The Myth of Perfect Conditions: 9 Common Excuses Used to Delay Exercise

It’s the Goldilocks Syndrome…. It’s too hot to exercise. It’s too cold. It’s too early. It’s too late. I’m too tired or busy or overweight or overwhelmed. When x, y, or z changes, things will be better, easier. That’s not long to wait, right? And, so, we talk ourselves into waiting and out of working toward fitness. All the while, we’re fully convinced we have the world’s most pragmatic mindset. What else could we do in such a situation? It’s just the way it has to be. Exercise just can’t happen under these circumstances. And so we give away our chance at vitality because we’re married to a set of conditions, which become – like it or not – our excuses.

Conditions…think about what conditions you put on your fitness. What gear do you feel you need to have before you’re going to take yourself seriously? What amount (and arrangement) of time are you convinced you have to have before you can commit to regular exercise? What do other people need to do or not do before you’re comfortable heading to the gym or just out for a long walk? What cosmic alignments need to perfectly synchronize for you to actually devote the better part of a weekend day to hitting the trails for an extended bike ride?

Maybe you used to be this way before the switch flipped and you claimed your vitality without having the practice of it be contingent upon the day’s mood, office culture and everyone else’s business. Maybe you realized the insanity of this approach but haven’t exactly gotten the hang out of making it happen anyway. Or perhaps you’re reading the screen with a sinking feeling that you’ve been outed, the curtain flung to the side revealing your choices aren’t as inevitable as you’d invested yourself in believing.

We’re a clever species – and sometimes never at our most impeccable when we’re trying to justify our way through the most self-sabotaging choices. The fact is, we could be waiting for the perfect conditions from now until the sun’s implosion. Or, maybe we’ll get lucky and what we hope will happen will actually happen. Then what?

If we haven’t cultivated the habit and self-control to stick with a routine (and sometimes a fitness routine can challenge even the most otherwise-regimen-focused individual), it won’t be as easy and simple as we think it will be. A rule of thumb I’ve discovered in the fitness business: Conditions don’t matter for success. Discipline does. Period. Aren’t we lucky that discipline thrives off of difficult conditions….

What are some of these ideal conditions, these unconscious expectations we have of ourselves, others and our environment that will finally “let” us move forward toward fitness goals? Let’s take a look.

1. One day I’ll have my own garage/home gym, and I’ll be able to work out every day.

This is where Primal thinking – as in caveman/cavewoman conditions – offers unmatched perspective. It’s a totally modern (and insane) notion that you need special equipment to move your body in a useful way. What, no one was fit before Bowflex/Nautilus/StairMaster was invented?

A lot of companies make a lot of money selling you this idea – that you require machines and props, and the more the better (or the more expensive, the better). It’s the myth of the perfect equipment – that somehow it can’t or won’t happen without gadgets and gear.

Sure, I love treadmill desks, rowing machines, the Versaclimber (more on that in a future post), and kettlebells (among a few other items) as much as the next person, but I could take them or leave them. I’ve been fit without them before and would be again. They’re convenient, but they’re unnecessary.

I’ll tell you the only two things you need to get fit: a body and some time – not nearly as much as you think. Which leads me to the next excuse…

2. One day I’ll have more time – e.g. when work slows down, when I find a new job, when I get a promotion, when the kids get out of diapers, when the kids start school, when the kids can drive themselves, when I don’t have x, y or z responsibility.

Can we all just agree that there will always – always, always, always – be something to fill your time. Stop telling yourself this will change or it will get easier. It won’t. Perfect timing? A mirage in the freaking desert. Decide right now to be done with that illusion once and for all. Your life will be better for it.

If you stand any chance of getting fit (or doing anything else of visionary importance to you), you must schedule it first.

Let’s break that down. Schedule it. That means set an actual time. First. That means it gets prioritized before anything else in your day. If this requires that you do it first thing in the morning, then do it. Carve this time into a marble calendar large enough to impress Nero.

If your exercise time comes and something comes up, change the exercise as needed, but don’t postpone. If you have to limit your routine to some body weight exercises and stair runs at the office on your way to a last minute meeting, do it. If you have to do kiddie yoga instead of your 30-minute CrossFit WOD because your child won’t go to sleep, do that. But keep your commitment.

3. One day I’ll have more energy for exercise.

Seriously. This is the perfect case of a dog chasing its tail. Waiting for more energy to do something that will give you more energy? Your vitality is waiting, but it’s not going to do the work for you.

Let me say I get it. Sometimes there are situations that knock us flat, and the fact of the matter is exercise feels like a remote possibility. Whether we’re bouncing back from serious injury or health/personal crisis, our energy or even abilities may be a fraction of what they’ve been.

That said, there is always something we can do. For those recovering from serious injury and illness, trained physical therapists and related specialists can give you an appropriate protocol. For those making their way through loss and other major transition/crisis, find new outlets, new routines, but keep moving. Maybe it means dropping your gym membership for a while and instead walking through area parks and reserves for the dual therapy of outdoor time and regular movement (not to mention the escape from noise and T.V. screens).

Do some kind of activity that hits the right pitch in terms of intensity and that doesn’t overwhelm the senses.

4. As soon as I lose a little weight/get a medical condition under control and movement gets easier, I’ll start exercising.

On a similar note, don’t put off beginning exercising because you’re waiting for it to get easier. Start where you’re at, and get some guidance from a knowledgeable and experienced fitness professional as well as your doctor about what’s appropriate and safe.

Again, adjust your perception of what exactly you’ll do for exercise, but don’t adjust your commitment to move.

5. As soon as I get my diet on track, I’ll work on fitness.

I totally get that people become overwhelmed when they make several changes simultaneously. So, here’s my suggestion.

Let yourself begin a few key changes simultaneously – changes that will actually support each other, but only focus on “mastering” one at a time if that helps. Hone a great Primal Blueprint diet with new recipes, new foods, new routines – knock yourself out cooking every meal in all the PB cookbooks, but also add some hiking time three days a week or some daily body weight exercises. One positive health change will actually help you adhere to other new behaviors/choices.

6. When I get enough money to afford a gym membership, that will be a good time to pick up a fitness routine. 

Don’t let money determine your health. Fitness requires pretty much no amount of money if you really look at it. Time and willingness, yes. Money, no.

If you just want to work out around other people, run, walk or bike around popular lakes or parks. If you want to to work out with other people, organize a group for yoga, CrossFit, or whatever activity interests you.

Some of the fittest people I know haven’t been in a gym for years – home, corporate or otherwise.

7. When winter/summer is over, I’ll have the motivation to get moving again.

How many people say this over the course of how many winters? Winter is like children and work – they never go away. Learn to work around it this year (those of you in the Southern Hemisphere right now), and you’ll never have to see this excuse again.

Take up a winter activity or two to keep the cabin fever at a manageable level, but be realistic if you realize you are an indoor person for a few months of the year. Be outside enough to get some sun, fresh air and mental break. The rest you can do inside. Gyms, climbing walls, indoor rinks, indoor tracks, your living room. It makes no difference.

I know this same experience applies to those who live in extremely hot areas. Again, if you need to live indoors for the most part during a few months of the year, accept it and make a plan with lots of options you can cycle through to prevent boredom.

8. I want to get my sleep under control before I take on anything else.

I sympathize with this one. It’s actually one I would say is legitimate. BUT – (You sensed that coming, right?) it’s a similar concept as waiting for energy.

Generally speaking, people with sleep issues are experiencing hormonal disruption and/or general health problems. You body desperately wants to return to homeostasis.

Lack of sleep will leave you crazier, more desperate and more run down than probably any deficiency – including inadequate movement and exercise.

That said, the faster you move as many elements back toward the body’s regular expectation (long-term fatigue or serious issues taken into account), the better chance you’ll have at sleeping longer and deeper.

See your decision to exercise as a complement and aid to your other sleep goal.

9. One day I’ll leave the city and will be able to run the trails or climb to my heart’s content.

That would be great, wouldn’t it? How about prepping for it now? You know, so you’ll be able to enjoy it when it happens.

Build up to it. Discern what you enjoy the most about that image and start working toward it today. Infuse your routine with elements of that ideal. Put it into practice now – in small steps. Find trails near you. Climb indoors and organize vacations and even weekends around those interests.

Have your dreams. Have your ideal, pie-in-the-sky visions for where (literally or figuratively) you want your fitness to go, but resist putting your fitness or your life on hold for that to happen.

What perfect conditions have you waited for, and what line of excuses begin to line up behind that expectation? Share your thoughts, and have a great week, everyone.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

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.

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36 thoughts on “The Myth of Perfect Conditions: 9 Common Excuses Used to Delay Exercise”

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  1. Kind of reminds me of the ‘tomorrow diet’ I was on for a few years. Everything would be perfect for me to start eating healthy …. tomorrow.

  2. On my way out the door right now! I was going to drive to get a cup of coffee. Thanks for the motivation! I will now walk the Monon Trail to Broad Ripple Village, and I get to stop along the way to admire the beautiful river.

  3. “Climb indoors”? Does that mean stairs?

    I think that we should also talk about the feeling of accomplishment you will get if you overcome your excuses and do it. The “I know I can do it because I did it once” feeling can help us get things in motion.

    On a personal note, last winter, I was having a hard time to find the perfect pairs of mittens. So, to continue going outside to walk, I just made myself some mitten-warmers with old wool socks and flax seeds to put in my old mittens. I’m really sensitive to cold and I’ve never find any boots or mittens that can keep me warm throughout winter, but I still prefer walking outside than “walking” on our elliptical that is just 3 meters from our couch. We should get rid of it, now that I think about it. Thanks for helping me in my decluttering effort!

      1. I use my inside home stairs almost daily and found the leg muscles strengthened and the arthritic knees are much happier. At my age, there’s even an aerobic aspect–and it’s all free! 🙂 I spend fifteen minutes each session for about 165 steps, up and down.

    1. Prisoners can get a workout in a cell by doing bodyweight squats, or plymetric jumps knees to chest – if you have a piece of ground – you can work out. You can also do pistol squats if its not enough – still to easy and thought you could ‘do” pistols – try lowering down slow right down, so your butt touches your ankle, hold for a second (remove all momentum and spring), and then come up – when you can do 20 of those in a row then you have mastered the pistol

  4. Habits.

    Habits either become your slave or master. Recently I read “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. Wow, impressed. Highly recommend the book and podcast. Definitely has impacted my life for the better.

    1. +1 from me too. I listened to it in the car on my 4 hour weekly commute (now there’s a good habit to use my driving time productively) and can thoroughly endorse the recommendation.

      I particularly like the part about making good habits convenient to keep and bad ones inconvenient. Sometimes one little inconvenient step can be enough to stop you in your tracks from breaking a habit.

      1. I discovered my habit personality type can blend and vary per habit or task. For example: When I am by myself I have to be an abstainer regarding food and drink. With people, the outside pressure allows me to moderate my food and drink. Exercise I enjoy I’m an upholder unless I talk myself out of exercising via a loophole. Exercise I do not enjoy I need external help, like a sprinting partner.

        So far Gretchen’s book is my favorite read this year. The weekly power-hour (no, not drinking every minute on the minute) and the 1 minute rule has helped me keep my home more organized. Now that my place has less clutter, and is more organized, these external attribute bring me more inner content. Keep my place organized is a new ritual I enjoy.

      2. Gary, I concur on preventing bad habits. I do not allow specific food or cleaning products into my home. If I have a dinner and a guest wants bread, they have to bring it in and bring it out. And they have to wear a ridiculous looking hat while eating. Makes for a good time!

        1. Why not complete the experience – get an inflatable paddling pool, and insist that anyone who wishes to consume the evil stuff must dress as a duck, whilst quacking for bread chunks that your other guests throw into their beak!

          (This is a joke, bread lovers, and also bread’s not great for ducks either! 😛 )

    2. I loved Better Than Before too. There were so many things that clicked with me on why certain habits never take. I recommend it too!

  5. I so see myself in this post six month ago! Then a flip switched, my health became important to me! Take last night. I woke up to a police search with K9 units in my neighborhood, at 2:30AM it went on for two hours, before I fell asleep again. This morning I felt deflated. I had planned a 50 min kettlebell workout, but the idea alone made me almost throw up. So I decided to do a 20 min workout with a heavier bell. I was a puddle on the floor afterwards, but oddly I felt so much better, and ready to take on my day.

  6. Whenever I start making excuses about exercise, I think of my sister who is disabled by a stroke, but walks a mile every day. Very slowly, with a cane, but without fail. She has a very big “why” as they say, since last year at this time she could barely take a single step with a walker. She even participated in a community event last week at a high school track, called “Got Grit?” Yes, she’s got it!

  7. Number 8 hits home for me. No sleep means no energy, so I use that as an excuse not to workout, which of course leads to another night of poor sleep. It’s a viscous cycle. Thanks for reminding me that exercise is the answer to my problem!

  8. I ran out of excuses 4 years ago.

    A pullup bar and 6 sq. ft. of space in my room now…before the pullup bar I used a tree branch in the field behind my house. I’ll never pay for a gym membership again.

  9. I have found two things to be important for long-term exercise.

    1. Make it as enjoyable as it can be. This will probably require some creativity on your part. Don’t like working in the gym? Find a spot outside you like. Bored of the same old reps? Figure out how to do different movements, perhaps using new objects. (Be careful!) And so on.

    2. I succeed if I show up. If I’m feeling tired-demotivated, I simply set the success bar at going to wherever I want to work out, getting my shoes on and starting on a walk, and so on.

    I find when I get to the (gym, beach, wherever) and then get started, the blood starts flowing and my energy level-distractedness-whatever decreases. So, I set my goal as and reward myself for just getting started. Usually, this leads to a full workout (or whatever) anyways, and if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

  10. What finally got me to change was engineering my environment. I stopped buying the unhealthy foods, stopped going to the unhealthy restaurants, stopped hanging out regularly with folks that didn’t support my goals and began to surround myself with people who were in shape and foods that were healthy.

    We are simultaneously products and masters of our environments. I know that not everyone in every situation can do everything that I’ve done to change their own environment but even little changes help to push change in a positive direction.

    Absolute willpower is a myth for all but the freakish few who can resist any temptation in any situation. The rest of us have to take and keep ourselves out of bad situations in order to stop making bad decisions.

  11. I think it’s important to figure out what motivates you individually. For me it’s easier to be motivated to exercise if there’s another goal built in: e.g., I’ll walk or bike to get groceries, return a library book, take my son to the library, or go birdwatching. Or the motivation can simply be enjoying the fresh air and the view along a trail. As a result, I get tons of exercise daily. But a gym or exercise machine – just exercising for the sake of exercising for X minutes -would never work for me.

    1. I totally agree with this, exercise for exercise sake (in other words, without purpose) makes no sense. That’s why we make excuses, because we don’t really enjoy it or get a real sense of achievement. I don’t see my daily movement as ‘exercise’ as such, just a means to get through daily life. My only shift towards the exercise aspect is to not necessarily to take the easy option, so walk rather than drive, dig my own garden rather than hire someone, etc.

  12. This reminds me of something I’ve read very recently that resonates with me.

    What people think they need when it comes to kickstarting fitness and health/wellness goals is motivation. But that’s not entirely true in my opinion. Motivation can help in short bursts, but what people really need is discipline.

    Discipline is self fulfilling, and constant. Its the difference between wanting to do things, and just strictly doing them. Start small, Discipline is rewarded by what you feel after, where as motivation, is sort of the mental reward up front that comes from the feeling of being inspired, but its fleeting.

    Motivation is trying to feel like doing stuff. Discipline is doing it particularly when you don’t feel like it.

    Its impossible to exist indefinitely in a completely motivated state. You need to cultivate discipline for all the times when you are not.

    1. excellent point. I just copied what you wrote and sent it to my inbox so I can remind myself to cultivate discipline.

  13. I think underlying a lot of excuses is a social anxiety component. “What will my co-workers say when they see me climbing the stairs between meetings — for no particular reason!”

    I say embrace the eccentricity. When I get questions like that I just say “Yeah, I gotta a move around a little before we start up again. I just can’t sit still that long!”

    And who knows maybe one of my co-workers decides to go for a walk that night thinking “yeah, I did sit a lot today, maybe I would feel better if I stretched my legs”.

  14. Thanks Kevin, that comment was great!

    Its winter down here in Australia. I don’t want to spend it indoors like the 26 other winters i have wasted. Im going for a sprint right now

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time


  15. When I started allocating time to do exercise, one of the comments I got from “non-exercises” was “don’t you have kids to take care of”, my response, “Exactly, and I won’t be able to do that if I’m sick or dead right ?”

    1. Having a daughter is what finally got me to clean up my health.

      Not only did I need more energy but I knew I couldn’t teach her to live healthy if I didn’t.

  16. Instead of completely blowing off exercise, be flexible in your approach.
    I was tired after a poor nights sleep and didn’t feel like exercising at all today. I was supposed to do bicycle sprints. Instead I went for a long walk and did pushups and squats afterwards. Not as strenuous as sprints would have been but it still helps.

  17. My exercise motto for when I am feeling lazy… JUST DO IT!!!

    Also, whenever I find myself crafting an excuse in my mind not to exercise, I think about how I feel when I don’t exercise at all. That feeling is often far worse than the one I am feeling in the moment of trying to talk myself out of exercise. And so I get on with it…

  18. I just escaped #2 and #8 and I don’t feel like it wasn’t legit. We had a new baby back in October and it turned out to be harder than expected by a lot. I actually maintained my workouts initially but unlike the pre-baby life, I was run ragged.

    About three months in I hurt my foot and shoulder in two sessions (a sprint and lifting). It forced me to take a break and three days later I was a new human being. I was simply not getting enough sleep to recover. I stopped my routine at that point.

    A couple months later things had settled down enough that we resumed our nightly walks and about a month ago I resumed sprinting, body weight work and light weights.

    While I generally agree with the concepts of this article, you can be legitimately overwhelmed and keeping a workout routine can do more harm than good.

    With that said, I offer this advice: don’t be afraid to scale things back when you need to. I would have probably been better served ditching sprints and reducing my strength training to pure body weight when things got crazy rather than attempt to continue with lifting progressions. I was so afraid of reverting to my pre-healthy self that… I ended up doing just that.

    Something is better than nothing but too much can be worse than nothing.

    1. Well said, Joshua!
      I started digging out of the ‘pre-healthy self’ dilemma by changing nothing but how much I ate. I then started walking and increasing the time and intensity over a two year period. Only over this past year did I incorporate resistance training and some intermittent rowing. Maybe not a great prescription for everyone, but them are the facts. As much as I still enjoy doing nothing some evenings, sometimes you just gotta move! For those times when I push to hard and ache the day after or the day after that, I take a guilt free break.
      Prior to my move into a more primal existence, I’m sure I related in some fashion to most of the conditions/expectations listed in the post, as well as many above (and probably below…).

    2. +1 – this totally encapsulates the whole primal approach, and why it works long term. Unlike other “extreme’ exercise programs, like long distance running, boot camp, cross-fit – the primal approach is long term and sustainable. Your not made to feel guilty if you back off, especially due to injury, the key is to be consistent, even if the efforts are scaled back, just keep the momentum going.

  19. Love this post, just the kind of motivation I needed.

    I used to come up with all kind of excuses to delay exercise, but now I’ve scheduled my workout, including running, walking, gardening and working out in the gym.


  20. I use a video game analogy to sort of mentally manage my exercise practice–

    Motivation is like a power-up, a short but temporary burst. I try to ensure that I’ve got a steady trickle of power-ups coming in, from things like this blog and other health/nutrition blogs, visualization of positive outcomes, exercise that I really enjoy (like a great hike or an evening of kayaking), making a date with a friend or loved one to do something active, even rewards like a new outfit for a special event or whatever. A power up can help you fight temporary weakness or help you to go hard for a short time, but it’s not enough on its own.

    Discipline is like grinding, where you fight the same old boring enemies until you eventually level up and/or get strong enough to defeat the boss. You don’t grind because it’s inherently rewarding, you grind because you want to get to increase your stats or get to the next level, and the game as a whole is engaging enough to make it worthwhile. So even if I don’t enjoy a particular kind of exercise or I’m bored with a routine, sometimes I just have to grind and know that eventually I will level up.

    Obviously, the more you can make exercise inherently rewarding/useful, the better, but just because every moment isn’t super exciting doesn’t mean the quest isn’t worth completing.

  21. It may be 90 in the dojo tonight with the most aerobic Sensei tonight, but I’m going.