Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Start From Where You Are

Welcome to 2016! If you’re reading this, you are probably also thinking about what your exercise plan is going to look like this year, or how you might change it up a little from where it has been. Whether you are looking to get started, make a slight adjustment, or take your workout routine to a whole new level, there is one important thing to keep in mind: Start from right where you are and don’t look back. Keeping in this spirit, I’m not even going to mention the festivities of last month. I’m only going to encourage you to keep your eye on the prize, and that prize is coming, in the form of more energy, a fitter body and a better attitude.

I have a client who has had an interesting “strategy” for exercise for many years. The way she describes her exercise habits is “intermittent.” During some periods of her adult life she has exercised regularly, running or lifting weights at the gym, three or four times a week, for stretches of several months at a time. Other times her exercise regimen has been one or two yoga classes per week. And then there are the vast stretches of time when it’s a day of activity here or there, or even no real activity at all—but lots of thinking about it. It’s during these lulls in physical activity, when she finally decides she is ready to get back on track, that she tells herself this: “If I do one thing, even a ten minute walk on the treadmill today, that’s better than the zero minutes I spent exercising yesterday.” 

In other words, she starts very, very small and she decides to be just a little better than the day before. The next day, it’s the same thing. Fifteen minutes on the treadmill instead of ten. Then twenty. If she skips a day, she does a little more than the last day she worked out, walked or ran. She says that what happens on about day four or five of this gradually increasing exercise routine is that she feels a big surge of confidence and accomplishment. It propels her into the next week. Once this mental attitude takes hold, it is much, much easier for her body to follow. Another smart thing she does: She doesn’t punish herself when it comes to exercise. She’s not an early riser, so 6 a.m. fitness classes are out. When she’s done that in the past, exercise becomes something to dread. And the quickest way to bail out of exercise is to see it as punishment.

Now, not everyone is the same. Some people like can mentally tough it out on day one of a new exercise routine and once they’ve made the decision to run a couple miles three times a week, that’s it—it’s as good as done, no matter what time of day they choose. Others I’ve run into, like the client I mention above, like to wade in slowly, giving themselves small, highly achievable goals, which seems to set the stage for them to mentally prepare for larger ones.

Which person are you? Somewhere in the middle? Take a moment to think back to the times in your life when you were the most successful at meeting fitness or exercise goals (nutrition goals count also) and how you went about that. Did you start slowly, or did you pick a day to start and jump into the deep end of the exercise pool? Whatever kind of starter you are, start today. If you do, tomorrow you’ll be that much more fit. You’ll be better than you are today.

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