Changing habits and incorporating more exercise into your life can seem daunting at first. I’ve talked about change before and how challenging it can be, but I also know that it can be a really rewarding and worthwhile pursuit!
I know this because 6 months ago, I decided to change my lifestyle for the better, and since then I have felt the happiest, healthiest and sanest that I have felt for a really long time. It is amazing to see what an impact changing my diet, fitness and lifestyle has had on me. My migraines have become less frequent and less intense, I have become more present with my clients at work, my moods are more balanced, I am less reactive and less irritable with my loved ones, I have lost weight, and I am generally a happier and healthier version of myself. It’s a no-brainer, really.
Our minds and bodies are connected, and we need to nurture both of these to create an overall sense of balance and equilibrium. Taking care of your body by eating nutritious food and exercising regularly is the ultimate act of self-love and self-respect, but it’s not easy…. Developing (and sticking to) a health and fitness routine can be extremely challenging, especially if you’re a perfectionist. So I thought I’d shine some light on how I have managed to do it, and how you can too!
I guess the first step for me was to set realistic goals. I was already exercising, but just not enough. I initially set myself the goal of running for five minutes and walking for thirty. I tried to do this three times a week, and do some stretching and yoga on the days in between. When I started off, I could barely run for five minutes. I was huffing and puffing and I honestly thought there was something wrong with me! Looking back on it now, I realise that I was just extremely unfit. I remember feeling pretty defeated that first time. At that point, I could have thrown in the towel and given up completely on the whole thing, but I didn’t. I thought about all the other big achievements in my life and that to achieve them I had to be persistent and consistent. I applied those same principles to this and simply slowed things down.
I also realised that it was unrealistic to think that I would be able to run non-stop for longer periods of time without increasing my fitness slowly. So, I increased my running by 1-2 minutes every time I ran, and I can now run for 25 minutes without stopping. For me, that is a massive achievement, and I’m so proud of my efforts. If you’re perfectionistic, it can be easy to start comparing yourself to other people, to feel defeated and to give up before you’ve even started. So don’t compare yourself to other people, just aim to be better than you were yesterday. Being healthy is a personal goal, so you’re only competing with yourself. Do it for yourself and in three months time, you will thank yourself.
Find out your “prime time” to exercise. Using a weekly goals planner can also be helpful for this. Look at your weekly schedule and see what days and times you can realistically fit the exercise into, but also when you know your body is going to want to. For me, I knew it would be easiest to achieve Friday-Monday when I have the evenings off, and more challenging Tuesday-Thursday when I tend to work later. I’m not a morning person and even when I try my hardest, I just can’t convince myself to wake up early to workout… it just doesn’t happen. I know this now, and don’t feel guilty about it anymore. Instead, I try to listen to my body and exercise when my body tells me that it wants to. It’s much easier to stick to the routine when you are doing it because you want to, and not because you’re forcing yourself to.
Be kind to yourself if you slip up. Changing habits takes time, so be patient with yourself. The “stages of change” theory in psychology dictates that when you’re actively trying to change a behaviour, you will go between the maintenance and relapse stages multiple times before you are able to sustain the change permanently over time. This is normal and natural! Relapsing doesn’t mean you are back to stage one. You haven’t gone backwards; so don’t beat yourself up for relapsing into old habits, it’s pointless and a waste of energy. Instead, figure out what went wrong for you to relapse in the first place, so that you can be better prepared for it next time. Most importantly, keep going and don’t dwell on it. Aim to be better than yesterday.
Think about how you want to feel, not just how you want to look. For me, this is a really important one, because aiming to feel healthy, strong, happy and fit is more important than aiming to look a certain way. Self-love is an inside job. Changing the way you look on the outside so you can feel better on the inside never works. If you haven’t done the work on the inside, there will always be something else you want to change or improve, and you’ll be stuck in a vicious cycle of jumping through hoops to get to some unattainable place. It also means that your motivation is extrinsic. Instead, focus on how you want to feel on the inside, and structure your health and fitness routine around this. For me, when I’m running, I feel invincible, strong, empowered and capable, so I focus on that feeling and that’s what inspires me to keep going. On days when I am lacking motivation, I remind myself of how I felt the last time, and that is enough to encourage me to move my body again. If your motivation to change is intrinsic, you will be more likely to sustain it over time.
If you’re someone who uses food to regulate your emotions, start using exercise as your stress-reliever instead. The more you do that, the more you’ll start to see what difference it makes. Endorphins can be just as addictive as chocolate, but better for you, and you also won’t feel guilty afterwards. Get out of the guilt cycle by being kind to yourself. If you’re feeling sad, stressed, angry or anxious, do something NICE for yourself. Don’t feed the anxiety/depression with food; feed it with love, your body will thank you. The first step is to use mindfulness to notice when you’re using food as a way of regulating your emotions, and to create the space and time to respond effectively to what your mind/body needs in that moment. Observe your cravings. Use a journal to document your observations if it helps.
The more you respond effectively to your emotions, the better you will be at regulating them, and the more likely you will be to sustain the change over time. Short-term gratification is never worth it. Eating food to avoid distressing or uncomfortable feelings is engaging in a pattern of avoidance, and in the long run you will feel even more stuck and reduce your distress tolerance. Don’t give up what you want most (to feel healthy and happy) for what you want right now. It might feel like that ice-cream or chocolate will make you feel better, and perhaps in that moment it will, but remind yourself of your long-term goals and think about whether it fits in with those. Try some other distress tolerance skills instead. Take a few deep breaths, drink some water, go for a walk, draw, write, read…. Use whatever works for you. If you respond to your emotions effectively in other ways, the cravings will pass because you won’t be reinforcing them. And best of all, you’ll start to actually ENJOY your food instead of using it as a way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings.
Change things up if you get bored. I’m someone who likes variety. If I do the same thing over and over again, I get bored easily. So to combat this, I try to do lots of different things, or the same things in different environments. For example, if I get bored of running on the treadmill, I go and run in a park or around a lake; I do yoga in the living room or in a class; I go to Zumba classes for a bit of fun and dancing; I do bike riding with my partner; I go up to the Dandenong Mountains to do the 1000 steps, to walk in beautiful gardens or try new walking tracks; I do strength exercises in the backyard; and next week I’m going to try swimming again. Basically, if you’re bored of the same exercises, change them. Changing your exercise routines also helps your body to adapt and to use different muscle groups, which is good for you!
Most importantly, have fun, believe in yourself and enjoy working toward your goals! Share your exercise tips with me on instagram!
P.S. Follow my blog and stay tuned to read about the equipment, tools and motivational tricks that I use to help and motivate me on my workouts.