what it’s like to set an intention around regular exercise. We feel we need to commit and most programs (although not all programs, see here) encourage or even demand statements of commitment. They say that commitment is essential to the success of the program. Often that involves an outlay of money. But inevitably, like for everyone. . .EVERYONE, we miss/cancel/skip/don’t show/walk out of one or more sessions in the course of our commitment. I have come to understand that it’s what happens after that “miss” that both determines and reflects so much about ourselves. When we look at it as a failure to commit, we are liable to become a failure in our own minds. We are people who can’t follow through and aren’t good at forming good habits. From there we easily access all available self loathing. I guarantee you, that mind frame is not facilitative to exercise. Even if I tell you exercise will get you out of that place, you no longer care, because you hate yourself. Nice.
Okay, so. . .don’t do that. I have changed my language around exercise commitment and failure, as inspired by my client. Don’t commit. Don’t ever commit again. Just go. If you don’t go today, that’s fine but it isn’t a reason not to go tomorrow. It isn’t a failure or a breach or a great reveal of your inner slovenliness. You just didn’t go and here’s the super cool thing, you can always go again.
When we are aware of the judgement we create and we challenge that judgement, we free ourselves a little. That freedom can be used to access the same good reasons and feelings that we decided moved us to running/swimming/boxing/spin-class to begin with. We didn’t fail, we just didn’t go. . .and now we can go again.