Even though I’m a fitness advocate, and even though I know that everything good in my life, and I mean everything—my attitude, moods, health, ability to be a good family member who doesn’t fantasize about walking out the door and joining up with a merry band of (childless) pirates—flows from my working out and staying active, sometimes I’d rather do anything else.
People imagine that because of how I look and what I do—as described in my book, My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper—I bounce out of bed every morning with a twinkle in my eye and a song in my heart: “Woohoo, I can’t WAIT to work out!” I’d say my desire to train at any given moment is always about 50/50. Yep, that means half the time I’d rather lie on the couch and eat a bowl of cereal.
But when I’m feeling less than fully motivated, here are some of the things I like to remind myself—some secrets behind the secret—and also some useful tips for anyone who’s just starting out.
Exercise makes you happy. Even if you can convince yourself your abs are perfect the way they are, or you inherited your dad’s naturally low blood pressure, or all the women in your family lived to be a hundred and two, there is one thing that exercise fosters that everyone can use: the feeling of being glad to be alive.
And even if you don’t particularly want to be happier (I know a few people who groan and complain as if it’s a sport), it will make you more even-tempered, and thus make everyone around you happier, which will make everything else in life easier.
Exercise makes you hot. I once wrote a magazine article in which I tried to lay out all the good reasons, the smart scientific reasons, for working out and I wound up just saying, “Screw it! You need to work out because it makes you look hot.”
And yet, how many of us say, “I want to look hot, I’m dying to look hot—after I eat this cupcake”?
Figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Arrange your life to support the strengths and make it inconvenient for the weaknesses to prevail. The gold standard of examples: If you keep Pringles in the house, you’ll inhale them; if you don’t, they’re out of sight, out of mind.
Working out and getting and staying fit doesn’t have to be beastly or daunting. When I was a kid growing up in St. Thomas, people got exercise by swimming and walking and riding around on their bikes. Most people could probably have been more fit, but I’m sure their general level of fitness overall was much higher than that of many contemporary folks who vow to themselves that tomorrow they’re going to start working out two hours a day while, at the same time, nourishing themselves with water and lettuce leaves, until they have quads of steel and glutes like Mario Lopez. Of course, tomorrow never comes.
Introduce new habits into your life with a sense of reality. It can’t be torture. It can’t be something that makes you utterly miserable. You can’t feel deprived and pissed off because of it. You can’t feel like, “Oh my god, this is one more thing.” Aim for mild, aim for gradual. Aim for an activity that you might come close to enjoying.
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing eight reps with two-pound weights or if you danced around your living room while your kid is in the bouncy chair. All that matters is that you had a great time and challenged yourself a little.
Pay attention. Exercise physiologists have recently discovered that the person who exercises for 30 minutes with intent and focus gains more from her session than the one who dials it in while texting or reading a magazine, or simply not paying attention.
When you work out, whether it’s two or three or four times a week, for 15 minutes or for an hour, do it with purpose. Be there, just for that time, 100 percent.
Worth repeating: PAY ATTENTION. If you pay attention to your body during exercise, you’ll wind up enjoying yourself. When you exercise, for that relatively short amount of time, put the phone in your gym bag. Unless you’re expecting a significant communication regarding a loved one or a big work-related thing, you don’t need it. And never hire a trainer who allows you to keep your phone nearby or to chitchat.
Accept that on some days it will be hard. Your workout regime shouldn’t be overwhelming, but you must also accept the fact that it’s not like getting a massage. It is a form of work. When you go to the DMV you don’t think “This is going to be awesome!” But you go because the outcome—tooling around in your car (legally)—is important, and even necessary.
Find friends. After we become mothers, the first thing to fall by the wayside, besides caring whether we have spit-up stains on the shoulders of our T-shirts, is our friendships. If we do have time to hang out with other women, they are usually moms who have kids the same age as our own. And what do we do with these new friends? Bitch and moan, usually. Trade war stories about ear infections, sleepless nights, our husbands. The same old, same old, and nothing that’s very uplifting.
But start training with a group of women, and suddenly you find yourself with a dozen or more new pals. Maybe you’re not friends, strictly speaking, but most likely you don’t have time to devote to real friendships anyway. And better yet, the contact you have with your training posse is all positive, all the time.
Invest in relationships and experiences. Of course, you shouldn’t exercise at the expense of spending time with loved ones; however, if you’re taking care of your physical needs, the quality of that time will improve. And in the end, isn’t it about the quality of our relationships and experiences, and not making sure all our emails are answered and the laundry is perfectly folded?
My friend Katie Hester, a onetime federal judge with a Southern drawl, is always full of wise, down-home advice, and she says, “Don’t invest in ‘things,’ but rather in relationships and experiences.”
My experience has always been that if you invest in your own physical health, your relationships and experiences become even more healthy, happy, and sweet.