fitness · motivation

Tricking Myself Into Getting Started

I know that a lot of our bloggers and our readers are into exercise for its own sake. They don’t have to ‘convince’ themselves to start and they look forward to their workouts. 

For me, exercise can be a bit like this famous writing quote attributed to Dorothy Parker

A purple background with an image of writer Dorothy Parker, in the foreground is text that reads 'I hate writing. I love having written. '~ Dorothy Parker

It’s not completely accurate because I enjoy exercise once I have started – I just have trouble making myself start.

So, I do everything I can to reduce the challenges of getting started and make the whole process as easy as possible so there are fewer parts that I dread. (To be clear, I do challenge myself with my workouts, I’m not taking it easy in that sense, I just try to find ways to keep my brain from arguing with me about exercising.)

So, I have a few handy tricks that I use to reduce my mental static around exercise. These aren’t particularly innovative or new but they are handy so I thought I would share three of them in case they are useful for someone else, too.

Counting Down

When I have reps ahead of me, I prefer counting down to counting up. Whether I am counting bicep curls or jumping jacks or trips up the stairs, I start with the number I am aiming for and count downwards. 

This might be an ADHD thing. Any challenging task, even an enjoyable one, is hard to start because it feels like it might go on forever. If I count upwards, it could continue for ages. If I count downward, it has to end at zero. 

I mean, yeah, I could go into negative numbers but the risk of me doing that is minimal at best. 

Savasana

When I do yoga, I always tell myself that I can just do a single pose – corpse pose. I rarely ever stick with that but I have promised myself that I can always stop after 13* breaths in that pose.  

Knowing that something so relatively easy still ‘counts’ is freeing and it makes my yoga more of a choice than an obligation.

An  upside down photo of the author’s head and shoulders.  She is lying on a greenish-blue yoga mat  and she is smirking in a friendly  way.
Upside down smirking still counts!

Music/Audiobooks/Podcasts 

This isn’t particularly quirky but it was a big deal for me when I figured it out. 

I have a few workout playlists but I sometimes find that they don’t match my mood or the activity I want to do that day and that makes me feel kind of blah about getting started. So I have given myself ‘permission’ to listen to a podcast or an audiobook while I exercise instead. 

Not only does that mean that I am less likely to get bored (the overarching fear of the ADHD brain) but knowing that I get another episode or chapter gives me additional motivation to exercise.

How about you?

Do you have these kinds of quirks or tricks to help you get moving?

Do you have a workout playlist or a podcast that you can recommend?

*I do all kinds of things in increments of 13 (13 reps, 13 breaths, 13 minutes of writing/tidying/reading) For starters, despite its reputation, 13 has always been a lucky number for me. Also, 10 minutes often feels too short to be ‘worth it’ but 15 minutes can seem like a long time so 13 is a solid compromise.

fitness

Take It Outside

My 15 year old son has been taking a ‘Healthy Living’ course this past semester and I’ve been keeping him company as he worked on projects ranging from cyberbullying to dangerous drugs*. 

When we received notice that this week’s project would be his final one for the course, we were happy to discover that his teacher was keeping the increasingly nice weather in mind.

J’s project for this week is to take photos of himself doing outdoor activities and I have decided maximize my fun by joining in.

I won’t be sending my photos to his teacher, obviously, so I will be posting here instead.

The author,  a white middle-aged woman is standing on the grass in front of a wooden structure. She is wearing a flowered dress and her arms are outstretched.
For your amusement: This is an author activity that won’t be included this week. In this 2017 photo, I am at an outdoor Storytelling event. It looks like I might be exercising but that’s just my full-body story style. It’s actually more mental effort than physical effort.

Keep an eye out for my post of seven outdoor photos at the end of next week.

Maybe you would like to join me for this final project for the school year?

*There is also a physical activity component of the course but he didn’t really need my company on the elliptical machine or while doing his steps in the living room.

fitness

An afternoon stroll is good for the brain…and for the dog

After reading Chapter 6 of Joy of Movement and learning why exercising outside is helpful, I decided to make an extra effort to get outside for my exercise this week.

Of course, the best way to encourage myself to do that was to take Khalee for a walk at around the same time everyday. 

A light-coloured medium-sized dog stands on pavement that is partially covered in snow.
Even Khalee is a bit tired of the snow.

Choosing the same time (around 5pm) was useful because it took away some of my ADHD-related challenges around starting to exercise, having the routine made Khalee come to me looking for her walk, and because I made it a fixed point in my schedule, my brain started to include it as part of the landscape of my day. In only 6 days, I already started to plan supper around my walk at that time  – either starting things cooking before I left or planning a meal that could be prepared quickly when I returned. 

And, to make it easier for me to stay out for at least 30 minutes, I chose a route before I left. If I leave for a walk without making a plan, my brain won’t go into the expansive mode that McGonigal mentions in her book. Instead, I spend my whole walking considering if I have walked far enough and if I should take the next turn.

This week’s weather has been all over the place – flurries, rain, freezing cold, bright sunshine, and today, temperatures warm enough that I could almost leave my sweatshirt at home. (I live in Newfoundland, I know better than to go off in May without a sweatshirt but it *was* pretty warm for most of my walk.) For several of those days, my commitment to my plan (and to my dog) was the only thing that got me out the door – cold, windy days don’t make for fun walking – but once I was out, I was fine.

A light-haired dog stands on a curb, the shadows of two people are on the pavement next to her.
Bonus: On Friday, Khalee and I had my son’s company on our walk.

And, I feel calmer over all. I like having a specific time for a walk, I like having this as part of my daily routine, and I like how my brain feels when I’m out strolling along. 

Eventually, I will probably make my walks a little longer or I will choose more challenging routes but for right now, I am enjoying this consistent effort and I am going to stick with it for a while.

Khalee votes yes.

A light-haired dog with her tongue sticking out walks along some pavement.
You can’t see her tail here but trust me, she was excited to be out in the sunshine..

The snout and front paw of a light-haired dog who is sniffing at some winter-dried grass.
So many things to sniff!

PS – For the record, I am not the only person who can/does take Khalee for a walk. Please don’t assume that she wasn’t getting out before now, I have been just been more consistent with the timing this week.

fitness

Best Laid Plans and All That

Spoiler: Although I have spent a fair bit of March feeling under the weather, there was no point at which I had more than a passing concern that it was anything more than a cold. Please don’t worry!

I had envisioned March as a pleasantly busy month.

I was going to undertake my dance/cardio challenge. I was going to get out for lots of walks.

I was going to check in regularly with goofy posts about energetic flailing to music.

There was going to be photos.

March was going to come in like a frolicking lamb and I was going to frolic right along with it.

Yeah…soooooo, that didn’t work out.

The first few days of March were marvellous – I went for walks and danced it up a little.

Then, around the 3rd, I was suddenly as sick as the proverbial dog. Some sort of strange cold that left me feeling like my head weighed 3000lbs. (Approximately 3000, I didn’t weigh it.)

A light haired dog  sits upright on a dark brown laminate floor.
Khalee is neither proverbial nor sick, luckily. She’s just hoping there will be snacks.

I didn’t even try to exercise, I know when I should exercise through illness and this was not one of those times.

My head gradually returned to its normal weight after 4-5 days, just in time for me to start sneezing.

(It’s a blessing really. If I had been sneezing while my head was so heavy, it might have just gone flying right off and I really don’t have the right energy to live as a disembodied head.)

Those sneezes and a sore throat were the first symptoms of a whole different cold.

The worst of that cold only lasted a few days but it left me with one of those post-cold coughs that acts up at night and keeps you from sleeping well.

And that brings me up to the point in the month when social distancing, Covid-19 reports, and the like became the focus of all of our lives.

Did I do what I intended to do this month?

Most certainly not.

Am I being hard on myself about it?

Most certainly not.

This has been an unprecedentedly bizarre month. My plans were knocked sideways through no fault of my own and then they were kept firmly in that sideways position.

This isn’t about me not following through. It isn’t about me not setting the right structure or not making the right space in my life for a new habit.

This March has been about me playing the hand I was dealt.

So, I have taken the dog for walks when the weather and my health cooperated.

A light haired dog walks down a sidewalkawayffom fbe viewer.  A green leash extends back toward the camera.
I only had a few extra minutes on Monday past but I made sure to take Khalee out in the sunshine. This was just before she started racing into the bitter cold wind.

I have done at least a little yoga every day and a little bit of TKD every week.

And I have taken extra steps in my day and worked a little harder when I had the capacity to do so.

It hasn’t been perfect but it has been good enough.

I’m not making myself any grand exercise promises for April. I’m just going to keep doing bits and pieces here and there and let it add up.

I know that exercise is an important factor for my mental health while I am spending so much time at home. But I don’t think a specific plan is the right thing for me right now.

I’m just going to do what I can and aim for things that help me feel good.

I hope you are doing the same.

Let’s just be kind to ourselves and to each other.

fitness

Marching Forth…Okay, Maybe Dancing Forth

You know I love a short challenge so I’m back with a new one!

In March, I am going to stick with the yoga and I will be working my way up to 30 minutes of daily cardio.*

I’ve chosen to dance because while I may get frustrated by other forms of cardio and feel all fumbly, any lack of coordination I feel while dancing just makes me laugh. Laughing while exercising feels like good motivation to me. 🙂

On days that dancing isn’t feasible, I’ll take the dog for a longer walk.

A dog with light brown hair with a few white patches walks happily down a snow-covered road. She is on a harness leash.
This was right after Snowmageddon. Khalee did NOT mind.

Thanks to reading the 100 Day Reclaim, I  have identified some of my obstacles to daily exercise and so I am setting a nice low bar for myself for this month. 

  1. I need to make my choices in advance so I have created a YouTube playlist of 30 minute dance workouts and I will work through them in order. I haven’t arranged them in any particular way but I need to prevent dithering so I am just going to do the next one in the list.
  2. I will schedule each day’s workout the night before. It will always happen before 6pm but the exact timing will depend on my commitments for that day.
  3. The dance workouts will be my default but I can choose to be the person who walks the dog on a given day and that will count as a session.
  4. I will add a tracker in my notebook to note my activity, how much I enjoyed it, and whether I met the requirements for my lightning bolt on my fitbit. I’m already monitoring my blood pressure and my resting heart rate but I don’t expect any changes there in just 30 days.
  5. I’ll post a weekly check-in just to keep myself accountable.
  6. As Nia Shanks advises, when I run into a snag, I am going to go easy on myself. I’ll review this list and see what piece isn’t working and I will recalibrate accordingly.
  7. My storytelling heart hates to have an even numbered list so I am adding this final point to say that you are welcome to join me, if you are so inclined.
a middle-aged white woman    wearing a black shirt dances in a  green space with trees and a fence in the background.
In warmer times, here I am dancing in my backyard last summer.

*I’m recovering from a very minor surgery. I’m working my way up to 30 minutes so I don’t overdo things.

fitness

Snow, more snow, and some insights: Christine weathers a huge storm

As I mentioned in our 100 Day Reclaim review post on Tuesday , I thought this post was going to be different. 

My part of the country had a HUGE snowstorm on January 17. As in, 93cm of snow, 140+km/hr winds. This cluster of cities and towns on the Avalon peninsula has been under various forms of a State of Emergency for the past week and, as Martha noted in her post yesterday, it’s been a challenge.

Two large snowbanks are in the  foreground and houses can be seen in the background.  There is a bright blue sky above.
In front of my house on January 18. A.K.A: Oh, there was a storm? Really?

Before the storm hit, I suggested to the other bloggers that I would write a post about my fitness efforts during and after the storm. I thought I would spend the stormy hours alternating between writing and exercise and get all kinds of things done and then, afterwards, I would rack up some serious strength training and cardio shovelling out my driveway.

The thing is, though, that you don’t really realize how much snow 93 cms is. You may understand it as a measurement but, until it is falling, you don’t really understand what it feels like.

The storm was so intense that it was disturbing on a visceral level. I got caught up in weather updates and social media posts, and I couldn’t shut out the sound of the wind. I felt that, even inside the house, I was being buffeted around, as if something terrible could happen at any second.  I couldn’t write, I couldn’t make myself exercise, I couldn’t seem to settle into any specific activity.

The only exercise I did during the storm was yoga (I’m one of the people Cate mentioned in her post about Yoga with Adriene’s Home practice). That practice was great but it wasn’t all that I had planned. 

I did go out after the storm and start to help to shovel the driveway but I sank in a drift that was up to my hip and managed to hurt my knee while getting myself back out. I had to take it easy for the rest of the day. 

Now, as I mentioned in the 100 Day Reclaim post that is linked above, I was kind to myself about the whole thing. After all, you can only do what you can do, and there is nothing to be gained by judging yourself harshly. 

So, I focused on the things that I could do. 

Once my husband and sons had some ground cleared outside, I went back out to help shovel (keeping my foot on a stable surface meant less pressure on my knee.) I shovelled for short spurts, alternating where my hands were on the shovel, until the driveway was clear. 

The author, a white woman  wearing a black and grey winter hat and a black jacket stands in front of a towering snowbank. A corner of a brown mansard roof can be seen in the background.
Here I am, smirking away in front of a snowbank. As one does.

I kept up with my yoga.

I did lots of stretching. 

I let my knee recover. 

By Wednesday, I was back to my full shovelling strength and I spend most of my day helping to shovel people out. In the morning, I joined a group of neighbours helping to excavate someone’s car. In the afternoon, I helped my brother-in-law (who has a snow clearing business) break up the snow in someone’s driveway so it would fit into the snowblower.* In the evening, I joined a local ‘snow brigade’ – a group of volunteers who were accepting requests for help – and we dug out someone’s basement apartment. 

On Wednesday, my Fitbit logged 17,433 steps, 11.3kms, and 275 ‘active’ minutes.  Most of those steps were with a shovelful of snow in hand. 

It was an incredibly hard day but it was also, somehow, really energizing. 

I get why people with ADHD could thrive in jobs with intense physical labour. This was challenging enough to keep me engaged, it had a good social component, and it gave me the opportunity to help people without having to overthink the details. 

I was tired at the end of the day (and even more so on Thursday) but it was very satisfying and it gave me some more insights into my plan to increase my fitness levels.

It turns out that I feel really great after exercising for a long time.**  

And, I apparently enjoy functional fitness – I find the repetitive nature of strength training really hard on my brain. It’s not that I don’t want to put in the effort, it’s that I find it so boooooring that I have trouble making myself start it in the first place. I like being strong and I want to work toward greater strength but I need to find ways to get there without having to fight my ADHD to do the work. I’m still figuring out what that might look like but the insight is still important to me.

The physical effort I have put in this week – in yoga and in snow removal- has made a difference in how I feel, both mentally and physically. I want to keep those gains so I will be following Nia Shanks advice to keep taking action toward my goals – the thinking part will develop as I go along.  

Please note: I recognize that there is a lot of privilege involved in being stuck in a State of Emergency and having the leisure to reflect on how it affects my fitness. This situation has uncovered a lot about food insecurity in the communities in my area and I have done what I could to support those who were working on the front lines to ensure that people had the supplies they needed in these dire circumstances. In this post, I focused on my fitness because this is a fitness blog, not because that was all I thought about. 

*Snowblowers can only chop up snow that is the same height as the blower itself. Snow that’s higher has to be chopped down to an appropriate height. Chopping snow is not quite as hard as shovelling it but it is still pretty hard work.

**Perhaps you have always known this about yourself but my ADHD likes to dissuade me from starting anything that is going to be ‘too long’ or ‘too hard’ so this realization is really important for me.

fitness

The Days Ahead: Christine H and short-term planning

Because time can be so slippery for me* I enjoy the idea of cut-and-dried time frames. I love weekly/monthly challenges and deadlines help me create the sort of urgency that helps me focus. 

And while I am not all caught up in the ‘new year, new me’ thing, I do enjoy the fact that the changing of  the year gives me a definite end/start point.  

My current fitness objective is to create consistent, sustainable exercise practice. I am working on that now and I will continue to work on it in 2020.

A 2020 calendar printed on white paper sits on a wooden table top. There is a dark pink weight and a taekwondo reference booklet resting on the calendar.
While I haven’t set my first set of priorities yet, I know that strength training and practicing my patterns will fall in there somewhere.


My ADHD works against me in this goal. My inclination is to seek instant, visible results. To seek variety. To try to accomplish everything as once. To take on HUGE fitness projects. To switch gears frequently. 

As I have noted in the 100 Day Reclaim posts, I am working on a number of ways to help me address those issues and I am trying to find the strengths in my ADHD programming – natural inclinations that will serve and support my fitness plans. 

Since short-term challenges seem to be one of those inclinations, I am working them into my plans for the next while.

I’m not trying to plan a year of fitness activities, I’m working on something for the first 47 days of the year. 

(I picked 47 because it’s my age and because it is an odd number that doesn’t add up to a specific number of weeks. That has a certain strange appeal to me.)

This way, I don’t have to try and see too far in advance. And I have a specific (and close) deadline. I can keep my time/activity experiments short and I can quickly change something that isn’t working.

I am still figuring out what I will focus on for the first session but I already feel better about selecting something because I know that I will a) only be prioritizing it for 47 days, not the whole year and b) I have a specific time when I will be starting the next thing, whatever that turns out to be. 

How do you plan your next set of fitness challenges?

Do you have a time frame or a skills-based structure?

I’d love to hear about it, especially if you have ADHD and you have overcome the challenges of choosing a structure for improving your fitness levels. 

*As I have mentioned before, ADHD gives me two time frames ‘now’ and ‘ not now’ and if I can’t cram something into ‘now’ then ‘not now’ could happen any time between the next hour and pretty much never. 
PS – I know these short work cycles are popular in a number of professions but I first heard about them from Basecamp’s Jason Fried on Jocelyn Glei’s Hurry Slowly podcast.

fitness · habits · health

Anchoring myself for December

I do December the same way most people who celebrate Christmas do – a rush of preparations combined with extra social events, with a hearty attempt to fit in all of the things that I meant to get done during the rest of the year. 

Image features two small blond children with white skin, the one on the left is wearing a green shirt and looking downward. The one on the right is wearing a yellow shirt and looking at the camera while they eat a sandwich made with white bread.  The text in the image is a Douglas Adams quote from the book 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' and it reads 'Time is an illusion, lunchtime, doubly so. '  The image comes from a site called brightdrops,com

Of course, I also get the bonus of having ADHD so, like Dirk Gently in the photo below, I laugh at the concept of time. I have to put a lot of mental effort into calculating how much time something will take. If I try to just ‘wing it’ with my estimations, I end up trying to cram 50 things into an hour or I give myself so much time to do a task that my brain refuses to get into gear because there is no urgency. 

A still shot of the character Dirk Gently from the BBC America series 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' - a young white man with reddish hair, wearing a yellow jacket, a blue tie and a white shirt - is in sharp focus against a blurred background of a park. The closed captioning below him reads 'time, I laugh at the concept.'
I’m pretty sure that Dirk Gently means this in a much more metaphysical way than I do…but it was a weird show, so perhaps not.

And, as a life coach, I end up observing my own behaviour so I can use it as an example when I am explaining things to clients.

So, over the past few years, I have been making incremental changes in my December plans. I have been trying not to get caught up in the rush and, instead, be conscious of what I am choosing to do each day and how those choices makes me feel. 

A snow covered porch rail is decorated with a string of large white plastic stars that are outlined with white lights.
Soft piles of snow and some star lights – that’s the feeling I’m trying to invoke for myself this December.

This year, I have the benefit of data from having made similar types of choices about September.

Previously, I used to just give myself a break in September and not try to add anything new beyond what had to be there (i.e. an arts festival and two kids starting school.) This year, however, I added a short yoga practice and a drawing exercise to my busy September days. 

Instead of feeling rushed and resenting the extra tasks, those two things became my personal anchor every day. Most days, I did them first thing. And I found that creating that little space of personal focus early in the day gave me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of peace. 

A sense of accomplishment and a sense of peace is exactly what I am looking for in December, too. 

So, I’m adopting a similar practice for the month ahead. 

Since I know that one good way to add a new habit is to ‘anchor’ it to something you already routinely do, I am going to add a short ‘warm-up’ to my day right after my yoga practice.

This YouTube warm-up from Fitness Blender is pretty easy on my brain since it is just one person featured against a white background and they give a preview of the next movement before they begin.

And, to stick with the formula from September, I’m going to write or draw on an index card every day, too.

An index card sits on a dark brown wooden surface. The card has a light blue background and features the gold outline of a large star that contains multiple smaller gold stars. The star outline is open on the point on the right hand side and some of the smaller stars are escaping outwards.
A drawing I did two summers ago as part of the Index Card A Day challenge hosted by Tammy Garcia at Daisy Yellow. As you can tell, I am a fan of stars.

I’ll check in a couple of times in December to let you know how things are going.

PS – I didn’t realize that my post was going to have two themes today but when I want to talk about how time is a slippery concept, Douglas Adams just springs to mind and when I want to talk about a feeling of accomplishment then I am all about stars. 🙂

fitness

Exercise Procrastination: Does it happen to you, too?

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I was part of a conversation about exercise procrastination. 

Exercise procrastination is when you put off starting today’s exercise session.

So, this isn’t about people who don’t want to exercise, nor is it about people who are putting off starting an exercise program. This is about people who have an exercise habit but have trouble getting started on a given day.

I know that lots of people have no issue at all with fitting exercise into their schedule. For them, it’s automatic. There’s no need to convince themselves to get started, no ‘talking themselves into it’ and, from what I can tell from chatting with them, this whole post would make no sense to them at all.

But for everyone of those ‘just schedule a time and do it’ people, there are people like me who spend a lot of time convincing themselves to start moving.

I know that, for me, there are ADHD factors at play here. 

I have trouble with switching tasks and I struggle with task initiation. Both of those things make stopping what I am doing and then starting an exercise session a tricky proposition.

And, since it requires sustained concentration and effort, my brain treats a 30 minute exercise session like it is a HUGE task instead of a small part of my day.*

But I also know that, once I get moving, I really enjoy exercising.  It’s just that getting started is hard.

So, to lower the obstacles between me and exercise, I have two practices in place.

  1. I set a reminder for 10 minutes before I want to get started so I have some warning that I will have to switch tasks.
  2. I tell myself that I only HAVE to exercise for 10 minutes.

(Yes, apparently the number 10 is a big factor in my exercise plans.)

An image of an iPhone reminders   App screen.  Grey background with black text that lists reminders such as posting a Fit is a Feminist Issue post, working on a writing advice blog post, and a 10 minute exercise warning.
This is what my reminders end up looking like!

Most of the time, the 10 minute reminder is enough notice for my brain to get used to the idea of switching from one task to another, so that change doesn’t feel abrupt. And, ages ago, I figured out that once I am exercising for 10 minutes, I usually start to enjoy myself. 

Obviously, sometimes I start having fun right away but  sometimes it doesn’t seem fun at any point. I don’t necessarily stop when exercising isn’t fun but having the 10 minute escape hatch is still helpful. Knowing that I *can* stop in just 10 minutes makes it easier to get started. 

I still procrastinate when it comes to exercise but since I put those two practices in place, I do it far less.

How about you? 

Do you procrastinate about exercise?

How do you get past the procrastination and get moving?

*I’m not even going to get into the whole rigmarole that my brain puts me through with picking the ‘right’ time to exercise and the ‘right’ exercise to do, those things are outside the scope of this procrastination thing.

fitness

Almost Over (But Not Quite)

Usually, by the time I’m coming to the end of one of my short challenges, I’m tired and kind of sick of posting about it.

This is not the case with my ‘September is for Yoga‘ challenge! 

Instead I’m finding myself with feeling that I’m just getting started.  I feel like I’m just beginning to explore around the edges of what yoga can bring to my life.

I like the way my body feels. I like how I’m moving. I like the fact that yoga feels available to me as a stress relief. 

And I enjoy checking in every day with the group, sharing a yoga monster drawing, and giving our gold stars.

A white index card   covered in  twenty  seven-shaped monsters  in multiple colours. The words  Day 27  are written above the monsters.
My monsters for Day 27. No, there aren’t 27 monsters, there are 20 seven-shaped monsters.

Yes, I do think I’m funny.

I think I have finally found a level of accountability magic (more to come about that in a later post.) 

Basically, everything about this process feels good – the yoga, the group, and the results.

I’ll post about yoga one more time this month but don’t think that that will be the last time I have something to say about it.

Our group has decided that October is for yoga, too. 😉