The Former Couch Potato’s Guide to Embracing Exercise

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

I hate to exercise. It’s so hard.

These words were like a mantra, an endless cycle running round and round in my head.

As a couch potato and irregular exerciser, I was in a painful place. One of the hardest things to do is taking those first steps on the way to regular exercise.

Because I continually started and stopped exercising, I was often taking those first steps. Then a few weeks later, I’d notice that I was no longer exercising again and the cycle would repeat itself.

One day, the mantra was interrupted with the thought ‘What if I changed my thinking?’

Maybe I could just accept exercise as ‘something that I did’, a bit like cleaning my teeth.

That was the beginning of the end of my love affair with the couch.

Today exercise really is a part of my life. When someone tells me how much they hate to exercise, I know where they’re coming from. But it IS possible to change and in the process reap the benefits of regular exercise.

I found the following strategies really helped in my transformation from couch potato.

1. Change ANTS into PETS

Huh? Automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) like ‘I hate to exercise’ can really derail our attempts to develop an exercise habit in their tracks. Changing these thoughts into Positive Enabling thoughts (PETS) such as ‘It’s just something that I do’ or ‘I love to exercise’ can make such a difference.

2. Just do it.

Like the slogan says, sometimes I just needed to take action.

3. Start small.

There is magic in just starting for 5 minutes a day. Every day. This changes the wiring in our brain to really cement the exercise habit in. One of the mistakes I used to make when I was trying and failing to establish a regular exercise habit was to start with sessions of 30-60 minutes 3-4 times a week. It was too much, too soon and before long I’d have given up again. The 5-minute sessions were successful because they were short enough that I thought ‘anybody can do this’ and it was easy to do something every day. Then, over time, I slowly increased the length of the sessions.

4. Rewards.

I’d half-heartedly tried my hand at using rewards in the past. Then I tried sticking simple gold stars on a chart. I felt like I was 8 again and it was amazing just what I was prepared to do to earn that gold star! You can be creative with this. It’s your journey – you get to make up your own rules! Sometimes we can be tempted to use food as a reward. This can be a trap for the unwary and sabotage all of your good work as hundreds of extra calories can easily be consumed as a reward for effort.

5. Accountability.

The stick part of the ‘carrot and the stick’. This is just as important as the reward part. For me, an exercise diary worked well. A supportive friend who’ll hold you accountable, an exercise buddy or an online app can all keep you on the straight and narrow.

6. Experiment.

Varying the contents of my exercise sessions helped to prevent boredom. In being willing to try new things, I discovered some activities I now really love that I never would have tried otherwise.

7. Make it enjoyable.

I found adding music to my exercise sessions really made a difference. Exercising with a friend instead of meeting for coffee can also be a fun way to burn off some calories and provide the motivation to exercise regularly.

Have you found negative thoughts to be a problem in keeping you stuck in old habits? What strategies did you use to successfully create a new habit in your life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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