NOT EVERYONE WHO comes to Psychotherapy is in crisis mode, suffering from distress or struggling with mental health issues. Some come in just to make sense of life and how they maybe holding themselves back from fulfilling goals and pursuing dreams.
One consistent issue I come across is how easy it is for a weekly fitness or diet plan to get knocked on the head and the week is then written off. It could be a moment(s) of weakness in the office after lunch or a bad sleep the night before and it’s sofa-central.
One night then becomes two nights, two nights becomes five and next thing you know the week is gone.
I would always explore why they feel the rest of the week is gone after one digression and I generally get an attitude of “what’s the point” and “If I don’t do it right there no point in doing it at all”.
This all or nothing philosophy is propagated by the myriad of images on social media of people training hard and meeting goals, which can lead to comparison and potential de-motivation.
The truth is we are all built differently, with our unique drives, needs and genetic markers. We cannot all achieve the levels of physical development or maintain a level of discipline worthy of an Olympian however, does that mean we just don’t bother?
That we don’t go to the gym because we will not reach the levels of the person you know (or barely know) from Facebook?
Often my clients set a training plan that involves exercising six days a week and a super strict diet and when they don’t meet these self-imposed criteria due to lack of energy or some unexpected commitment, they become dis-hearted and lose focus.
I love to train, but I know the limits of my own body, fitness and life goals, and the amount of energy and the effort I’m prepared to invest in training. I set grounded expectations on what I can and will achieve for the week and month.
I still push my body as best I can, but not to the point where the rest of the week is lost and the other facets of my life suffer. I’m also work around tiredness, for example scheduling just a walk on Mondays as I may be tired from the first day back to work. Others like to hit the week with a bang, which is the ideal, but might not be suited to everyone.
Write down your week
If you have a bad day and eat non-stop junk food, you might begin a cycle of self-sabotage where you decide to scrap any health plans for the rest of the week. It happens to the best of us.
But one bad day out of seven does not mean you give up on the other six. I find keeping a food diary helps to objectively see the week as a whole and how having a bad day is really not a big set back.
Writing down any exercise you’ve performed, whether small or big serves to remind you how you felt on training days; reinforces positive activity and can be cross referenced with your food diary to gauge when you need to be a little stricter.
Focus on movement
Aesthetics are one of, if not the main reason many people train as hard as they do but the amount of training as well as disciplined diet required can deter the strongest will. The slow process of physical change can also put a road block in your motivation.
Having lower back problems for over 16 years now, my own training was inconsistent at best and I would often get knocked off course.
That was until I took all the pressure off looking or even feeling a certain way. I put my intention on my mobility and increased my ability to push, pull, duck, roll, run, bob, squat, jump, rotate, etc.
I stopped worrying about reps, muscle growth or losing weight, and focused only on developing a body that was relaxed and could move in the direction I wanted and for a duration that needed to get me from A to B.
Find a system of movement that suits you, whether its yoga, swimming, martial arts, Zumba, Crossfit, kettle bell’s training, or just sticking to a walking program, anything that involves you getting to know the mechanics of your body, how to center yourself and when to tense up or just relax key muscles.
Also, the challenge of learning new skills and movement patterns will promote neuroplasticity, i.e. the brains ability to change and grow neuronal pathways which facilitate our ability to adapt to new situations as well as improving memory and overcoming injury.
Always do something
So many people disregard the art of walking as it is often deemed as ineffectual for weight loss. As a result, they may decide to just not bother. They may decide that the weather is too bad to go outside and train and decide to just not bother. They may decide they don’t feel like the gym because of an injury or you are just too tired, and decide to just not bother.
Doing something is ALWAYS better than doing nothing. Going for a long, focused walked HAS to burn more calories than sitting in and doing nada. If the weather is bad, doing a short push up/situp set is better than nothing.
Performing 10, 20 or 30 squats at home is better than nothing. And these will take no more than a few minutes in your home and will positively reinforce a foundation of discipline and determination.
Find other interests
Part of having a fulfilling and healthy life is by participating in a broad range of hobbies and interests. If having the perfect body is your only goal in life, you are limiting growth in other areas.
Read, write, listen, watch, go to talks, and visit family. Anything which is engaging will be healthy distraction but also might re-invigorate your appetite to strive for the best version of you.
Karl Melvin is a Psychotherapist based in Aspen Counselling in Lucan, Dublin. He works with adults of all ages suffering with issues such as depression, anxiety, grief and bereavement and specialises in helping people break free of dysfunctional relationships. He regularly publishes mental health articles on the website Toxic Escape.