One of the biggest mistakes I see many of my clients make about exercise is that they display all-or-nothing thinking about what exercise entails. Last fall, my client Mark was going on long walks for exercise. Most days he would go for at least an hour, sometimes upwards of two hours. Over the long and snowy winter, Mark fell out of the habit of walking outside. As the temperatures started rising and the snow melted the past few months, I asked Mark if he had gotten back to walking. He admitted that he hadn’t. His schedule had shifted, and he was much busier at work. Mark told me that he hadn’t been able to carve out an hour, let alone two hours, any day.
This was classic all-or-nothing thinking! Mark had it in his head that a walk was at least an hour long. If he didn’t have an hour, then he couldn’t do anything. I reminded Mark that there were 59 other options between a 60-minute walk and a 0-minute walk, and that anything was better nothing. A five-minute walk was better than a zero-minute walk! Mark and I agreed that it was actually important for him to schedule in some smaller walks throughout the week, even if he had time for a longer one. This would teach him that a walk could be any length of time.
When I started working with my client Rachel, she told me that she signed up for a marathon for the past three years to motivate herself to train and start exercising. Because the idea of doing a marathon was so overwhelming, she ended up doing nothing each time. Much like Mark, Rachel needed to start small and prove to herself that exercise could be anything; it didn’t have to be a marathon. She decided to sign up for a 5K instead. For the first time in several years, she was able to start training and get back to exercise.
I also saw all-or-nothing exercise thinking in my client Jen. Like Rachel, Jen used to be a big runner, but she slowly stopped running and gained a lot of weight. Jen wanted to get back to exercise, but every time she tried, she got demoralized from how hard it felt. Wanting to immediately be as fit as she used to be stopped Jen from doing anything, so we worked hard on not comparing where she was today to where she had been years ago. Jen was able to let go of her expectations on where she thought she “should” be and start small. She was able to return to a much stronger level of fitness over time.
If you tend have all-or-nothing thinking about exercise, start small! Even if you have the time to do more, prove to yourself that exercise can be any amount of time and break the thinking pattern that says exercise must be long, hard, or very rigorous. Anything is better than nothing!