Yup, I’m telling you not to exercise.
Wellllllll… sort of. I’m telling you not to exercise for the reasons you are probably exercising.
After coming across not one, but two articles on the topic in the last week, I knew I had to bring it up.
Long story short, if you want exercise to stick as a habit, you have to do it for the right reasons.
First, let’s go over those 3 wrong reasons I mentioned.
1. Because you think you should.
“Should” can be a very dangerous word, especially if you are the type of person who hates being told what to do (or as Gretchen Rubin categorizes in Better Than Before, one of my favor books on habit, if you are a “rebel” tendency). “Should” ignores what you think and what you want, and places the onus on someone else’s recommendation. Generally, that’s a pretty bad reason to do anything, even if you aren’t a rebel per se, because you don’t really own it. Just because the media, your favorite group fitness instructor and your mom all say you should get off the couch and move your booty, that doesn’t mean that’s a good reason to do it.
2. Because you want to lose weight.
This reason deserves an entire blog post (if not an entire book on the subject), but please hear this: EXERCISE IS A TERRIBLE WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT. Scientific proof of this abounds, but in short, calories in vs. calories out is not as simple as it may appear. Additionally, exercises 100% causes an increase in hunger, and one popular fitness mantra that is definitely true is that “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” There’s a psychological phenomena called the licensing effect which basically means that if you are “good” (in quotes because I hate that word) in one area of your life, you’ll often feel like it gives you license to be “bad” in another. Hence, please don’t listen when a fitness professional tells you that you must do X workout “to earn your brunch” or any other ridiculous exchange of physical effort for eating.
3. Because you have long-term health related goals.
This one is a bit trickier. Something that exercise generally speaking is very good at is improving your overall health, by reducing your likelihood for chronic diseases like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer and benefitting both your mental + emotional health by reducing stress, balancing hormones + boosting your confidence. But – and this comes directly from my research on habits + willpower –
When creating long-term goals, you must see a connection between your daily tasks and the long-term goals,
In other words, unless you somehow can clearly see a connection between exercise and how it will improve your health, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more difficult to stick with it. And, although we all knowthe benefits exercise has for long-term health, for many people, unless you have actually experienced it (by reversing some sort of chronic issue through exercise + diet), you’re just not going to see that connection.
Both articles mentioned revolve around a new book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime Of Fitness by Michelle Segar, Ph.D. Segar points out that “human being, it turns out, are hardwired to choose immediate gratification over long-term benefits.” As my Healthy Habits coaching group learned this week, willpower is a pretty crappy when it comes to to making decisions in the heat of the moment (like whether or not to go to that workout class.)
So, what should you focus on if you are trying to make exercise a habit that sticks?
To be consistent with exercise, you must find forms of fitness you really enjoy and focus on the immediate benefits of how it makes you feel.
This could mean you fall in love with spin because you love the energizing music + endorphin rush, or perhaps yoga is your jam because it forces you to calm down, slow down + be present. Group fitness may be the way to go if you like the support of a group and the challenge of accomplishing a tough workout together.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
There is no perfect workout. The best workout is one that you enjoy,
because you will do do it enough to see results.
(By the way, the same applies to diet.)
So, if the abundant amount of snow currently outside has got you craving the couch, think about the last workout that really left you feeling awesome. Focus on that feeling, and watch the motivational magic unfold!
My sister Kat and I getting our #snoga on with an attempt at tree pose.