How to Keep Fitness Going When Life Gets Hard
“Motivation gets you started, discipline keeps you going”
“You won’t always be motivated, so you must learn to be disciplined”
I’m sure you’ve read those little nuggets of wisdom before. Those, and little motivational quotes similar to those run rampant all over the fitness world. They’re especially prominent in the fitness worlds of social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. And they’re all well and good, really…and accurate, at that. Motivation does do amazing things for kickstarting a healthier lifestyle. Habit and discipline will keep you going when motivation fizzles out or takes a leave of absence. Eventually, anyway. But…what if you’re not there yet?
Let’s say you started making your health and fitness a priority because you wanted to lose a few pounds. But you haven’t been doing it long enough to reach “habit and discipline” status everyone talks about. What will you have to fall back on when you hit a rough patch? I’m not talking a rough patch in fitness, though – spoiler alert: that’s all one big rough patch LOL. I mean you find yourself in an especially busy or hard time in your life.
Life has a way of preventing you from prioritizing your mental and physical well-being. Maybe you’re slammed at work or your baby is sleep regressing. Maybe someone you love is sick, you’re overcome by a bout of depression, or INSERT SHIT THAT HAPPENS HERE.
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Sometimes, that something is a smaller bump in the road, but a bump in the road, nonetheless. Early on down the road to a healthier you, even the tiniest of snags can throw you majorly off course. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s easy to quit. It’s easy to think what’s the point?, and throw in the towel. Maybe you had a rough night’s sleep or had a fight with a friend. Maybe your workload feels extra heavy or you feel guilty after overindulging the night before. Problems are problems, whether you perceive them as big, small, or anything in between. Stress is stress, whether you believe you’re better or worse off than so-and-so by comparison.
How do you navigate the bumps, snags, and problems that life throws at you, and still prioritize your health? Motivation certainly isn’t there to power you through. And, at this point in your journey, the almighty “discipline” of which they speak seems like the thing of legends.
1. Know it’s temporary.
This too shall pass. Time heals all wounds. Rolling your eyes yet? Sorry, but these moldy oldies hold water. When the hardest bits of life seem unrelenting and never ending, remember nothing lasts forever. Man, I’m on a roll.
Even when the toughest, darkest times of your life end up changing it forever, you will adapt. That doesn’t necessarily mean the problem has gone away and everything is hunky dory. It means that your attitude and emotions adjust to the situation with time. It means that something that completely devastates and paralyzes you will only keep you down for so long. Eventually, life goes on. That’s not meant to sound callus, it’s just the reality of all things.
There’s Always Something
There’s always something, but sometimes that something is really hard to handle right now. Sometimes that something has every Goddamn right to keep you out of the gym and in a vat of comfort food. Sometimes self-care means taking a step back from daily workouts. Pumping the brakes on strict nutrition goals is sometimes necessary. In order to relieve some pressure while dealing with far more important matters, some things must fall by the wayside.
Just because you need to take some time off, it by no means you’ve given up. Rather than burning yourself out and piling extra stress on top of an already tough season, hit the pause button. Return when you are mentally and physically able. Because you will be again someday. I promise. Don’t view it as quitting because it’s not.
Your reason for letting your fitness focus blur doesn’t have to be some catastrophic, terrible thing either. It could be a project deadline, a busy travel season, or a sprained ankle. It could be anything requiring more of your attention than usual. Whatever it may be, it’s temporary. Fitness will be there waiting for you when you’re able and ready.
Let this reminder comfort you, knowing a change in the tide and new beginnings are just around the corner. Knowing this can help keep your fitness goals and dreams alive, amidst the chaos, until the time is right to tackle them once again.
2. Slow down, but don’t stop.
When you feel like quitting, don’t. Easier said than done, I know. Or is it? Going from a calorie deficit into maintenance, or cutting workouts back from 5 per week to 3, doesn’t sound hard. Eat more, work out less? In fact, it sounds pretty easy.
Maybe you can’t mentally or physically handle your current or ideal fitness and nutrition routines right now. That doesn’t mean you need to completely abandon them.
Alter. Adjust. Adapt.
Go outside for a quick walk instead of hitting the stinky gym for an intense lifting session under fluorescent lights. Fresh air and sunshine helps all things. Keep lighter pre-packaged meals and snacks around if you don’t have the energy to meal prep from scratch. Just because it isn’t as good, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still really good. What you think of as a step in the wrong direction might be just the thing that keeps you going. And that, my friend, is nothing but a positive.
3. Give yourself grace.
Perhaps the hardest thing for any of us to do, in any facet of life. We are, by nature, more likely to engage in negative self talk than we are to build ourselves up. It’s sad, but true. We will be literally everyone else’s biggest cheerleader, but draw the line at accepting a compliment, for Christ’s sake.
I didn’t lose any weight this week.
I only worked out twice this week.
I really overdid it at dinner last night.
*NOW ADD SOME FREAKING CONTEXT.*
I didn’t gain any weight this week, despite being out of schedule with all the hospital visits I made to see so-and-so.
I’m proud of myself for intentionally moving my body twice this week knowing it would help clear my head.
I’m grateful I was able to enjoy a nice meal with my family/friends/at home last night, instead of having to eat alone at my desk like I have the past 3 nights.
Change the Narrative
Let’s look at ourselves differently. Let’s recognize effort. Let’s celebrate and focus on wins. This applies to any season of life, good or bad, easy or hard, high or low. And it’s especially important when life feels particularly heavy. We’re already in a shit mood about this or that. It’s so damn easy to fall into the self-loathing trap when we don’t live up to our impossible standards.
Forget the fact that our plates are so full they’re spilling over in every direction. Forget the fact we’re currently enduring a full blown pandemic. Forget the fact we’re dealing with an injury, newborn, family drama, mental illness, exhaustion...any and all the things. Nope, that’s just noise and we can do better. How ridiculous is that?
You’re Doing Great
I tell my friends all the time that they’re always doing better than they think they are. And I promise them it’s the truth, because it is. Whether it’s motherhood, work, fitness, relationships, general to-dos, you are doing so much more than you know. We will voluntarily point out our one missed chore or un-run errand. But will we voluntarily give ourselves credit for the 100s of things we have accomplished? Nooooope.
If you started prioritizing your health, then experienced a blip on the radar – whether it’s a year later or a week later – I guarantee you are still ahead of where you were when you started. You have some experience under your belt now. You have some self-awareness you didn’t have before when it comes to movement and food. Those lessons don’t simply disappear when you need a breather. Whether you consciously disregard them or not, they’re there. They’re lying in wait, silently strategizing, and ready to pounce when the time comes. You’re doing better than you think you are, I promise.
4. Do the easy stuff.
The bare minimum might sound like a cop-out, but it plays, honey. Don’t bust your ass right now if you’re absolutely not feeling it. Sometimes you absolutely don’t have the time or mental space for weight loss, fitness, or what have you.
Fitness Can Feel Like Work
Maybe the idea of formal workouts adds to your anxiety right now. Perhaps the thought of logging every morsel of food that passes your lips makes you want to cry. Even if those things have brought you joy and success in the past, right now might not be their time. And that’s okay – they will always be there if and when their time comes again.
Related: 9 Sneaky Ways to Increase Your NEAT
Some Things Take Less Work
There are things you can do to prioritize your health and fitness that don’t involve doing things you hate doing. The easy stuff. The stuff that doesn’t require too much effort or add any pain, dread, or pressure. The stuff that won’t complicate your already taxed schedule and challenging time, such as:
- Drink enough water – take your body weight in pounds, then divide it by 2. That’s how many ounces of water you should shoot to drink in a day.
- Get enough sleep – when you have the chance to go to bed, take it! Don’t stay up late doing stupid shit, and for the love of God, put. the phone. down!
- Say no – protect your time and your sanity, and do so unapologetically. You’re already finding it difficult to just be right now. Now is not the time to volunteer for things you don’t have the capacity to handle. Don’t say yes to jobs, favors, or projects that won’t serve you or your well-being.
- Move a little each day – again, this by no means has to be a formal, hardcore training session. Maybe some yoga or a bit of self-guided stretching may be more your speed. A little walk to the mailbox or sweeping your floors. Giving the kids horsey rides or taking the stairs instead of the escalator. Anything to get a little bit of blood pumping is beneficial for both your mind and your body. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, it could make you feel a whole lot better.
- Call or text your mom, dad, bestie, whoever – just to say hi is great. Maybe just hearing their voice settles your soul. Or getting that text notification and reading “I love you, too” on the screen calms you. Take it a step further and share with them your overwhelm – I bet you’ll feel 1000 lbs lighter.
5. Remember How Strong You Really Are.
Just like you’re always doing better than you think you are, you are always, always stronger than you believe. Show up when and how you can, and don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re not capable. Even during “good” times, it’s important to call yourself out on your excuses. If they are, in fact, excuses, and not valid reasons, of course. You don’t need to always find a way, but you can sometimes find a way.
Seize the “Good” Days
When life gets tough, there will still be days that aren’t just complete and utter shit. Some days you’ll have more time or energy than others. Capitalize on them. Take advantage of the temporary positive atmosphere, however fleeting it may be, to show up. You define what “showing up” means. Maybe you show up as your old, kickass, ready-to-slay self and give it your all. Maybe you show up and give it 40% effort, because 40% is your 100% right now. That’s okay!
It’s OKAY to change your goals and methods to suit your current needs, schedule, and abilities. You are always stronger than you allow yourself to believe. Showing up in some way, shape, or form, might be what gives you the strength to endure your current shitstorm.
Related: How Fitness Made Me More Productive
You Got This
Weight loss is not a race to be won. Health and fitness is not all or nothing. Methods are not one size fits all. And nothing is set in stone. When life happens it’s okay to dial it back, reset, and refocus. Goals can change, becoming bigger or smaller depending on the situation. They can even be left to stagnate for a while. But they never lose their integrity.
Motivation ebbs and flows. Taking care of yourself is important. Keeping these 5 things in mind, you will have the tools you need to carry on, even during difficult times.
Follow me on Instagram, where I share my fitness journey ups and downs. See my workout routine, and my nutrition wins and blunders while I navigate my seasons of stay-at-home mom life.