Everything about my exercise habits changed for me when I stopped exercising to punish myself. I remember finally getting to a point where I was getting workouts in 5-6 days per week and thinking, “Is it always going to feel this hard?” Not physically. Mentally.
I woke up every day thinking about when I’d get my workout in. Different than planning for it, I was stressing over it, and it never felt like something good I did for myself. It just felt like this heavy “to do” hanging over my head all the time.
When my family and I made a big move from Kansas City to rural Iowa, my need for exercise and healthy outlets for myself increased. We had another baby, we had foster kids, we were stuck inside longer due to weather, I had a stressful job. Treating exercise like one more thing I had to do wasn’t sustainable. Operating under the mentality that I had to get a work out in to eat dessert at my kid’s birthday party wasn’t benefitting my physical and mental health; quite the opposite, in fact.
Here are 4 practical ways I shifted my mindset about exercise:
- I work out with friends. I love exercising with other people. I get so inspired by the energy of others and it becomes social time for me, which I desperately need. Now, you may be thinking, “Working out is my me time, I don’t want to have to talk or be ‘on.’” That’s great! I think knowing that about yourself is the key. Does exercising alone feel boring or lonely or like a waste of time? Maybe try getting together with some friends and doing a fun circuit workout or taking a long walk. If you have a local gym, take one of their group exercise classes. I lead an exercise group at my church. However, if exercising alone feels freeing and rejuvenating for you, make sure you carve that out for yourself.
- I work out how and when I want. This one has been so huge for me. I can’t tell you how many workouts I’ve done that I hated every minute of. There are all kinds of reasons why I, and I think many people, put ourselves through exercise routines we don’t enjoy, but if that’s where you’re at, let it go! Dump the videos or runs or bike or whatever it is that you keep telling yourself you should be doing. Move your body in a way that you enjoy. And maybe you’re thinking, there is no exercise I enjoy. Well, I think that’s where we’ve gotten a little narrow-minded in how we define exercise. Here are some of my favorite ways to encourage women to exercise who “don’t like exercise.”
a. Walk outside
e. Chase your kids around
f. Walk up and down your stairs 10 times
It doesn’t have to be long or complicated or some sort of program. Exercise is simply about moving your body, appreciating what it can do, and keeping it strong so it can continue to do the things you need it to do in life.
3. I pray. I have spent a lot of time in prayer during my workouts. At first, it was praying about things going on in my life. Exercise, namely running, was a time when I could find quiet and unpack what was going on in my heart. However, the more my mindset changed around exercise, the more gratitude I felt toward what my body could do. And when gratitude is on your mind and heart, it can’t help but spill out. I give praises to God while I exercise. Being able to move and work hard is a gift. Health is a gift. Changing the perspective from exercise being something I have to do to something I get to do has been really pivotal for me.
4. I practice positive self-talk. Don’t roll your eyes at this one. I am a big believer in self-talk. For some reason, we have all of these horrible things we think and say to ourselves that we’d never dream of saying to anyone else. And it’s time to change the narrative in our heads! I try to replace statements of “I can’t; I should; I used to be able to” with something I appreciate about my physical body. If I have a block of work during my workout that I do really well, I cheer myself on. If I’m struggling, I cheer myself on. If I decide not to get exercise in one day, there’s no chastising myself for it. Maybe you’re not near as hard on yourself (I hope you’re not), but I’ve found that I’m often not alone in the condescending, unrealistic statements I make about myself. Be kind to yourself, not simply by trying to stop the negative self-talk, but by replacing it with positive, affirming self-talk.
I pray you start to see and experience exercise in a new way this week. I have found so much joy and freedom in using exercise as a way to benefit my physical body, interact with others, and free some space in my day for myself. Remember that an exercise routine doesn’t have to look the same for any two people. Be thankful for the journey you are on with your body, and try to shut out the lies of comparison. God is an incredible and intentional creator. You are a masterpiece of His, and He designed your body. Embrace what caring for your body looks like in this season and how that can serve to draw you closer to Him.