How to get started (when you really can’t see how)

how to get started Rosemary Mac Cabe

photo credit: Uppsala, October 17, 2015 via photopin (license)

I am in no way an authority on losing weight, getting fit or finding your mojo – but when it comes to knowing how to get started, well, I have a fair idea (having done it, oh, a couple of dozen times). And it might not be exactly what you think it’ll be; while figuring out how to get started has a lot to do with setting goals, it has even more to do with being realistic, knowing your limits and what’s achievable for you and your body (and not the woman on Instagram whose life you want) and figuring out how to pick yourself up when you inevitably fail – over and over again.

It’s something I get asked a lot; yesterday, I received a message from a woman who has three children and works full-time. She said she’s overweight but just can’t seem to make good food choices; she’s unfit but can’t seem to find the time or the energy to exercise. It feels like she just has all of these pressures in her life… And I really, really felt for her.

None of this shit is easy; hell, I sometimes struggle to make it to the gym and I work from home, for myself, have no kids and no time constraints whatsoever. But it did get me thinking about how almost everybody could benefit from some form of road map, on how to get started when it seems impossible.

Set yourself one small goal

I am a terror (as my mother would say) for sitting down at my desk, first thing on a Monday morning, and writing down a list of 60-odd things that I absolutely need to get done that week. What do I do next? I make coffee. I make some more coffee. I watch an episode of Pretty Little Liars. I faff around on Facebook. In short, having this massive list makes it feel as if there’s no point even starting – I’ll never get through even half of those things.

But what do you think would happen if I wrote down the one essential thing that I had to get done?

Diet and exercise are the exact same; set yourself a mammoth task, like “lose a stone by holidays” or “go to the gym four times a week for the whole month of August”, and, in my opinion, you’ve failed before you’ve even started. But, wake up on a Monday morning and say to yourself, I’m going to spend 45 minutes moving today – even if it’s just to walk, instead of driving, to pick up the kids / get the groceries / post this parcel. Rather than committing to three spin classes a week for a month, say to yourself: I’m going to try one spin class. And if I hate it? I never have to go again.

Postpone your failures

Do you ever wake up and think to yourself, I just can not with today. I can not get out of bed; I can not spend the next 14 hours on my feet; I can not function with this little sleep. I do. I have days when I wake up and feel so incredibly exhausted that I just can’t imagine myself surviving the day. So I have this thing that I do: I tell myself I can go back to bed. I get up, I shower, I get dressed, all the while planning to go back to bed for a nap at 2pm. And do I? Never.

It works for all sorts of failures, too; if you have a chocolate bar that you are absolutely craving, there is nothing that will piss you off more than to deny yourself that chocolate bar. So how about saying to yourself, sure, you can have that bar – after dinner, when you’ve washed up and you’re sitting down with your cup of tea. When it comes to that time, sure, you might still want it – in which case, just have it, because life is way too short to deny yourself something you really, really want. But you might not want it at all; maybe it was a fleeting moment of anger or irritation (I am that cliché; as soon as I get angry or upset, I want to eat everything).

Same logic applies if you decide you really, really don’t want to go to the gym. You don’t wanna go? Fine. But why don’t you just get your gym gear on and get in the car / on the bike – and if, when you get there, you still don’t want to go, maybe that’s your mind’s way of telling you that you need to shift gears. Go for a walk, listen to a podcast or do some meditation. But there’s a 95% chance that, by the time you get there, you won’t be so against the idea any more.

Treat yourself

I don’t mean with food – although that was a habit it has taken me so long to get out of, and I wouldn’t say I’m 100% there yet – but with a reward that will help motivate and entice you to get up and get moving. In my case, I treat myself with new gym gear; looking good while working out makes the actual working out that little bit more fun. (To be clear: I don’t adore working out. I do it because it makes me feel better afterwards, but I still struggle, every day, with both getting out the door and getting through the workout.)

If gym gear isn’t your thing, take yourself to your favourite coffee shop after your workout to simply sit, sip coffee and think about yourself; give yourself half an hour to read your book; buy yourself a magazine that you usually don’t buy because it’s ridiculously expensive (hello, British Vogue).

By the by: do not fall into the trap of buying yourself clothes that are too small “as motivation”. That just doesn’t work; it makes you insane and, in my case, every time you look at the item, it will make you heartbroken. Real tears, people, real tears.

Prioritise and delegate

Like I said, I don’t have children – and I don’t even have a full-time job. I’m very aware of the privilege that these freedoms afford me, and I know that I have it a lot easier than most when it comes to scheduling activity and finding time for things like food prep.

But when I say “prioritise”, I’m not talking about locking your kids in their bedroom while you go to the gym. Instead, figure out what’s “essential” about your daily timetable, and what can be cut out. Maybe you’re spending two hours folding laundry while your kids are at creche or at school, when you could take 45 minutes of that two hours to work out, and ask your other half to chip in with the laundry when she or he gets home. (Also: ironing is the biggest waste of a life. If you iron things like underwear, towels, sheets and kids’ casual clothes, well, there’s your gym time.)

Another issue that I know comes up a lot in families is that of wanting to be together on a Saturday morning, rather than running off to a kettlebell class for an hour out of your precious “together time”. So why not plan something to do together that incorporates both? Go for a long walk on the beach as a family; take them to the local park and play a game of rounders; bring them to the local pool.

I can actually imagine parents’ eyerolls at this – getting a family in the car for a trip to the park is not all plain sailing, right? Well, your other option is: give in to their demands. Let them watch TV for an hour in granny’s and go to the gym. They are not going to remember that hour they spent without their mother on a Saturday afternoon. What will stay with them is if their mother spent their childhood hating her body and, by proxy, herself.

Those are my top tips: how to get started for dummies, if you will. (You’re not dummies, it’s just a phrase. You know, from the books. You know, Microsoft Word for… never mind.) If you have any that you find foolproof, please, please, share in the comments! We could all do with that extra push every now and then! 

14 Replies to “How to get started (when you really can’t see how)”

  1. This article could not have come at a better time because I feel the very same as the lady above – 2 kids, working full time, 99.99% of house work sits on my shoulders etc etc.

    I’m going to do as you suggest and instead of beating myself up for what I’m NOT doing on the fitness front, start to ease myself in using baby steps, and be selfish – take that time to myself to make me happy (and healthy).

  2. Just back from hols and i need to get my arse in gear, thanks for the article. On a side note thanks for recognizing its difficult for parents and not just presuming we can do classes at 1pm on a Sat. It’s refreshing when bloggers cater for all their audience!

  3. This is great Rosemary. I especially agree with postponing failures and treating yourself. Getting into gym gear and just going there is half the battle for me.

    Now to get on my soapbox…A really simple way for your readers and everyone, really, to incorporate activity into their day that won’t feel like a chore is one of the simplest: rethink your commute. I work with someone (full-time job, kids in school/creche etc) who swapped an hour on the bus each way for cycling and hasn’t looked back. It’s time for yourself, it’s activity and aside from the initial investment in the bike, costs little. Walking is even cheaper. I think it’s an often overlooked way to improve a morning routine for everyone – including children. Invest in some good waterproofs and the weather won’t matter.

  4. You are so right – it’s the actual getting out of bed to go the gym and not the workout itself I find hardest . I don’t think I’ve ever left the gym wishing I hadn’t been but that’s not to say it hasn’t been a struggle. It always is but the satisfaction you get by making it to the end makes if so worth it!

  5. Agree 100% with postponing things…I do that all the time! Saying you can have it later; tomorrow; Friday works so well to trick yourself into not giving in and binging.
    I’m on school holidays at the minute and nearly find it harder to motivate myself to go for a walk or to the gym because there’s no structure to my day. I work better with set times so pre-paying for a class at a set time or a set day works best for me.

  6. I agree with all of the above. When I really, really don’t feel like exercising I tell myself ill just go and workout for just 5 minutes….it gets me up and out and I’ll always do way more than 5 minutes once I’m there. Plus you feel in way better humour afterwards. I also listened to a pod cast at one point about the “lost hours” or something like that. They discussed those dead hours in the day which are kind of a waste of your productive time (like ironing or commuting to work) and how if you rejig the schedule a little bit, you can create that little extra window of time to devote to something you want. ie skipping ironing for an hour to try out a class you’re really interested in or instead of meeting friends for the cinema, meet them and go for a walk together out in the fresh air or even getting up when your alarm goes off and going for a run instead of lying in bed in instagram for 30 mins before getting up. I’ve even found that I can create free time when I don’t think I have it by doing my grocery shop quickly during that 15 minute break instead of wandering around the supermarket for an hour later on when I’m tired.

  7. Jean McGrath says:

    Thanks so much. I do the setting myself unrealistic goals thing. As a consequence I feel like a failure when I can’t achieve them. I also do the gym gear that’s too small and makes me sad. Thanks for the tips. Really helpful and motivating.

  8. Perfect timing with this post. I have been feeling crap about myself lately and decided to join the gym with my friends. I haven’t been yet as I’m trying to find ‘the perfect gym outfit’ (ie. something I feel somewhat comfortable in) which I know is ridiculous.

    Haven’t found my motivation yet, other than how I’ve already bought expensive Nike workout gear, but hoping it’ll come when I see changes in myself.

    Your journey is so inspiring and I’m glad you’re relatable about the gym, unlike the diehards 😛

  9. Absolutely brilliant article rosemary & so true, I think it hit every aspect of women’s lives, I work full time have two adult sons with one living at home & I have plenty of time to go to classes but make excuses all time so it also is for women that have plenty of time to as you said, I am going to put it into practice today & hopefully start a new way of dealing with weight issues & insecurities about gyms/classes, thanks rosemary you really do just tell the truth such a rare thing these days

  10. This article is brilliant. I have a tendency to be super hard on myself when I let things slip and put on a few pounds but maybe I need to give myself a break! I’ve a full time job and two young kids so of course it’s gonna be hard!!! Your tips are brilliant and just reading this makes me feel motivated again!!! Keep em coming !!!

  11. I loved this article. Especially agreed with the idea of postponing your failures. Rosemary just *gets* regular women! So relatable!

  12. Immediately after reading this, I booked a spin class. I’ve lost my mojo over the last 2 months and I want to find it again. My baby step was booking that spin class. I used to love spin and how happy I felt walking out of the class. Thank you Rosemary, this article was exactly what I needed to read this morning. (Ps – it’s still morning in California. I’ve not been in bed all day)

  13. Great take on motivation. Lots I can relate to.
    I remember explaining to a counsellor once that I didn’t know how to go to a gym and that I felt so overwhelmed by the idea of other people seeing me in my gym gear and I found her response so helpful… she asked ‘what’s the worst that can happen’?

  14. I love this article, I’m a mother of 2, aged 3 and 5, I work full time and do freelance makeup on the side, my husband works in hospitality so is often working 3 evenings a week plus most weekends!! It’s tough going, but what I decided to do last year is get up a bit earlier and go to the gym at 6:30am while my whole house is sleeping, and like someone else said, you never regret going to the gym once you’ve been, the results are, I have more energy, I’m more productive and generally have a better day. Getting out of bed is the hard part.
    A really good trainer also helps, also putting your name down for a morning class the day before really makes you get up and go.

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