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What to Do When Exercise is a Struggle

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Whether you're struggling because of limits on time or motivation, there is a way forward.



Are you finding it challenging to add exercise to your daily to-do list? With all this time at home, we're spending less time on our feet and more time sitting around - more time looking at screens, helping kids with schoolwork, Netflix bingeing, hobbies, etc. Maybe you're noticing more aches and pains or you're feeling mentally and physically sluggish. Getting some exercise could go a long way to helping you feel better.



It's all about the M-word, right? While I think it's worth spending some time listing your deep reasons for healthier behaviors, I'm talking about the day to day consistency that's required when you don't have the headspace for contemplation. When it comes to making exercise a habit, motivation is a myth. From pro athletes to your road race loving friend, anyone who exercises will tell you that they've had periods when they didn't want to workout. They set up systems for success instead. Routines, accountability, and positive feedback all help keep the exercise habit in place.


If you had a pre-quarantine exercise habit established, you may be feeling especially frustrated. If what you're currently doing (or not doing) isn't working for you, try adopting a "beginner's mind" with a BROAD definition of workout. Think "more or some" vs. "all or none". Your exercise habit during self isolation is just another opportunity to use mental flexibility, which can only help you adapt to future challenges. What, how, and when can you add movement to your day? If you have kids, try something together. It's a great way to multitask, because you can interact without battling over school work, model healthy behavior, and exercise, all at once!


Here are some tips, based on what's worked for my clients with long term exercise habits:



If you're not a morning person...

Get micro workouts throughout the day.

How to make it easier:

  • Use a visual Spark

Set out a piece of equipment where you'll have a visual reminder to use it, like a dumbbell by your desk or a mat by the bed


  • Use a routine Anchor

Pair some exercise with an activity you're already routinely doing, e.g., the end of your 9:00 meeting, when you get up to pee, etc.


  • Keep it Simple

Go up and down the stairs. Turn on some music and dance - with your partner, your dog, yourself. Sit, stand, repeat.



If you're a morning person or are busy all day with work, children, or both...

Get your workout down as soon as you get up.

How to make it easier:

  • Be prepared

Get everything you need for your workout, from clothes to water to equipment, ready the night before. Or exercise in your PJs.


  • Set a micro goal

Add 5-10 minutes of movement to your day, walk the dog an extra block, etc.



If you're a social person...

Increase your support and accountability.

How to make it easier:

  • Brainstorm ideas with friends

Share online resources and ideas for workouts


  • Exercise together, apart

Set up a time to exercise with a friend via video call


  • Ask a friend if they'd like to be an accountability buddy

Set up regular check ins with one another



Living your healthiest life is it's own reward, but it takes time. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and it also needs lots of positive pit stops along the way. In order to stay the course until exercise is a normal part of your routine, you need to acknowledge your interim successes. Women are particularly hard on themselves for missteps, and are also good at downplaying their successes, which puts some serious drag on momentum. How can you high five yourself? You could pamper yourself in some way, sure. But you can also make a Complement List for every win, whether it was 60 more seconds of movement or trying a new activity. Revisit this list weekly and whenever you have a setback or are unmotivated.



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