By: Jenna Najjar

Exercise can be tricky terrain, filled with complicated beliefs about our bodies and health. It can be hard to find time to work out, especially if it is a source of fear, self-doubt, and self-criticism. What if the movement was fun, enjoyable, stress-relieving, and boosted your mood? Moving away from focusing on calories burned, earning food, or making up for food eaten and towards joyful movement can take time. Adjusting your mindset is a great place to start. Even the word exercise can be loaded with lots of rules and experiences that are less than pleasant. 

The first step in the process can be starting with reimagining what you define as a movement. Try thinking outside the box. What did you love to do as a child? What would be your ideal way to move your body? Maybe an at-home yoga class, set at your own pace, or walking in nature, swimming, or dancing to your favorite songs. The possibilities are endless. Shifting your focus to enjoyment and choice came to be a game-changer. Remember that you always have a choice. Forcing, shaming, or pressuring yourself can lead to resenting your movement practice. Try to shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise and if you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference (Intuitive Eating).

Let go of comparison and practice self-compassion. Comparing yourself to others can lead to an increase in self-judgment and criticism, which can leave you feeling defeated. One of my favorite resources for self-compassion is from Dr. Kristen Neff. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings (self-compassion). Dr. Neff has a helpful quiz on her website that identifies the three main features of self-compassion- self-kindness versus self-judgment, common humanity versus isolation, mindfulness versus overidentifying(self-compassion). Self-compassion is about evaluating our self-talk. How am I talking to myself right now, would I say this to a friend? If the answer is no, it is probably not ok to say to myself. 

Recruit someone to join you. This might be a friend, neighbor, or family member who you trust and can help you feel less alone in this journey. You don’t have to move together; you can even recruit someone to share your experiences with through texting or phone calls. Increasing your connection with others around this journey is an excellent way to feel less isolated and more supported. 

Look out for all or nothing thinking. It only counts if I move every day or If I miss a day, I am a failure. Identifying and refraining from this type of thinking can be a key step in moving you forward into a place of more self-compassion, flexibility, and freedom with your movement practice. Feel free to change things up. You don’t have to do the same movement every day. Check in with yourself about how you feel, how much time you have, and what you are in the mood for rather than following a ridge all or nothing plan. 

Break down your goal into smaller steps. One of the biggest pitfalls I see is taking on too much all at once. Setting goals that are way too lofty and then falling short can lead to self-judgment. Set small and flexible goals. Moving every day for an hour is too rigid, it doesn’t leave room for choice or for life to happen. Working your way up to your bigger goals is a great way to build momentum and early success. This helps us feel more confident in ourselves and the process. What are the pre-steps in your process? Do you need any equipment or supplies? Do you need to research or set anything up before starting? 

Celebrate every victory! Yes, even the small ones. Every accomplishment and step can be celebrated. You can even text your support network and let them know about your celebration or keep track of your victories in a special place, such as a journal.  A calendar is a great place to break down your goals, track your progress, and celebrate your success. This is where self-doubt can come in hard. I only moved once this week, versus I moved more this week than I did last week. I enjoyed my movement this week or I listened to my body and took a break. By reimagining exercise, adjusting your mindset, and personalizing your approach to movement, you can create a practice that is based on freedom, flexibility, and enjoyment. 

Action Steps 

  1. Reflect on your ideal form of movement
  2. Practice self-compassion- Take the Quiz 
  3. Recruit someone to join you 
  4. Break goals down into smaller steps 
  5. Celebrate yourself! 



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