Stuck in a fitness rut? Keep throwing in the towel before you even get started? This kind of behavior is more common that you think. Our brains are wired to continue believing things we’ve internalized over a lifetime — and those beliefs can prevent you from accomplishing your goals. Even if we understand that our behavior isn’t doing us any good, it’s often easier to keep believing what we’ve always thought about exercise rather than acting on our real wants and needs.
News Flash: We can change our beliefs, have fun with exercise, and even look forward to finding creative ways to move every day. If you want to change your behavior in ways that will stick, you must start by changing the beliefs that are holding you back. Let’s start with these three:
1. Exercise only really counts if it’s intense and for a long period of time.
A lot of people think that the only exercise that “counts” is the kind that lasts more than 20 minutes and leaves us breathing hard and sweating. Sure, that’s one way to do it, but it’s certainly not the only way and it’s not for everyone.
Even small amounts of physical movement over the course of a day add up to improved health, mood, and fitness — in other words, all the benefits of longer more intense bouts, without the stress and worry.
What you can do to change: Look for small, doable, and enjoyable opportunities to move in your normal day. Take the stairs, walk to the store, take a dance break, or do some toe lifts while you wait in a line. Become mindful of all the hidden opportunities for physical enjoyment the world has to offer.
2. It’s selfish to put my own needs first, before work and family.
Some people believe that to take time to increase their sense of well-being and help them feel “good” is hedonistic and selfish. In fact, the opposite is true: Replenishing your energy and taking care of your health and well-being is fundamental to helping you take care of those you value most.
What you can do to change: Start small. Open your mind to the possibilities: What is one small but wonderful thing you can do for yourself that will restore your sense of well-being? (Hint: Mine is taking a bath!).
3. I never have enough energy to do anything, let alone exercise.
The old phrase “energy in, energy out,” traditionally refers to the balance between the energy you put into your body through eating (energy in) and the energy you put out through exercising (energy out). But I believe that “energy in, energy out” means that when we revitalize and refuel ourselves with physical movement and other self-care activities (energy in), we have that much more energy with which to care about, care for and be with others and to create our best life (energy out).
What you can do: You need to become aware of your own daily energy levels and sense of well-being. When you lose the connection to your body, you lose a natural and essential balancing system and it’s easy to become depleted. It’s hard to make good decisions about taking care of ourselves when we are so disconnected from our physical selves. Learning to genuinely listen to and be mindful of our bodies’ messages — instead of ignoring them — is a key to boosting our daily energy and joy.
Start paying attention to how your body feels during your normal day, and listen to what it’s telling you. Which types of physical movement feel pleasurable and good, and which types feel draining and bad? With a little practice, you’ll hear your body’s messages about physical movement loud and clear and answer them with joy.
Excerpted from No Sweat: How The Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. Featured in The New York Times, it translates twenty years of research on exercise and motivation into a simple four-point program.
Cover Image Photo Credit: Getty Images