Exercise can be one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome, especially when you’re struggling with low mood. You recognise exercise is something you’d like to introduce to your life, but you have no energy or motivation to do it. For me, it has been a battle for the last 10 years to try and motivate myself to consistently exercise.
Over the years I’ve gradually seen my weight increasing, but I told myself it was because I was still growing. 10.5 stone, 11 stone, 12 stone… 14 stone. I would look at myself and wouldn’t be happy with the way that I looked, but I never considered myself overweight. That is, until I sat down one day after just getting a shower, saw my reflection in the TV screen and realised. I had a sizable amount of fat flopping over my sides and my stomach now had three rolls unwelcomely overlapping each other. I was overweight.
I think I had subconsciously known I was overweight but didn’t want to accept it and lose the image of how skinny and in shape I used to be when I swam. I already felt low; I didn’t need to add another problem to the list.
In more recent years I decided to try and commit to exercising. I signed up to a gym and planned to go at least three times a week. One visit to the gym later and a week had passed, and I was left feeling very demotivated. A couple of months had passed and I had built up the courage to try again but was met with the same disappointment. I just couldn’t bring myself to go, whether that be from feeling low or from lack of energy.
For months on end I felt a growing frustration within me and despair at the idea I would never be one of those people who gets in shape, has a great body and actually enjoys exercise. However, one day after failing to go to the gym again I noticed myself planning to start again next week. I reflected on how, historically, it had taken me a few months to get back on track and try again, however it was now taking me a week.
“Okay”, I thought, “it’s taking you less and less time to get back on it and try again. That’s progress.” I remember feeling a lot of relief when I acknowledged my progress, it wasn’t much and I still felt so far away from where I wanted to be, but over time I was able to change my habits and be more persistent with exercise.
I decided to set myself a challenge; something that would push me but also was achievable. I set myself the challenge of doing 30 days of yoga. This was beginner’s yoga so I knew it wouldn’t be hugely taxing on my body – turns out because I had little to no strength and fitness it was much more of a challenge than I originally anticipated, but it was still manageable.
However, as usual, I gave up; I got to day 5 and decided I was too tired to do day 6. But then come a week or two later I tried again. I got to day 10, then day 14; I was getting there. Then, finally, I did 30 days. It was tough and on multiple occasions I didn’t feel like doing it, so I would substitute the days routine for one in the series that looked a little easier so I would still be keeping on track, but was able to accommodate how I was feeling that day.
I wanted to give up multiple times, but I had been there. I had gotten to day 14 and given up and felt disappointed in myself. I was so tired of not achieving my goal, I used that negative emotion to drive me forward and push me to the end of the 30 days. I felt very proud of myself for achieving that goal, but I had to make sure I didn’t lose my momentum. The yoga stopped but going to the gym started up again. Two times a week, then three.
Fast forward a few months and I’m 5kg lighter, starting to see real progress with my strength and fitness and feeling good about myself. Now, I sometimes find it harder to not do a workout or push myself because I remember all the times I have failed or given up and how I have felt when I have. I use that negative energy to drive me forward, even if it’s just pushing that little bit harder than I did before. I wouldn’t have that if I hadn’t kept trying and failing.
Start adding some exercise into your routine; this is probably the hardest part of your journey, when you’ve just started and are trying to make the change in your life.
Choose something you think you will be able to keep to; I found running wasn’t for me initially. It is a very tough sport to start from scratch and those first few runs aren’t pleasant. I found it put me off doing exercise a lot. Walking, however, was something I could get into more. Walks along the beach or in a nice area, listening to a book I found worked for me. Increase the length of your walks or visit hilly areas if you want more of a challenge.
I also tried using the gym, but if you can’t afford to then there is so much you can do with just your bodyweight. I gave up a lot, but I kept trying. When I was at the gym and had completed I workout I usually felt good, the hardest part is re-training yourself to go out and do it, especially when you really don’t feel like it.
You will struggle, you will give up, but you need to keep going. Allow yourself time, gradually you’ll begin to fall into more of a routine.
Use your experiences to drive you
Don’t let the challenges you’ve faced, the negative emotions that haunted you go to waste. Use them to drive you forward. I remember going out running one day when I really didn’t feel like it. I was two laps from the end of my run and was concluding I was going to give up and walk.
However, I’d been there before. I’d given up too early before; I knew I could complete the run, but mentally I was giving up. I remembered how I felt from times before and used that to take away the option of stopping. This didn’t happen immediately, but I’d given up to many times that I was fed up of doing it. The sense of achievement I got from completing the run was huge, and I learnt I have more control over my mind and my body that I thought I had. Since then, I push myself just that little bit further than the time before, because I can.
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.‘Mary Anne Radmacher, American author and artist