fitness · Guest Post

Forget Commitment, Just Go


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.

10 thoughts on “Forget Commitment, Just Go

  1. I actually find it works so well. I was so down today, and I didn’t want to make my dog for a walk, I just wanted to stay in bed and “drown in my sorrows” as they say. But I try and make the commitment to walk her every day, because she needs it, and she needs me to do it, and I haven’t felt sad since I did it. Granted, I had to wait til 4.30 because it was so hot, but it really did change today completely for me. Great advice, great blog!

    1. Dogs are the best. I should write something about dogs, exercise and well being. Thanks for the inspiration! You must be in the southern hemisphere, hot ain’t what we got here :).

      1. I am! Australia, in fact. It’s terribly hot here. And dogs are the best!! It’s good encouragement for bad days. And sympathy and cuddles, too! I desperately wish it was cold.

  2. Thanks so much for this — you are right on and it is a help to consider another mind set!

  3. Just Go. It’s going to me my new mantra. I sometimes feel like, well, if I don’t have the energy to do a full sweat producing heart pounding workout, then, what’s the value. Going to work on changing that.

  4. Yes, not overthink stuff and just do it.
    For people not very motivated, it’s just easiest to find something that is low-cost, practical into integrate into daily lifestyle. I don’t quite like the term of “exercise” (though I use it myself often) vs. physical activity. Body movement needs to be for all of us natural, everyday stuff we do to survive.

    Walking then becomes not exercise, but natural as sitting, standing.
    Then walking is forgotten as exercise, as you roll along noticing stuff or exploring something you never noticed before.

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