Workout consistency often feels unattainable in our busy lives. For many people faced with handling multiple family and professional responsibilities, it oftentimes feels easier to believe we can’t find the time instead of working to make the time to get in a good sweat. Some of us would rather lean on a whole bunch of justifications and rationalizations, which in reality are just polite code words for excuses. At the same time, they place their fitness goals—and the time needed to achieve these goals—at the bottom of the priority scale and instead accept the increased risk of long-term health issues.
Skipping out on your workouts should not be an option, even if you believe you have no time to train,
All it takes to get your fitness priorities in order is address some minor bottlenecks, then shift a few beliefs and attitudes that aren’t serving us in any beneficial way. You might find one or more solutions to your complacency among these five surprising reasons why you’re struggling with workout consistency. These reasons also provide convenient excuses not to even try, so let’s shatter them and get you on your way to a healthier more active lifestyle by improving your workout consistency.
1) You Always Put Yourself Last
“But I don’t have time for myself, I have to take care of my kids, parents, etc.” Sounds familiar? It’s a common societal expectation and gender norm for mothers to place the needs of their children ahead of themselves. But does this mean you need to put yourself last or can’t engage in healthier behaviors? If anything, when you prioritize your own health and wellness, you have more physical and emotional stamina to care for others.
The same holds true for people with aging parents who require significant attention and support. Though it risks lacking empathy to just say “make the time for yourself,” we aren’t superhuman and can’t sustain this pace with zero self care.
Make a pact to defy convention and place yourself first, or at least not last. By setting boundaries around personal time for workouts, you not only improve your workout consistency and your chances of long-term positive health outcomes, you build more stamina to care of people in your life. Taking the time for yourself may be an essential reprieve to emotionally endure caregiving for an ailing relative without resentment for the task or loved one.
If people in your life rely on you for their care and well being, what happens if you break down? What if there’s no one else willing or able to carry the burden? An investment in your own self care and health is an investment in your long term durability as a caregiver. It could be flipped to suggest that you have a duty to sustain your energy and ability by making time for your own fitness and wellbeing goals.
When cooking for children or other family members, parents often relegate themselves to unhealthy and convenient foods. This is outright illogical with an easy solution. Cook enough of the healthier options for everyone, including yourself. It rarely involves more time or effort to cook in larger batches.
Also challenge the idea that parenting and caregiving provide convenient reasons to avoid effort with your own health. It’s an easy way to deflect the emotional discomfort of not caring for yourself. You have a built in noble cause.
Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to care about you, dispense with the guilt for not directing 100% of your time and effort into family, and worry more about your own wellbeing than how others may perceive your choices.
2) The Skills Learned in Your Teens and 20s Are Now Failing You
“If only I had the time to work out and eat healthy.”
You’re confident you know how to get in shape. You did this during your teenage years and had it carry over into your 20s. Marathon strength training sessions and several hours a week of sports and running kept you in shape years ago. But years passed and careers, kids, and life piled on as did the pounds and you no longer have time to workout and your workout consistency needs a jump start. The skills you developed are now working against you. A recent study published in the journal “Science” debunked the notion that our metabolism slows down in any meaningful way until we reach 60. Instead our lifestyle changes as we age, leading to pounds gained and muscle lost.
Even though you may be determined to start again, once you “have more time,” life has a funny way of always keeping you busy. The demands of an advancing career erode more of your time. There’s no time with newborn children, but surely as they get older you’ll get more of that time back. But piano lessons, dance recitals, and sports practices dominate evenings and weekends. The new promotion requires more time at the office. The time needed to hit the gym must wait. Meanwhile, years pass and the hole deepens.
Getting in shape and feeling healthy doesn’t require the brute force time and effort you once had room for.
Discard the old beliefs that aren’t serving you anymore, and move on from the all-or-nothing mentality. Effort adds up no matter how you break it up across the week. A decent 30-minute strength session today will beat a useless promises of a longer, stronger workout “tomorrow” 10 out of 10 times.
And there are many easy ways to regularly include shorter workouts into your daily schedule, no matter how busy you are. Turn your lunch break into a workout. Find a gym on your commute home that lets you build in a workout while allowing rush-hour traffic to dissipate, creating a little extra time in your day. If the idea of going to a gym doesn’t sit well, invest in a basic home gym. A pair of adjustable dumbbells usually costs less than a yearly gym membership.
Feeling pressure to give up favorite leisure activities to fit workouts? Invest in a treadmill or spin bike and watch your favorite show while doing cardio. Invite friends to go for walks to not only be more active, but to create more social time you may feel you’re missing out on. Find other creative ways to stack healthy habits with routine chores. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts while cooking, driving, or changing the cat litter. Maybe it’s time to try a bike commute to the office if weather and distance are feasible.
A little planning combined with grabbing short windows of opportunity adds up greatly across your week. As your energy improves, so will your ability to be more active, and before you know it going back to your old sedentary lifestyle will be a thing of the past.
3) You Always Reset on Monday
You intend to start each week with strict nutrition and daily workouts. As the weekend approaches and mental energy wanes, a “bad” meal or missed workout cascades into a free-for-all. You swear you’ll restart on Monday. These unrealistic expectations set you up to fail at the slightest hint of imperfection. Admit that you’re also giving yourself permission to fall off track hard each week. The intent to restart on Monday alleviates the guilt from the weekend free for all.
When you accept that you’re granting permission to fall off track, you regain power over the situation. It’s not about fault or blame, it’s about restoring a sense of control and ownership.
Focus on the very next choice, instead of pushing the choice off until Monday. If you go for beers with friends and get into burgers and wings on a Friday night, enjoy it. Plan it as something to enjoy guilt free later in the week. Not only will this help adherence to a plan across the week, it helps set boundaries around the indulgences so they don’t derail the entire weekend.
If we learn to enjoy ourselves without shame, we don’t fall off track as easily. Know that Friday evening is social time, plan on having a big glass of water before bed instead of “street dogs or pizza.” Manage the hangover and plan to enjoy a healthy breakfast Saturday morning. Don’t focus on the mountain, focus on the next step in front of you, execute on it, then keep executing on the next choice in front of you.
Many of these situations are routine and easily anticipated. Knowing how each weekend plays out, it’s easy to prepare in advance. Pre-decide on the number of drinks you’ll have. Pre-choose a healthy snack at home instead of directing your cabbie to swing through fast food drive through. Going in with intention makes better choices easier in the moment.
As you lessen the frequency, severity, and duration of “binge” episodes and missed workouts, you diminish the impact of your off track behaviour, and compound your wins for better progress.
4) The People Around You Sabotage You
Decision fatigue and limited willpower make healthy choices enough of a battle. It’s harder when the people around you sabotage you. This sabotage isn’t always deliberate or conscious, but it’s no less damaging.
People often feel insecure about their appearance and their choices. They feel guilt and shame for their own perceived lack of effort with healthy nutrition and physical activity. When someone around them starts dieting and exercising, it can trigger these feelings. It’s human nature to want to make these unpleasant feelings go way. This means making the shame trigger stop by running interference.
Your new effort to eat healthy and exercise is met with more frequent office donuts, baked treats, and pizza. Not all of this ill intended. People can and should enjoy treats within reason. But when they come with extra pressure to “live a little”, recognize the attempt to make the shameful reminder to go away. Train yourself to recognize this sabotage.
Often the sabotage is within household. An unsupportive partner can be difficult to navigate. A partner may already feel insecure about their appearance when their counterpart starts to make effort to improve theirs. Now the partner feels threatened and motivated to interfere with your effort to change.
I’ve coached clients with unsupportive partners. And I’ve coached clients whose partners blatantly ran interference. One client’s spouse always made sure he was busy with last-minute errands when he was supposed to train. Another made sure there was always extra chips and pop in the house. Sometimes providing easy access to treats is born of love and kindness, wanting not to deny their loved one or proactively provide little kindnesses and comforts. Sometimes it’s a dangerous violation of boundaries. A man was once criminally charged for going as far as to secretly grind up steroids into his wife’s food and drink to keep her home—she began to grow hair on her face and back.
Dealing with unsupportive coworkers and partners is difficult and requires tough conversations and hard work to create boundaries. It means finding ways to leave partners feeling secure and getting them on board to support your efforts to improve your health. It also means taking responsibility for your own choices and health, and not allowing the people around you to derail your efforts. Sometimes it means the difficult choice to remove problem relationships from your life.
It’s also worth recognizing that not everyone will interfere with your efforts. Your healthy choices will inspire some of the people around you. It may motivate positive change. Recognize and support the people who want to change, spend more time with them, and leverage this support to fuel your own effort.
Be forgiving when you aren’t perfect. Willpower isn’t infinite and you will deviate from your best intentions. Go in knowing it isn’t the end of the world if you enjoy freshly baked muffins at the office. Give yourself permission to be imperfect, while making the next decision a good one.
5) Your Identity Isn’t Aligned with Your Goals
For our purposes, willpower is a limited resource. Work and life stress depletes this pool of willpower, often leaving little to fend off evening snacking or the desire to drive straight home instead of to the gym.
Have you ever noticed it’s easier to choose behaviors that are part of your core identity? Perhaps you’re a parent and automatically execute on parenting activities, even when exhausted. Perhaps you’re a member of a faith based community, volunteer organization, or sport. Notice how many of the aligned behavious are your default settings. We more easily and automatically act in line with our identity.
Align your identity with your desired choices and outcomes. Puzzled by people who wake up early, hit the gym before work, or run in all manner of disagreeable weather? It’s their default setting. It’s fundamental to who they are. Maybe you’ll never be this fanatical, but the answer lies within building or reconnecting with the identity of a person who’s active and eats healthy.
Maybe you were active in the past. Maybe you played sports. Maybe you enjoyed the gym but life got busy. Get in touch with that former identity and make it part of you again. Maybe you’re trying to start. Focus on an aspirational identity. Envision your future self who’s consistently working out and making healthier lifestyle choices. Build an image in your mind of the person you want to become, or picture someone you admire who embodies the lifestyle behaviours you aspire to. Keep showing up and making choices the way you imagine this person would.
No amount of short0-term intensity will change your long term health outcomes. Ever wonder why there are no reunion episodes of “The Biggest Loser”? Almost all the participants regained the weight(and more). Identify the obstacles to your desired outcome. Discard the attitudes that don’t serve your goals. Make yourself a priority. Stop giving yourself permission to quit. Build up your workout consistency and identity of a healthy more active person.