It’s Time to Ease Off Ourselves

You’ve probably heard this phrase in a commercial somewhere: “If I can do it, so can you!” It’s meant to make difficult goals seem attainable. 

Some people may find this very motivating. And it certainly can be. Sometimes all we need is a little spark of hope to push us into achieving great things.

But it can also be used as an instrument to shame people into thinking that they’re not trying hard enough. That there’s something wrong with them. 

Just because you’re not getting the results that someone else did does not mean that you lack a good work ethic.

From a marketing standpoint, the idea is that you push responsibility off the item or program or whatever it is you’re selling, and onto the person buying into it. Because obviously, there’s “proof” that it works. I mean, it worked for someone. So if you’re not getting the same results, it’s an issue that you have.

I’ve also seen this used with cancer patients. An exceptional individual who has defied the odds and still accomplished so much under negative circumstances is held up as an example of what is possible. They’re called an inspiration. 

And it’s true, what they did was possible. For them. But we know very little about what else was going on in their lives to support their endeavors.

It’s admirable that these people are able to achieve what they have, but it’s unreasonable to expect that from everyone. And sometimes obstacles that no one else can see (emotional pain, underlying fears, mental illnesses) may hinder us, and the best that we can do is get through the day. Or sometimes, just manage to crawl out of bed.

We may know this and yet still hold ourselves to those standards, and as a result, reap disappointment.

Why am I bringing this up now?

Maybe it wasn’t that you didn’t try hard enough. Maybe it’s because the goal was not the right goal for you.

Because as a cancer survivor, I’ve expected things of myself that I simply cannot do anymore and then became frustrated with my inability to fulfill my unrealistic expectations.

And hated myself for it.

So this is a little reminder to consider what is right for you. Definitely, set goals and seek higher heights! But make sure they are your goals and they fit your life and abilities. That they are meaningful for you. This may require you to adjust your expectations in a way that demonstrates respect for yourself.

Because if someone is trying to amaze you with whatever they’ve done that they’re trying to convince you to do, consider that they might be getting far more out of your willingness to try to live up to their standards than you’ll get out if it yourself.

How Mindfulness Helps with Exercise Motivation

Exercise has been an integral and indispensable part of my cancer recovery and my life as a whole. I’ve maintained a personal trainer certification (ACSM-CPT) for over a decade and even though I don’t train professionally, I keep abreast of new research and love a challenging workout.

Still, there are days that even I find myself dreading the session I have planned. For those times, I engage in mental calisthenics and rely on a mindful attitude. If you’re struggling to find motivation to exercise, this may help you too.

Note, motivation is something you generate yourself. It is inside you, but you have to coax it out. Be gentle. Hiring a personal trainer to beat you with a stick when you’re not up to a workout is not going to make you look forward to exercising more. But the following concepts might help:

Consider that a workout is made up of a series of movements.

Stop looking at a workout as a massive monolithic thing. Doing so can be overwhelming and make it more likely that you’ll talk yourself out of it before you even begin. Instead, consider that it’s made up of distinct parts, steps that you take one at a time.

Stay in the moment and keep each movement fresh.

Stay present and focus on the part of the movement that you’re doing at the moment, truly feeling into it. If you’re on a rowing machine, concentrate on each individual stroke making sure that you’re using proper form as you reach, push with your legs, and pull the handle. If you’re lifting weights, focus on where your body is in space, on contracting the muscle as you lift, on exhaling as you do so, keeping your body properly aligned. If your exercise is a brisk walk, be aware of how you’re stepping, pushing forward, swinging your arms. These movements become a meditation in and of themselves.

What matters is the here and now.

Release thoughts of how much longer you have until you’re done. Focus on the stroke, step or rep that you’re taking at this very moment. And then when you’ve completed it, consider the next movement with the same fresh attitude. Just as you would if you were focusing on each breath during meditation.

If you can’t finish your workout, that okay. You can try again tomorrow.

Practice self-care.

Do not force yourself to finish an entire workout if you *really* don’t have the energy to–but that means truly listening to your body’s limitations, not discouraging voices in your head. You are better off making a concerted effort at doing, say, half your distance or only one set per weight lifting exercise and doing it well, instead of making yourself so miserable that you don’t exercise again for another week and a half.

If you’re thinking, “I’m not up to doing the entire workout”, ask yourself, “Well, how much can I do?” and at least start. Consistency is key.

Let go of expectations.

Release preconceived notions of how your workout will go and how tired, miserable or sore you’ve already decided that you will feel. Look at each movement with fresh eyes. Employ a beginner’s mind. Get curious about how everything feels.

While it’s true that you’re exercising your body, your mind has a lot of influence on what will happen. The kind of exercise session you have is up to you. Decide to use your best form, draw on as much energy as you have in the moment, and exercise as much as you have planned. And if you cannot go as long you anticipated and have to stop earlier, let that be okay. No matter how much exercise you do, you are still better off than having done nothing. No one can take that accomplishment away from you.

And tomorrow, experience it anew again.