Take ownership of your choices -- stop using the "I am too busy" excuse.
I know you are busy. We are all busy -- being "too busy" seems to be the new normal. But you need to become conscious of what you prioritize and why.
I have railed against the "too busy" excuse in past blogs. I am expressing my frustration again, this time with a slightly different emphasis - because the "too busy" rationale is still way too common. The main takeaway from today's blog is: reframe how you understand your schedule. Start to view scheduling as a choice. Replace "I am too busy" with "I chose to prioritize."
If you decided to prioritize work or family over training, fine, but own that choice. Replace "I was too busy to work out" with "I prioritized work over training."
As I tell my clients (and myself when I need a pep talk), we are adults and thus the masters of our own happiness and our own schedules. If you are too busy to do what you need to do to be healthy, figure out why -- then work to change your schedule and your mindset. Don't let being "too busy" become your "no-analysis-needed, get-out-of-exercise-jail-free card."
I am not arguing that training can (or should) be your first priority. I appreciate that as a trainer, whose job it is to be fit, it is relatively easy for me to prioritize being active. I understand that other aspects of your life, such as work and family, may be (and probably should be) higher priorities. But you need to become conscious of how often you mindlessly say you are "too busy" to make healthy choices. Then take a moment to ask yourself what is really going on. You may be busy, but are you really too busy?
Common "too busy" traps
1. Have you failed to rearrange your schedule?
Preparation, preparation, preparation. Of course you are too busy to work out if you haven't carved out the time. Schedule your workouts and analyze your upcoming week to troubleshoot possible problems and identify solutions. For example, if you schedule a weekly Tuesday run with a friend, look at your work schedule in advance and see if you have possible conflicts. If so, fix your work schedule or, if that is not possible, email your friend and reschedule. Don't wait until Tuesday morning to realize you have to cancel.
2. Have you unconsciously or consciously structured your life so that your needs always come second?
I doubt that you are so busy you can't find even 10 minutes to go for a walk, but if you really can't, maybe that tells you something about your priorities. Are you too busy because you put everyone else's needs ahead of yours? Have you unconsciously or consciously structured your life so that you have no personal time?
I work with many parents who are willing to give up everything for their kids. I respect that they are such great parents, but I always tell them that there are ways to be a fantastic parent and be good to yourself at the same time. Adopting a healthier lifestyle is about self-care and about being a positive role model. Being healthy will ultimately make you a more vibrant and present parent or partner.
Actively caring about your health is also a way to model healthy behaviour for your family. If you are too busy to get to the gym, incorporate movement into your daily life. Consider what I call the "piggybacking strategy" -- piggyback activity onto things you already do. Do squats and lunges as you watch your children's sports practice, walk your kids to school then jog or run home or pace as you take conference calls.
3. Are trying to commit to a plan you hate?
At least at the beginning, don't say you will run five days a week if you hate running. If you hate something, you will always find other, "more important" ways to use your time. Instead, make exercise palatable. Make a fitness date with a friend, take your dog for a walk, join a sports team or garden.
4. Do have a strict, unidimensional definition of exercise?
Redefine how you understand "exercise." Understanding exercise only as going to the gym or for a run is not always helpful. When life gets in the way, it is easy to abandon health goals altogether and say something like, "Since I can't do my full workout, there's no point in working out at all."
Can't get to the gym? No problem. Do some weights in front of the TV, go for a walk at lunchtime or climb the stairs in your office. Make movement, not exercise, non-negotiable. A full gym workout may be ideal, but the benefits are moot if you can never achieve the ideal.
5. Are you afraid of failure and don't want to try?
"I don't have time" is so easy to say, and since there is often a kernel of truth to it, being "busy" allows us to disengage with our real emotional relationship with our bodies and exercise.
Too often people say they are too busy when really they are -- consciously or unconsciously -- afraid that failure is inevitable, so why even try. Sometimes it can feel easier to be busy than admit to feeling afraid, and have to work through those feelings.
Be honest with yourself about WHY you didn't exercise. Own your choice.
I strongly believe in the importance of setting realistic, specific, time-sensitive goals. Consider establishing a goal of not uttering the words "too busy" for one month; instead vow to consciously state what you have -- and have not -- prioritized. This awareness might be the catalyst to get you trending positive on your health journey.
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"You hear so much about the whole 'no pain, no gain' attitude," says Cohn. "I think we really have to redefine what pain is." Yes, you want to feel like you worked hard, you want some fatigue, you might even relish your second-day soreness. But feeling discomfort in joints, or feeling so exhausted you just want to drop at the end of the day is not normal, says Cohn. Pain can be serious, and pushing through could cause worse injury. People with a healthy relationship to exercise know when to say when.
And when they are in pain or are exhausted, they know it's time to skip a sweat session. "It's the same as that chocolate cake," says Cohn. "It's delicious, you want to have another piece, but you know it's not good for you, and you need to stop eating now." No matter how much you love working out, there is such a thing as too much exercise, and the people with the healthiest relationships to exercise enjoy their off days. Carter recommends taking at least one a week.
Exercising purely to "influence weight or shape", says Carter, can be a slippery slope into obsession and disorder. For a healthy athlete or exerciser, food is fuel, not the enemy. Our bodies require a bare minimum amount of calories simply to survive, and we need to provide extra energy for physical activity. Rather than exercising "to allow themselves to eat," says Carter, people with a healthy relationship to exercise eat to allow themselves to exercise. Eating whatever you want just because you exercised today doesn't cut it either, even if you just want to maintain weight, she says. Of course we'd never say the occasional brownie was completely off limits, but "'occasional' doesn't mean every dinner warrants a dessert!" Carter says.
Many experts recommend scheduling exercise into your day like you would any other appointment to help you stick with your fitness plan. But there also needs to be some flexibility in the scheduling. One sign it's become too restrictive is if straying from the usual routine causes extreme upset. Take traveling, says Carter. Someone with a healthy relationship to exercise won't panic if her day-to-day routine is a little off. Someone with an unhealthy relationship to exercise might skip out on important events or exciting moments or wake up drastically early to fit in a workout. "The exercise becomes number one," says Carter.
"Balanced or healthy exercise is exercise that you like, not exercise that you dislike," says Carter. "If you're doing something that you hate, you're not going to keep doing it." That might mean running marathons for some and practicing Bikram yoga for others, but what's important is that you don't feel like you're torturing yourself -- and that you don't feel obligated to try every single fitness fad. The same principle applies to exercise intensity, says Carter. Some people love high intensity workouts like CrossFit, and others will simply find moderate intensity movement more tolerable, she says.
"Doing the elliptical every day at the same intensity level is just a repetitive motion," says Cohn, not one you're going to see huge results from. People with the healthiest relationships to exercise balance their workout routines with a mixture of activities, whether that's high and low impact, cardio and strength training, or arm days and leg days, she says. And it doesn't require pricey sessions with a personal trainer or a degree in exercise science to add a little more balance to your regular routine, she says. Simply reading the directions on a machine at the gym you've never tried before, for example, can be surprisingly helpful, she says.
Along with finding a fitness plan they enjoy, people with a healthy relationship to exercise also work out when and where they like. Yes, there are big benefits to a morning workout, like fewer cravings and greater energy, but it comes down to personal preference, says Carter. "Some people like to exercise in the morning, some people hate mornings," she says. "You don't have to force it."
Everyone has their off days, even people with a healthy relationship to exercise. Whether it's a lack of motivation to stick to healthy exercise or a compulsion to overdo it, Carter says one of the most effective safety nets is having a workout buddy. "It's harder to do the compulsive thing when you've got someone with you to encourage something a little more moderate, and it's a great motivator for [others]," she says. Of course, if exercise -- or lack of it -- is truly interfering with someone's health, it may be safer to consult a dietitian, a physician or a mental health professional, "or a mixture of all three," says Carter.
"We know so much about the mental health benefits of exercise," says Carter, and yet many unbalanced exercisers only consider breaking a sweat helpful for altering weight or shape. For many, exercise is an effective coping method for stress, anxiety and depression, and healthy exercisers harness these powers for good.
Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KTrotterFitness