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; I frequently struggle to make it to the gym and I have no kids, no regular evening activities and very few time constraints. 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.
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, both with getting out the door and with 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 only work four days a week. 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!
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