For about the last six months or so, I have had the hardest time trying to get motivated to exercise. For awhile last year, I really got into doing Zumba, but then it became something I HAD to do, so I lost interest and I couldn’t find anything else that interested me enough to get up off the couch or out of bed in the morning to do it.
Then in mid-May I read a book called No Sweat by Michelle Segar, PhD, and it completely changed how I view exercise. Seriously, this book got me off the couch and working out regularly and I’ve been loving every minute of it.
I sort of expected this book to be another work out plan, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it isn’t. Right off the bat, Segar declares that any and all activity counts as exercise. Wha??? That’s right – it ALL counts. As long as you are moving, you are in the game. Just finished scrubbing your bathroom for the last hour? Boom! You just did an hour of exercise. Took your dog for a walk? Pow! Exercise! And guess what? YOU get to decide what exercise means to you. If you hate the gym, you don’t have to ever set foot in one to get a healthy dose of exercise. If you like walking, then walk to your little heart’s content! Spending time in the garden is a great way to move your body as well! Find what you like to do…I mean really ENJOY doing, and then find ways to fit that into your day.
Segar’s approach is structured in MAPS, which stands for Meaning, Awareness, Permission, and Strategies. Here’s a brief overview of how each segment works:
Meaning: Here you are guided to figure out what exercise means to you and how you can change that meaning so that exercise becomes something you like doing. I talked to a young woman not long ago about working out and she was talking about how many miles a day she runs. I casually mentioned that I don’t particularly care for running when she yelled out “I EFFING HATE RUNNING! I REALLY REALLY HATE IT!” Concerned, I asked her why she does it then and she said it was because she felt like she had to run because that’s what you have to do to lose weight. I felt so bad for her! Conversely, I talked recently with another woman who said “after work, I like to run in the park because it helps me wind down and transition into evening. It really helps clear my head and I love it.” For her, it was an enjoyable experience. Same exercise, but two different meanings. The section in the book on meanings explores why we feel the way we do towards exercise and then guides the reader through questions that help achieve a new meaning. This chapter helped me to see that working out is a gift I can give to MYSELF – it’s something just for me that makes me feel better. It’s an hour of time that is MINE…and I now protect it without apology to anyone. This sentence was one of many light bulb moments for me: “…the messages that have been directing your exercise choices are pressuring you instead of fueling you.” When I stopped looking at working out as something I should be doing, it helped me realize that I actually do like working out – on my own terms. That’s the key for me. Finding your meaning for exercise gives you permission to work out on your own terms, in a way that feels good to you.
Awareness: The section on awareness is all about doing what feels good. It’s about getting real and asking yourself, okay, what am I willing to do every day? What kind of activity will feel good to me and I will actually look forward to doing? Here’s the gist: As Gretchen Rubin says in The Happiness Project “The twenty minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do.”* If you enjoy taking a walk after dinner because it gives you time to connect with your partner or your kids or your friend, you will be more willing to fit that into your day, rather than if you tell yourself you HAVE to do that DVD workout first thing in the morning (even after getting only 5 hours of sleep the night before). Which activity are you going to look forward to doing? But if you legitimately enjoy lifting the heaviest weight possible at the gym because it makes you feel like a BAMF, then that’s your jam! Get quiet with yourself, ask your body what activity would make it feel better, and then do that thing.
Permission: The next section is on Permission, and I’m sure by now you’ve heard that you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. I used to hear that and think “yeah, yeah, it’s easy to say, but you don’t know my family and my schedule!” But listen well, ladies, because I’m finding out that it’s true. It’s counter-intuitive to think that the more I let myself do the things I love, the easier it is to care for my family, but that’s how it’s playing out in my own life. What that looks like is this – when I’m doing activities that I enjoy and doing them regularly, I am LESS RESENTFUL when my family asks me to do things for them. For so long (so, so long) I felt resentful towards my family for making me feel like I was pulled in 4 different directions – it ain’t pretty, but it’s the truth. I constantly felt like I was at the bottom of the list, and I was because I was putting myself there! In the last month that I’ve been working out regularly, I am more patient and less cranky because I take an hour after work to go to the gym and sweat and lift heavy things and dance and just bask in the tidiness and femininity of the area. And as I said earlier, I make no apologies for taking that time – my husband recognizes how much it helps me and not one single kid has complained that dinner is now an hour later than it used to be.
One of the topics I loved in this section was the Self-Care Hierarchy. Modeled after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it asks what your absolute needs are when it comes to self care – what are the things that are important to you in feeling cared for? For me, my foundation is SLEEP. If I don’t get enough sleep, everything else is just wonky. You might be one of those people who can function perfectly fine on just a few hours of sleep (my husband is one of those people), so your foundation might be different. My next level up is SOLITUDE – I get cranky if I don’t get some alone time (and no, being at work by myself for 8 hours doesn’t count) – one of my favorite things to do is to flip through a magazine in the evenings when I’m alone in my room. The next level up for me is ACTIVITY – working out makes me feel more confident which in turn makes me feel more comfortable being ME. Even if I’m not at the gym, just moving around and being productive at housework or something like that makes me feel better about myself. Probably my last level is PERSONAL GROOMING – having a nice lotion, painting my nails, having clothes to wear that I like…all of these little things make me feel as if I am caring for myself. These are all the things that I need in order to feel fulfilled. I could probably also add things like time spent with friends, quality time spent with my husband, eating well…those things make the list too. I loved thinking about what my needs are and how much of an impact they have on how I feel. I highly recommend doing this exercise – it was an eye opener for me.
Strategies: this is the last section in the book and this covers the HOW – how are you going to make everyday activity a thing? This section covers how to fit activity into your life, talking to loved one about your new activities, and negotiating challenges. There are so many good strategies in this section, you’ll never be able to use your old stand-by excuses again. But the great thing is, that even if there is a day when you can’t/don’t want to fit in your activity – THAT’S OKAY TOO. Sometimes our bodies just need a break…so if your body is telling you that it wants to rest, listen to it.
There are SO MANY more things in this book that I would love to talk about, but then this would be the never-ending blog post and nobody got time for that. Seriously, this book has changed the way I view exercise and for a former couch potato like myself, that’s saying something. If you have a hard time finding your motivation to exercise, please go pick up this book and read it with an open mind. Honestly, I had no expectations when I read it and what I felt when I read it was relief. I just breathed a sigh and thought “well okay, yeah I can do this!” I joined the gym because of this book…I’m making self care a priority because of this book…basically I’m getting my groove back because of this book and I feel awesome. So please, please, please…go read this book if you just can’t find your WHY in regards to exercise. Then come back and let me know if/how it has changed the way you view exercise.
I received a digital manuscript copy of this book to read in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was given to me and my review is my honest opinion. I have no affiliate links with Amazon.
*This quote was also used in the No Sweat book.