But I Don’t Feel Like It…Breaking Through the Emotional Exercise Barrier

I love having this blog particularly because when an idea pops into my head, I have a place to share it with like-minded folks. Two weeks ago the phrase “emotional exercising” popped into my head. There has been a lot of discussion on emotional eating (which I have written about before), but not so much on emotional exercise (if you Google “emotional exercise” you get a bevy of hits on the emotional benefits of exercise).

What do I mean by “emotional exercising?” To me, emotional exercise brings to mind the ways in which we psyche ourselves out of exercising. Just like emotional eating has the negative connotation of eating too much, emotional exercising is about exercising too little. In either case, we let our emotions rule the roost. The top culprit – “I just don’t feel like it.” The optimal word here is “feel.” This is a loaded word in this context. So what exactly don’t you feel like doing? Is it too hard to change our clothes, drive to the gym (or for some go to the gym in our building?), or open the door to take a walk outside? What can it be?

Three things come to mind. The first is the WHY FACTOR. When I begin coaching a client around increasing physical activity, we spend some time on pinpointing why it’s important. What are the motivating reasons? The stronger the reason, the better chance of success. I like to invoke one of Sir Isaac Newton’s law of physics: an object at rest (in this case your body) will stay at rest until a force acts upon it. That force in relation to emotional exercising is  the WHY FACTOR. 

The second is CONSISTENCY. And consistency breeds confidence, plain and simple. Consistency is the the muscle of routine. Instead of using sheer willpower (also a muscle that gets used up) you have the backbone of a routine already in place when that willpower begins to flag. When we lack consistency, we are also quite possibly setting ourselves up for failure. We perpetually let ourselves down, again and again, which can take a heavy toll. Down the rabbit hole we go. We conveniently use the excuse of “I don’t feel like it” to mask our own negative self perception.

The third is POSITIVITY all around – a positive expectation, a positive attitude, and especially positive self-talk. Think of this as the golden triumvirate. Setting up a positive expectation in many cases can be the hand that helps us over the wall. A number of my clients specifically focus on knowing how good they’ll feel when they finish working out, even if they don’t feel like it when they begin. Next is a positive attitude. Even if you are not sure of the outcome, you can have fun along the way. I recently took a terrible yoga class, in fact it was one of the worst classes I ever took. However, I kept a positive attitude throughout and although I didn’t have a very satisfying experience, I didn’t let it effect the rest of my evening. Lastly, is positive self-talk. I think out of all three, this is the most challenging, particularly because many of us have had a lot of practice of negative self-talk instead. We are so mean to ourselves! That “I don’t feel like it” moment can really mean, “I’m too fat,” “I look so stupid,” “I’ll never keep up,” etc… Instead, try saying something like “I am strong and determined today.

The WHY FACTOR, CONSISTENCY and POSITIVITY. Try these three on for size this week. Take a moment to jot down the reasons why exercising is important to you. Set an exercise goal that you are confident you can achieve. Mark it down in your calendar, set a calendar reminder, keep the gym bag by the door, call your workout buddy. When the day comes and you “don’t feel like it,” see how positive your are actually feeling. What can you do to shift the scale in the direction of your commitment. Challenge yourself to have a great experience and relish the outcome. You may be surprised how good you feel, which of course, sets you up for success for the next time.



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