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Reframe the barriers to healthy exercise habits

How to move from obstacle to opportunity

Change is hard, particularly when it comes to being more active. But you can reframe the problem and pave the way for success with a little self-compassion, intrinsic motivation and seeing your own wellbeing as the bedrock to a good life, writes AFL umpire Chelsea Roffey.

Fall off the wagon, throw in the towel?

The temptation is real: an overindulgence in chocolate ruins plans for a low-sugar diet. A comfy couch beckons instead of getting active. The weather is working against your fitness goals. 

It’s easy for a momentary lapse to derail efforts. Guilt, regret and shame are poised for attack.

Now. This is your moment. Opting for self-compassion, over judgement, can be a motivating force for growth and change.

Self-compassion allows us to see ourselves clearly, providing the psychological safety that can help us to learn. But while it is natural to embrace friends and colleagues with an attitude of kindness, we can struggle to show up for ourselves in the same way.

The positive impacts of self-compassion have been observed in a variety of circumstances – from building resilience in cancer patients, to treating body image and eating behaviour, improving emotional health of female athletes (and overall performance), to stress reduction, prevention of burnout and shaping wellbeing during the ageing process. 

When we respond to difficulties with kindness, we learn to recover quickly from bumps in the road. We refocus our energy instead of getting caught up in a cascade of negative thoughts or feelings. 

For many, it’s a novel approach to interrupt the negative bias that humans are prone to, which can lead to self-destructive cycles of thinking. 

Self-compassion offers an alternative: ‘Start again. Start now.’

Swap ‘should’ for ‘could’

While extrinsic rewards (or punishments) can be effective motivators, finding meaning from within can help a habit to last.

If exercise is a challenge, try looking at it through a different lens. Consider important areas of your life that could be enhanced if you improved your health through exercise. For example: 

  • a better night’s sleep
  • a boost in energy levels, enabling playtime with your children in the backyard 
  • strengthening a bond with a partner or friend who is also working to optimise their health 
  • exploring a new skill or geographical area, where physical movement is a by-product of the activity.

If your daily to-do list is long enough, aim to fit exercise into your life, or use it to create the life you want.

Swap out the ‘should’ for ‘could’ to find motivation through the things that give your life meaning. 

 Healthy habit

Match the reward to the goal. Is a junk food binge the best choice to honour reaching a healthy weight? Choose a celebration that supports the new habit and leaves you feeling great.

I feel guilty for putting myself first

If feeling guilty is common for you, bear this in mind:

Wellbeing is the cornerstone for all else in your life

You know the drill: fit your own oxygen mask first. Consider that your physical wellbeing dictates the quality of your thinking, energy management, and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. It impacts your sleep, nutrition, mental state and relationships. 

Make a new habit of prioritising your health above all else, and be amazed how showing up for yourself can positively influence everything (and everyone) around you.

You are a powerful role model

Lead from the front. For the little people in your life. For your partner. Your parents, siblings, friends and colleagues. Good health is infectious! Showing others how to take responsibility for their health through being active is one of the greatest gifts you can give. 

The energy paradox

Here’s a revelation: Exercise energises. 

It sounds counterintuitive, until you weigh up the multiple ways that being active gives back: 

  • building fitness, muscle memory, strength and stamina 
  • improving mental function by supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain
  • releasing ’nature’s painkillers‘, endorphins, that induce a natural high to combat stress, depression and anxiety.

Exercise can also help curb cravings for sugar and cigarettes.

Next time you’re too tired or feel too stretched to exercise, try to overcome the resistance. Even a short burst of activity can refuel the tank. Guilt depletes, but exercise energises.

Last updated: November 17, 2020 at: 3:29 pm