A few weeks ago, a colleague posted the following on Facebook: "'I don't have time' is the grown-up equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework'."
I know that we all need to go to work, pay the rent, grocery shop, sleep and negotiate the demands of life. If you are not a fitness professional, whose job it is to be fit, training can't (and shouldn't) always take first priority. Other aspects of life, such as work and family, often need to be prioritized.
That said, I think what the quote highlights is how people sometimes use "lack of time" as a dismissive catch all for abandoning their health goals -- a way to downplay the need for self reflection, mindfulness and realistic, structured goal setting.
The line (especially when used by busy people whose lives are actually legitimately busy), is too often used as a 'no analysis needed', 'get out of exercise jail free card'. Being "too busy" is used to, either consciously or unconsciously, disregard real logistical or emotional impediments standing in the way of adopting a healthier lifestyle.
So, if you justify being inactive because you are "too busy," take a moment to ask yourself, what is really going on? You may be busy, but are you really 'too' busy? If you are actually that busy, why? How, and possibly why, have you consciously or unconsciously structured your life so you have no personal time?
Are you leaning on the "lack of time" excuse because you have a strict, unidimensional definition of exercise? What I mean by this is, if one understands exercise as only "going to the gym" or "going for a run," when life gets in the way, it is easier to abandon health goals altogether and say something like, "since I can't do my full workout, I don't have time to workout at all." Although understanding exercise as only 'going to the gym', or 'going for a run' may seem hard core, it is often used as another way to get off the 'exercise hook'.
My advice, redefine how you understand 'exercise'. 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 building. Make movement, not exercise, a "non negotiable." Sure, a full gym workout may be the ideal, but the benefits are moot if you can never achieve the ideal!
Or, maybe you use the 'too busy' excuse because you try to commit to an exercise plan you hate. At least at the beginning, don't say you will run five days per week if you hate running. If you hate running, you will always find other more "important" ways to use your time!! Instead, make exercise palatable. Make a date with a friend, or sign up for adult dance classes.
Also, don't do what I describe as, "making fitness wishes, not fitness goals." Saying, "I will exercise" without taking the steps to figure out how being active will realistically fit into your schedule is simply 'wishing' to workout. If you 'wish' to become more active, you will fail. When you fail, a common justification is "I am too busy." Turn the wish to exercise into a reality -- state a realistic goal, then take the time to analyze how you can schedule training into your life.
Lastly, be honest with yourself about why you didn't exercise. Don't use lack of time as a way to disregard your emotional relationship with your body and exercise. "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 to our bodies and exercise.
For example, sometimes people say they are 'too busy' when really they are, consciously or unconsciously, afraid that failure is inevitable, so why even try? I have witnessed others who use the 'too busy' excuse because their current internal self image doesn't quite mesh with the image of the "healthy" person they want to be. Yes, part of them wants to be healthier, but a larger part of them can't actually imagine themselves as a different person. So it is easier to be busy then to admit and work through those feelings.
Don't sabotage your health efforts. Take the time to reflect and be mindful about your health choices!
Main take-away: take the time to set yourself up for health success. Be honest with yourself! Work through any emotional barriers that might be keeping you from following through on your health and fitness goals. Take the time to analyze if your goals are realistic. Mark your workouts into your schedule. Trouble-shoot possible set-backs in advance. When 'time' looks like it will be an obstacle, don't abandon your goals altogether, simply weave more movement into your daily life! If you hear yourself using time as a justification to abandon a health goal, take a moment and reflect on what is really going on!