We know, we know. Your dog ate your homework so you couldn’t make an appointment for your annual checkup.
We all make excuses. And it’s true that many of us are busy, tired and enter-your-excuse-here — and these excuses make it easy to blow off essential self-care like exercise and annual checkups.
But there are steps you can take to help stop the excuses and achieve your health and fitness goals. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist who specializes in life transitions, motivation and self-esteem said the key is to start with something small that you know you can do. “If you want to eat more vegetables, start with one Brussels sprout,” she said. “Mini steps are still leading to the end result, which is hopefully success.”
Shelly-Ann Collins Rawle, Ph.D., a psychologist with the boutique therapy practice The Black Girl Doctor, said a combination of practicle strategies (setting goals, time management, etc.) and cognitive-behavioral approaches can help change negative attitudes and perceptions.
Here are tips for overcoming some common excuses and finding success when it comes to your health and fitness goals.
“The perception of not having enough time is a major barrier to exercise and health goals,” Collins Rawle said.
The good news is you don’t need a ton of time to benefit from exercise. You can benefit from short bursts of exercise, sometimes called exercise snacks. “Instead of thinking it has to be an hour or two, start small. Decide to do 20 minutes. [If you] can’t go to the gym, [try] sit ups or planks at home.”
Thomas said to work exercise into your schedule like you would a lunch break at work. And write it down. “People are so good with excuses. So when you see it in front of you, you’re more accountable. Put it up on your phone, or put it in multiple places. A poster board even. This is my commitment for myself starting now or this year.”
When it comes to exercise, Collins Rawle said this excuse can stem from a lack of motivation or negative attitudes toward physical activity. Figure out what exactly did not work last time and decide what may need to change for it to work this time. “The ‘glass is half empty’ is a deficit mindset and is based on assumptions that may not be relevant now. If you believe in your abilities, then we can begin reframing to a more positive mind set as in ‘it could work this time.’”
Thomas noted that realistic goals are important when making a change to your lifestyle. “Be logical — don’t go all or nothing. If you don’t eat the right way one day — who cares? The next day, start again. And try to string together a couple days in a row. Even if you mess up, start again.”
Thomas said to start by asking yourself why you don’t like your healthcare provider (HCP). And be specific: Is your HCP dismissive? Rude? Unavailable? Then, write down the professional and personal characteristics you want in an HCP. “Learning your priorities can help you avoid the same problems with new doctors.”
Look to people you trust for recommendations and let them know your priorities. “What works for one person may not work for another but at least you’re making that step to reach out and knowing that place is good for that person can help motivate you to call and book the appointment.”
If you can’t switch practices, your current HCP may be willing to offer a referral to another HCP in the same practice who may be a better fit for you.
You’re never too out of shape to start getting in shape. You can start with what you can handle and build up until you can do more. Collins Rawle said to focus on joining a class or gym as part of your personal journey of improvement and ease into working out with beginner classes and simple machines at the gym. Consider alternative workout options that may also spark your interest such as a hip hop dance class.
Unfortunately, the longer you put something off, the harder it is to actually do it. Thomas said to turn the excuse around. Ask yourself how you’re going to feel if you don’t go. Consider finding a psychologist who understands you and can help you get on the right track.
And remember to give yourself some grace. “Be empathetic and compassionate with yourself as you would with a friend or relative or colleague,” Thomas said. “Don’t let your defenses scare you, control you or fool you — defenses are where the excuses come from. You don’t know how clever your defenses can be. Little by little you can face the fear and make a change.”