• Psychology of Movement
    Do you experience exercise guilt?
  • Do you experience exercise guilt?
  • For a lot of people, one of the biggest barriers to consistent exercise is a busy schedule. Finding time between work, daily errands, family commitments and social events can be a bit of a challenge, and for some people this is particularly challenging because they feel guilty about setting time aside for themselves. Then, to add insult to injury, there’s often guilt for not exercising too!

    It is natural to feel guilty in these circumstances, whether it is because you feel an obligation to someone or a task, or you are concerned about what people will think about you. And of course sometimes there are other activities that realistically take priority over exercise. However, if this becomes a consistent pattern where you never fit any exercise in, then your well-being and physical health can become neglected.

    Not to mention, the way we feel about and value ourselves follows our behaviour, not just vice versa. So the more we relegate our own needs and desires, the less we end up valuing ourselves, because that relegation implicitly suggests that we aren’t worth the time and effort.

    Things to think about when feeling guilty about exercising

    1. Give yourself credit where credit is due for getting other things done. If you’re a busy person, feelings of guilt may crop up when you feel that you’re “not getting anything/enough done” and therefore exercise feels like a diversion from what “needs to be done.” If your mind is telling you that you aren’t getting anything done - recognise that these are just thoughts and consider whether this narrative is really true. It’s unlikely that you aren’t getting anything done. If you are busy enough to struggle to fit exercise in, then by default you are spending a lot of time on other things, regardless of how efficiently you feel you are doing that. And in terms of getting enough done, it may be that you don’t have the time or capacity to meet the expectations that you have set for yourself. So it’s useful to step back and recognise what you are getting done, and the challenges you are navigating in doing that.
    2. Consider how exercise might be an asset to your productivity efforts. Exercise can often feel like another thing to fit in that takes away from other areas of life. But often physical activity can actually enhance those other areas of life. The benefits of movement can contribute not only to your physical health but also support your wellbeing, which means it can be key in helping you to fire on all cylinders.
    3. Remember personal success spreads. If you are somebody who feels guilty about spending time on yourself, here is a friendly reminder that when you look after your own well-being you have a positive effect on other people! Positive health behaviours tend to a) inspire and encourage others, and b) put you in a better place to look after or spend time with others. For some people, seeing others exercise can even give them their own sense of “permission” to then spend that time on themselves. On the flip side, neglecting your goals and wants is more likely to have a negative impact on both yourself and others in the long-run.
    4. It doesn’t have to be "either/or". Often when we feel we can’t fit exercise in it’s because we are trying to do too much of something, whether that be the exercise itself or other activities. Perhaps our expectations of what we can achieve are unrealistic, or we view exercise as a bit of an “all-or-nothing” phenomenon where we “have” to do a certain amount of time (see our blog here on exercise rules!). Can you bring in short sharp doses of exercise, instead of trying to fit in lengthy workouts? Or are there other areas you can simplify in your life, or do less of?
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