In an Exercise Rut? 5 Steps to Get Unstuck!

exercise rut, healthy habits, staying active

 

If you are in an exercise rut or not exercising at all, you are probably associating exercise with a “have to” rather than a “want to.” If you’re not having fun and exercise feels more like a punishment than a reward, you will not keep doing it. The way your brain is wired, it remembers situations that feel punishing and avoids them. This means that if exercise feels like a chore, your brain will make it harder and harder for you to engage in that activity. You will notice your motivation continue to decrease.

We all know that a sedentary life brings countless health problems. Most people agree that exercise has extreme health benefits: strength and muscle maintenance, slows down the aging process, weight management, mood regulation, skin health, balanced hormones, increases energy, promotes sound sleep, andimproves circulation. Exercise also regulates your brain chemistry, including the neurotransmitter serotonin, a key chemical involved in depression and anxiety.

Since you know exercise is beneficial to your overall health and well-being, how about making it rewarding instead of punishing? Follow the 5 Steps below to get out of the rut and feel vibrant and energized moving your body again!

STEP 1: Identify where exercise could be enjoyable.

What, realistically, would be a step toward enjoyable exercise that you can take this week? Before you respond with, “No exercise is enjoyable,” really open your mind here. Most, if not all of us enjoy moving our bodies in a way that feels good. What way of moving your body feels pleasurable to you? Perhaps you miss going on a morning walk and listening to the birds. Maybe you enjoy the feel of the water when you go swimming. Perhaps you feel powerful lifting weights. If exercise is new to you, think about environments you enjoy being in and how you might inject just a little bit of movement. Perhaps you enjoy that first big stretch before getting out of bed in the morning? No movement is too small. For Step 1, just start identifying where or when you enjoy moving your body. Put judgments aside and think about what feels good in your bones.

STEP 2: Figure out a small and realistic next step based on where you are right now.

Be honest with yourself. If you take advanced yoga classes three times per week, lift weights, and hike regularly, your next step will look very different than if you fancy yourself a couch potato and haven’t exercised in years. It doesn’t matter where you start or how small your first step seems to be. I once had a client who was sedentary, and years ago, she used to love to walk outdoors in her neighborhood. Her first steps toward exercise involved finding and then cleaning her walking shoes. These steps took a couple of weeks, and then she was off and walking. I viewed this as a tremendous success because she had been trying to bully herself into walking for years, with no success. By putting judgments aside (she initially thought these steps were too “small” and “silly”), she was moving regularly, and feeling energized and motivated in a matter of a few weeks.

STEP 3: Take the first step!

This may seem obvious, but many people can get stuck in the planning stages. Planning exercise is not exercise. Once you have identified a first do-able step, take it! Go for it! HINT: If time goes by and you are not taking that first step, break it down further into much smaller steps until you can follow through and take one.

STEP 4: REINFORCE!

There is a reason this step is in all CAPS. I cannot emphasize enough the power of reinforcement. If you respond to the step you have taken by telling yourself it is “too small” or “not enough,” you are punishing yourself for the effort you just put forth and can look forward to another exercise slump and watch your activity level wane. In contrast, reinforcingyourself for doing it, giving yourself positive feedback and being proud of what you are accomplishing is how you can keep your momentum, or build it. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for more specifics on reinforcement and how to do it.)

STEP 5: Keep taking this same step and reinforce it until it becomes easy.

Resist the urge to take on more until you have mastered this step. If you do, you risk becoming overwhelmed and may give up before you’ve reached your exercise goals. Keep taking this step until it no longer feels like a challenge but feels rather easy to do. Once mastered, it is time to increase the difficulty and, you guessed it, reinforce. (Expert tip: Once the step has become easy, reinforce it only sometimes before tapering off the reinforcement altogether. This is called intermittent reinforcement, which is the most effective way to lock in a behavior and make it permanent.)
These steps still apply even if you have an active lifestyle. Are you feeling stalled because you have plateaued, or have been doing the same workout so long that it is easy or boring now? Then make it a little harder, step it up, and move towards a more challenging work out using the five steps above. Immediately jumping ahead to something that is very challenging to you right away can only work if you accept that the road to a new habit or skill is not a straight line. For more on that, visit the earlier article on how change really happens:REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Some ideas for reinforcement:

DEFINITION: A REINFORCER is anything that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

  • TIMING counts!
  • Make sure to reinforce your progress as soon as you can after engaging in the desired behavior. (e.g., You just put on your shoes to go for a short walk to increase fitness. REINFORCE yourself right then. “Nice!” “I did it!” Don’t wait. REINFORCE immediately!)
  • Remember, the brain is making connections. The most powerful connections are made when the behavior and reinforcer happen close together in time. You can do it!
  • Find REINFORCERS that work.

Make a note of the REINFORCERS you want to try from the list below or use the list to help you brainstorm some of your own reinforcers.

  • Congratulate yourself (“Good job!” “You did it!”).
  • Make and enjoy your favorite flavor of tea.
  • Write a smiley face on your list next to the task you accomplished.
  • Stop and notice sensations of pride in your body.
  • Enjoy a small bit of nourishing food you enjoy and really taste it (e.g., a sip of fresh orange juice, a small piece of chocolate).
  • Look in the mirror and say, “I’m really proud of you.” Mean it and take it in. Feel the effects.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy to reward yourself (e.g., coloring, a favorite TV program, listening to a favorite song, play with Play-Doh).
  • Dance around the room.
  • Pat yourself on the back or give yourself a hug and feel the effects.
  • Gently rub the back of your hand while acknowledging your efforts.
  • Keep joyful pictures on your phone and take a moment to look at them and enjoy.

The key, no matter how many good tunes are on your iPod or what new sport you’re trying, is that you reinforce yourself- give yourself credit for all the work you do, even and especially when you are moving towards your goals but have not hit them yet.

For professional help with changing habits and creating a thriving life in alignment with your values, contact Dr. Bando today.

 


Do You Have a Sugar Addiction?

 

Can you tell yourself before dinner that you won’t be eating sweets, even all the way up until you order, and then your mouth spontaneously orders dessert? Or you tell your friend “no thanks” for a cookie, and then find one in your hand, on the way to your mouth? If so, you are not alone. And you may have a sugar addiction.

If you are not sure about the use of the word “addiction” in relation to sugar, chew on this: Recent research is not using the word lightly when it finds that sugar IS biologically addictive in the same sense as heroin. On top of that, studies are finding many more reasons to avoid sugar that we previously have only suspected.

 

addicted to sugar, sugar addiction, health psychologist

 

We now know that sugar poses a threat to your heart health, impairs your ability to feel full, damages your liver, contributes to obesity and you can be genetically predisposed to overuse it. There are numerous important reasons to address sugar addiction, and seemingly no benefit to high sugar consumption. If you find yourself eating or drinking sugary foods and beverages often, it is essential to your health to question if continuing this way is in your best interests.

High-sugar foods and drinks are easily accessible today. It is often quicker and cheaper to find high-sugar foods than it is to find food containing fresh, whole ingredients. Sugary desserts are available in convenience stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and at every company or family party. It feels like the stores and manufacturers are telling us sugar is what most of our diet should be. In short, sugar is hard to quit!

What Can You Do About It?

NONJUDGMENT and REINFORCEMENT

Stop telling yourself that sugar is “bad,” you are “bad” for eating it or otherwise flogging yourself for having sugar in your life. Why? Because punishment is the least effective way to create lasting change. Judging and shaming (punishment) yourself for eating sugar, even after you have committed to calling it quits, may just make it harder to stop.

The brain pairs unpleasant or pleasant experiences with the situations that caused them. If, for example, you try to curb your sugar intake and then end up eating ice cream at the end of the day, your brain will remember what happens next and catalog it for future use. If punishment occurs, the behavior will be harder to change. If you mentally beat yourself up for not succeeding, your mind associates your efforts to limit sugar with this mental punishment and essentially, starts to give up. When you try to put further efforts toward decreasing sugar in your diet, you will find it increasingly hard to motivate yourself, and your brain will tell you, “What’s the use?” while throwing its hands up in the air and then reaching for dessert.

If, however, you end up eating ice cream at the end of the day and instead sigh, acknowledge this behavior is not in line with your goals and your stomach feels uncomfortable (nonjudgmental honesty), you are starting on the path to change. Then turn your mind towards noticing that you turned down that donut earlier in the day and say, “That was fantastic! Good for me. I want more of that.” (reinforcement). Now you are greasing the wheels of change and your brain will remember this too. (Reinforcement is very powerful in creating change and there can be some nuance to it. Check out some of my other articles specifically related to reinforcement for clarification.)

In short, when you find yourself being harshly judgmental about a behavior you want to change, stop, notice what you are doing, and describe it nonjudgmentally, in terms of cause-and-effect (e.g., if I do this, then I suffer that consequence). Then, turn your mind towards a behavior you have recently engaged in that is in line with your goals (or find a behavior in line with your goals to engage in in that moment) and reinforce (reward) yourself. If you are used to being critical toward yourself, you may have to lower your standards here. It is perfectly acceptable to reinforce the smallest of steps, even if you just thought about taking steps to change, the fact that you thought about it can be reinforced.

THERE ARE NO SMALL STEPS

As mentioned above, in our society sugar is practically shoved down your throat and is in almost everything that comes in a package, including savory food. Recovering from an addiction, especially one that is in every store and restaurant across America, is difficult. Don’t expect it all to change overnight. Take small steps and reinforce them (see the NONJUDGMENT and REINFORCEMENT section above). For example, you might start with just reducing (not eliminating) the amount of sugar you put in your coffee or tea or decreasing the amount of soda you drink just by leaving a few sips behind. Reinforce these seemingly small steps and you will gain momentum and watch these steps add up.

ASK FOR SUGAR ADDICTION HELP

If, despite your best efforts, you cannot curb your sugar intake and are experiencing problems as a result, ask for help! You may want to contact your healthcare professional or reach out to a health psychologist, such as myself. Health psychologists help people make sustainable changes to their health. We take the guesswork out and help you move toward your goals in a way that is streamlined and rewarding.

If sugar is causing a problem in your life, take one of the steps mentioned about today and start shifting from surviving to thriving!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando