We all have days when our motivation is less than sprightly. We stayed up too late the previous night. We’ve had a busy week with work or family duties. We’re worn out after trying some new fitness experiments. The snow and cold are getting on our nerves. There are plenty of good reasons to take a day off from exercising. An overabundance of physical or mental stress, after all, can deplete us without adequate recovery. Plus, some days we just want to wallow in some abject, Grok-style leisure. As healthy hominids, we’re entitled, yes? All this said, what about the times when a day on the couch becomes a couple weeks – or couple months? What if we’ve, in fact, spent much of our lives on the couch (or office chair, driver’s seat, etc.) and are trying to make our way out of the sedentary trap? If this kind of chronic inactivity describes your lifestyle of late, consider this post for you.
Maybe some of you can’t quite identify with this problem. You’re ready to fidget your way out of your own skin if you’re so much as laid up for a single day. You enjoy the gym or all manner of outdoor endeavor. Nonetheless, I’d venture to say many readers can connect with this feeling or at least know someone who clearly does. Some people are simply comfortable not moving. Maybe they were athletes once upon a time but got rerouted by a sit-down job years ago. Maybe they always took an interest in more cerebral activities and never really tapped into the gratification of anything particularly physical. It happens – especially in our culture these days. Never before has it been so easy not to move, and never has there been so many sedentary activities and occupations that are, indeed, genuinely enjoyable enough to take up an entire day when you let them.
Yet you know this sedentary existence is draining the life out of you. It’s robbing you of vitality in the present and the chance for full vigor, mobility and longevity in the future. You know it’s time to change, but what do you do with the crushing lethargy and lack of motivation? Let me throw out some modest proposals to the chronically inert.
Harness the power of boredom.
For some people, this might be a necessary first step. Give your T.V. and tech toys to a friend for at least a full week (if not month). Get rid of any and all distractions (even if they’re treasured hobbies) for a strategic length of time. The break (and lack of related tools) will force you to find a new way to spend your time. Eventually, you’ll probably at least leave the house. This at least opens up new possibilities.
Get real about the logistics.
So, you don’t want to get off the couch. Does this mean you don’t want to get off the couch at all or you don’t want to get off the couch at 8:00 p.m. at night after a long day when you finally get the kids to bed? Seriously, not a lot of people in those circumstances want to go work out then. The problem in this scenario probably isn’t you as much as the unrealistic timing. You have a right to be exhausted at 8:00 p.m. By all means, spend an hour of quality time with your partner and then go to bed if you need to. What I wouldn’t suggest doing is keeping it parked in the recliner for another three hours only to feel exhausted again the next morning and continue the endless cycle. (Remember that definition of insanity – doing the same thing time and again expecting different results?)
If evening doesn’t work for you, scratch it off the list of available times and find a time to get moving that does work. Maybe if you hit the hay by 9:30, you’ll actually be okay getting up early to work out in the morning. Hit the gym, work out at home or outdoors in the early morning hours. Alternatively, get up early to go into work early and flex the time to make for a longer lunch hour (bonus: a midday walk/run means plenty of peak sunlight) or an early departure at the end of the day, which may allow for a pre-dinner workout. It’s possible that keeping a saner sleep schedule might allow you to make better use of your evening. A good night’s sleep every night might mean you have the energy to take the dog for a run at 8:00 or to do some bodyweight exercises before relaxing in preparation for bedtime. On weekends, set a hard and fast schedule rather than let the day’s random social calendar dictate things. Some people find it easier to get their workout in early and then offer their families the rest of the day.
Speed date YouTube fitness demonstrations.
There are millions of fitness videos on the Internet, many of them good, many worthless and some downright comical (sometimes purposefully so). Commit 15 minutes a day to “speed date” three sites (that’s a mere 5 minutes each). Do everything the person demonstrates. Remember, you’re only committed to 5 minutes if it’s too hard or too crazy. You’ll be gaining movement and maybe some interesting conversation fodder.
Make an active bucket list.
What would you do if you could? A 5K run? A 10K charity walk? Climb a certain mountain you visited once as a child? Hike the perimeter of your city or county? Canoe a certain river? Bike across an area of your state? Make the list and then set some smaller but appealing goals to lead up to the greater, bolder challenges. Let yourself walk the first 5K. Set your sites on biking or hiking a nearby nature reserve. Take a canoe or kayak around the perimeter of an area lake. Consider what would be genuinely fun. What would bring euphoria to your life? Commit to one “bucket list” item (small or big) every week, and document every accomplishment.
Round up some accountability.
For some people, finding an exercise partner is enough. The comfort of a friendship feels safe and encouraging. When you’re just trying to get moving at all, getting out for a daily walk with a friend can feel like genuine quality time. You’ll crave the socialization and support, which will make you want to get off your duff and do it each day. Be aware, however, that many (if not most) friends aren’t going to necessarily be your best long-term bet for making serious progress.
This could also mean hiring a trainer who is going to understand where you’re at and who will work creatively with you – but who won’t accept excuses. Sure, you pay that person for a service, but most trainers I know don’t enjoy taking clients who aren’t interested in putting in the work. Not only does it make for boring, frustrating sessions, but they recognize their clients are walking (and talking) advertisements for them. A client who makes good use of the service will always be the better investment of their time. This said, good trainers want all their clients to succeed. They enjoy working with people and are passionate about seeing people through major transformations. If you can’t seem to talk yourself out of your excuses, their no-nonsense approach might just get you in line.
Revise your definition of exercise.
It kills me how many people have this crazy dichotomy going in their minds that says you’re either training for an Iron Man or you’re not (doing anything). How does this persist? Come up with what a fun active life looks like to you. If you’re 62 and want to take ballet or horseback riding lessons, do it. If you’d find it fun to join a basketball league or a hiking Meetup, go ahead. Bike to work. Do yoga in your living room. Take up synchronized swimming. Go skiing. Guess what? It all counts. Think back to all the ways you moved as a child. Start there and find your inner Primal athlete. Go for fun and passion first. You’ll be surprised where it goes once you get involved and stick with it.
Experiment with how low – or bizarre – you can set this bar.
Challenge yourself to how much pathetically feeble or totally “unorthodox” style movement you can work into your daily life. Stretch. Seriously, just get up and stretch. Do ten minutes of something – anything. Set you alarm and do 10 jumping jacks 5 times a day. Walk up a flight of stairs at work once an hour. On the more creative side of things, play Twister with your kids (or partner) or hide and seek with the dog. Roll with them on the floor. Roll down a hill (and climb back up to repeat 20 times). Play karate even if you have don’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing. Wash your car. Wash your mother’s car. Wash your dog. (If you have a large dog, this may be no easy feat.) Dig a hole in the backyard – even if you have no purpose for it. Paint a closet door. Join a Pedal Pub on a Saturday. (Of course, don’t expect that beer to do you any Primal favors, but it’s a means of movement.) Throw a tennis ball against the side of your house a hundred times trying to not let it hit the ground. Juggle while walking. Speed walk through the grocery store on peak weekend hours until you’re asked to leave. Pull a wagon of rocks or other sundry items through the neighborhood. You get the idea.
Do some service.
See if altruism can spur some motivation. While you’re out and about in the neighborhood, rake the leaves off your street’s sewers. Go pick up garbage for a half an hour. Help clear spring trails at a state or regional park. Join one of the organizations that does painting and other home renovation work for people in need. Mow your neighbor’s lawn for the heck of it. Split firewood for someone. If your community or another human being just isn’t inspiration enough, commit the time to an animal in need of some exercise and companionship. Obviously, if you have your own, give him/her the best treat possible and head outside for walks, runs, chase and ball throwing. Maybe your neighbors just had a baby or just got put on the late shift for work. Offer to take their dog for a daily walk. Volunteer at the local animal shelter as a dog walker. Let’s face it: many of us would do for an animal what we wouldn’t do for ourselves. If it gets you moving, it doesn’t matter. No one’s judging.
Ask what you have psychologically invested in being unhealthy.
I’ve written a fair amount about this recently – the influence of self-perpetuated stories and personal identity. The fact is, some of us have it out for ourselves psychologically speaking. Defeat is integrated into our inner dialogue. Limitation stews at the base of our minds. Unearth these influences, see them for what they are (with professional support if necessary or desired) and let them go. Set up a circular file in your mind or a literal burning bowl in your backyard and release them from your consciousness. For every thought you give up, do ten “active” actions and visualize them as ten nails going in that self-defeating idea’s coffin. Now walk – or sprint – away like a boss.
Now it’s your turn. What advice do you have for those who are dealing with making the first moves off the couch and into an active life? Do you identify? What’s worked for you – or not worked? Share your thought and strategies, and thanks for reading, everybody.
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.