Exercise Avoidance

May 2nd, 2020

As I laid in bed this morning trying to motivate myself to get up and exercise, I wondered why I am I struggling to motivate myself to do something that I really enjoy doing?

Am I getting lazy?

I climbed out of bed, got dressed, talked myself out of going for a run and then headed to the kitchen for coffee and porridge.

Maybe I just need to wake up a bit….

Several hours passed by and I still hadn’t done any exercise, but I had replied to clients so I have technically been working, I tell myself. Really I’m just finding excuses and justification for avoiding exercise.

Do you recognize this behavior?

This is a common behavior that people undertake at the very beginning of their fitness journeys, and at many stops along the way. Imagine feeling self conscious about going to the gym because you hate the way that your body looks, or you think everyone is laughing at you because you can’t move well. You make up excuses and justifications for not going to the gym so that you avoid the feeling of walking in and experiencing fear that you are being laughed at.

It’s a form of coping with anxiety. You change a physical behavior in order to avoid a certain feeling.

Whist this is a way of avoiding a certain emotion and overcoming anxiety to a certain extent, it’s not always the route that gives you the most success. You avoid the gym so you don’t feel bad about what you think other people are thinking (still following?), but this also means that you are avoiding the thing that will actually make you feel better about yourself and social situations in the future. Things will never change if you keep avoiding it.

So I asked myself, ‘why?’

Why am I avoiding going out running? Well, I’m not a die hard fan of running, and there are too many people outside that are still not complying to social distancing. That’s not too hard to answer, I enjoy working hard and enjoy cardio, just much rather cycle than run.

But I can go out to my makeshift garden gym and lift. I’m a weightlifter, I love lifting things. So why am I still finding other things to do rather than going out and doing it?

Then I thought about how it makes me feel, and that’s when the penny dropped.

I often become disappointed in myself when I miss a lift, and after over a year of dealing with what appears to be an un-diagnosable injury and having to take so much time out, I just don’t feel as strong and confident under the bar as I used to be.

I’m avoiding feeling disappointed. I’m avoiding the mind games that comes from weight lifting. I’m trying to avoid beating myself up for missing a lift that I used to make with my eyes closed (disclaimer: don’t actually lift with your eyes closed, for many reasons).

The ugly truth!

But the thing is, if you avoid things all the time, you will constantly be stuck in that loop. You’ll keep avoiding it because you have not made any attempt to change the way you think.

The truth is that sometimes you have to stop being a dick to yourself and just get on with it, finding a way to face the demons instead of being controlled by them.

I went out into the garden and snatched.

I enjoyed the movement and the feeling of empowerment of catching the barbell and standing the weight up. I gradually built up the weight to build my confidence. The bar felt totally manageable in regards to weight. However, when I got up to 50kg (80% of my all time max) I just pulled the bar, never made an attempt to get under it.

I talked myself out of trying.

Another form of avoidance behavior, but this time I was in the process of actually doing it.

I’d like to say I kept trying until I managed the lift, I mean I could do it fine leading up to the start of lock down, but I figured there was no point in making myself annoyed with myself for continually failing. If I did I would develop an even more negative frame around it.

What do we do about it?

The small step to combating this behavior was achieved in the perception. Understanding that I am at my limit for the moment, and that I’m lifting in the garden on even flooring. Until I am confident enough to not worry about failing the lift or hurting myself I have to tell myself this: The weight does not matter right now. What matters is simply moving, and as long as I keep practicing, in time I will feel better lifting heavier.

For now, I am giving myself a brake from pressure. I choose to be kind to myself. However, sometimes those unhelpful thoughts do still cross my mind, even if I don’t want them to be there and I don’t want to believe them. So the long term fix is to work on finding appreciation for all the amazing things I am doing and achieving. Missing a lift does not define who I am, but building a stronger relationship with myself does matter, and it takes time.

Where are you?

If you suffer from the example I gave earlier, fearing exercise in public due to worrying what other people think, ask yourself why are you are worried about what people think? The answer can guide your course of action, it essentially tells you what to do.

If it is down to disliking that you let yourself get in this state, the clear answer is that you need to do exercise so that you feel better about your appearance and yourself. But if you don’t want people to look at you, perhaps this is your time to shine and make use of all the easier ways that have been made available for you to exercise in your home right now, it actually couldn’t be easier.

If you are worried deep down that you’ll hurt yourself, or you don’t know how to do things, then seek help from an expert, that’s what they are there for and they will never judge you (as long as they are a decent human being anyway).

Perhaps deep down you are scared about change, you may really want to look or feel different, but you are scared of all the hard work, or scared of cutting things you really enjoy out of your life. Understand this, enjoy these things in moderation, life is about living after all.

Perhaps you really don’t like that form of exercise, well you don’t have to do it, try something else, and if that doesn’t work for you try something else. Keep doing this until you find something that you really enjoy. It will happen, but sometimes you have to put in some work to discover it.

Get to know yourself, ask yourself ‘why?’

What I’m getting at is that there is a solution to the problem, but if you don’t look at yourself and understand why you feel like you do then the answer is not going to be obvious.

And if you struggle to think, chat it over with someone. A problem shared is often a problem solved.

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