Cut the Guilt from Your Routine

Here I am looking super grumpy on a rowing machine.

Here I am looking super grumpy on a rowing machine.

I don’t know about you guys, but the holidays are always a struggle for me. At the risk of sounding extremely Scroogey: I hate being cold; the traveling, excess shopping, and increased social expectations give me anxiety; and the lack of sunshine drives me into a state where I feel the only thing I’m capable of is sitting on my couch, ordering food from Seamless, and watching episode after episode of Criminal Minds.

The good news is that, having been myself for over 31 years, I know what winter and the holiday season do to me, and I’ve gotten reasonably good at dealing with it — I try to give myself more structure and obligation in the mornings so that I start the day on my feet and have the power of inertia behind me; I also try to give myself regular “treats” and things to look forward to, like massages and giant scrumptious Dean & Deluca cookies. Essentially, I try to cut myself some slack while also not letting myself fall down the Criminal Minds-marathon rabbit hole.

In the midst of this, sometimes the struggle in my head over centers around working out. I’m extremely not a morning person, and as much as I’ve tried to make them work, morning workouts are just not for me. Also, my favorite classes with my favorite instructors are all during lunch or in the evenings. However, work sometimes makes lunch classes impossible, and as you’ve probably experienced, it gets harder and harder to motivate oneself as the day goes on — especially when you look out the window at 4pm and it’s pitch black out. That’s when I start arguing with myself in my head: “Well, you KNOW you’ll feel better if you go to Krav.” “But I also feel fiiiinnneee right here in this warm apartment!” “You KNOW your body just needs to get up and move. This is important to you.” “But… I should really stay and try to get ahead on this project.” “You’re going to feel guilty if you don’t go exercise!” … and there it is. The guilt. How much does it control us? How much does it fuel us? How much are we exercising out of guilt?

At the Women’s Fitness Summit in Kansas City a few months ago, Molly Galbraith from Girls Gone Strong said something that resonated strongly with me, and it’s what I think about any time I might need to “miss a workout” and then start to feel guilty about it. “It doesn’t really matter,” she said, “if you’re at the gym today, or if you go tomorrow or the next day. What matters is that you’re still going 20, 30 years from now.” What that means to me is: missing one workout, having one shitty day when you just can’t get out of your robe, isn’t going to break you. What breaks you is cultivating a habit of exercising that is centered around feelings of obligation and guilt — because that is miserable, and it’s pretty easy for us to quit things that make us miserable. Forcing yourself onto a treadmill for 30 minutes every day because you need to check it off a mental list in order to feel good about your life decisions is so much harder to sustain than, say, developing a relationship with moving your body that becomes a part of your life because you love it. The latter allows you to know and believe that even if you miss a few workouts or have a bad week, it’s going to be okay — you’ll be back in it soon enough, because it’s your way of life.

This is my challenge for myself this winter, and to all of you who share my cold-weather woes. Cut the guilt from your routine! Adjust your mindset so that moving your body, stretching your muscles, and testing your strengths become something you get to do, not something you have to do. When it’s cold and gloomy out, I will remind myself of how amazing 75 minutes of flowy, stretchy, yummy vinyasa will be. When I’m anxious about buying all the right Christmas presents and living out of a suitcase for two weeks, I will remind myself that I’m so lucky to be able to go somewhere and punch a bag relentlessly for 2 minutes — and get a high five at the end of it for my aggression. And when it’s a seriously awful, no good, very bad day, I will remind myself that it’s perfectly okay to snuggle deeper into my robe, order takeout, and watch Shemar Moore catch serial killers… 100% guilt-free.

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