There was a time when working out felt like torture to me. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist who’s struggled with body image issues her entire life, working out felt like another way I was punishing myself for not being “enough”.
Despite the many benefits of exercise, and they are countless, the way I approached working out negated any positive effects it could have.
Every time I worked out (as I did quite frequently, even when I hated it – remember, perfectionist), my inner dialogue was in a constant tug-of-war between reassuring myself that this was the only way to make my body look the way I wanted it to and berating myself for the way my thighs jiggled when I moved.
And that whole thing about endorphins making you feel great after exercise – I didn’t experience that. Instead, I experienced (largely self-induced) mental torture. No wonder I struggled with motivation – who would want to go through that kind of mental and physical torture at the same time?
Over the past few years, my relationship with working out has completely transformed. Instead of feeling tortured by exercise, I feel empowered by it.
I even look forward to it.
Here are a few simple mindset shifts I learned to help make exercise enjoyable, instead of torturous. When you start to enjoy exercise (you can, I promise), staying consistent is second nature – no willpower required.
1. Start Small
Most of us (myself included) believe that unless we’re doing something really hard that makes us feel like we’re going to die, it doesn’t count as exercise. I don’t know where this belief comes from, but it just isn’t true. Approaching exercise with this mindset – especially if your fitness level is firmly in the beginner stage – is only going to discourage you and make you more likely to give up.
Instead, start small. Modify exercises and build up your strength to do the harder things. So what if you have to hold plank from your knees on your first, second, or even 100th attempt? Give yourself permission to do what is best for your body at the level you’re currently at. It is absolutely, 100% okay to start slowly. It’s actually more than okay – it’s smart. Trying to go too hard, too fast leaves you susceptible to injury and burnout.
To put this idea into perspective, would you expect a baby to run moments after they learned to roll over? Of course not – there are plenty of milestones in between. So why do we expect ourselves to master advanced exercises when we’re just starting out? Even worse, we beat ourselves up when we aren’t able to do them after trying them once.
2. Drop “should” from your vocabulary
The moment “should” enters your vocabulary surrounding exercise is the moment you’ve set yourself up to fail.
While it’s in our nature to compare ourselves to one another, especially when we’re learning a new skill, the problem arises when we start comparing our beginning to someone else’s middle. When we compare ourselves to someone who is more advanced than us, it inherently creates a sense of frustration and negativity when we can’t reach the invisible bar they’ve set.
The thing is, you’re not them, you’re you, and that’s AMAZING (even if it doesn’t currently feel like it). The only thing you should be able to accomplish is what is right for your body in the present moment – not what’s right for someone else. I can pretty much guarantee that the person you’re comparing yourself to now looked a lot like you when they began.
3. Be Kind to Yourself
A few years ago, I had to take a year off from Pilates for a hip injury. My first few weeks (or months) back, I struggled immensely. In fact, I almost stopped training because of it.
It began with seeing my (heavier) self in the mirror, as there are mirrors on almost every wall of the studio. In each exercise, I would find a different part of my body to shame for the way it looked. It took me awhile to realize that this negative self-talk was taking away my energy. Literally, every time I caught a glimpse of myself and thought something negative in response, the exercise I was doing would suddenly feel so much harder and I’d have to stop and rest. Instead of focusing on gaining strength, I was focusing on how much I disliked myself.
As lonely as this feels in the moment, I know I’m not the only one with negative dialogue on repeat. So, why do we do it? Because, sometimes, the negative thoughts feel like you’re taking action. But, when you make parts of yourself bad or wrong, it doesn’t change them or bring you any closer to your goal.
Instead, try to become aware of the things you’re saying to yourself and explore what’s triggering it. When something negative comes up, shift your perspective. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend or a child – with empathy instead of judgment. If that doesn’t work, reach out to someone you trust and get their perspective on how you’re feeling. Often times, just voicing what you’re struggling with will give you the reality check you need to change the cycle.
Have a similar experience? Were you once an exercise avoider but now you’ll do anything to stick to your routine? I want to hear about it! Leave it in the comments below.