Around this time of year, it’s common for my friends to want to talk to me about their exercise and nutrition plans for the year ahead. They want to be successful, they want to feel like they’re on a good trajectory, and they respect the changes I’ve made in my life over the years to live a healthier, more active life. In these conversations, it is extremely common for someone to say, “I need to just stop making excuses and do it.” And then, over the next few weeks or months, new, desired habits fall into the background, become more inconsistent, or maybe even stop altogether. Until the next time they decide it’s time to buckle down and “stop making excuses.”
If this sounds like you, I’d like to ask you–what would be different if you started from a place of self-compassion? What if you stopped viewing these challenges as excuses and started viewing them as reasonable barriers to overcome, to work around, or to plan ahead for? Everyone has barriers to success, and those barriers will continue to change and arise throughout our lives. Success doesn’t look like building a rigid plan and refusing to ever deviate from it. Success looks like constantly adapting so we can continue to make progress, or at least to maintain until circumstances improve.
I try to write honestly about the many barriers I face to keep training a part of my life. Over and over again, I’ve offered examples of adapting my training to make the best of my exceptionally busy schedule and chronic stress. Physical and mental disabilities have required me over the years to change how I think about “optimal” training, to learn to go with the flow, to do something, even if it isn’t what was prescribed by a trainer. I have learned to redefine success.
And because my attitude has shifted away from seeking optimal and towards doing the best I can, I can have compassion for the many barriers I face. I see these challenges as real and meaningful. I don’t see myself as making excuses but rather making do, making the best of it, making it work for now. What I need to do right now is not what I must do forever. Sometimes, I have to remind myself it’s ok to pull back and to pay attention to when it feels like I can push harder again. Sometimes I overreach for a while before I realize it’s time to come up with another plan.
I want to encourage all of us to notice when we are telling ourselves we’re making excuses and to consider extending ourselves some compassion in these moments. What can do we do for right now, what plan can we create that accepts these challenges as real and meaningful and deserving of legitimacy? What can we take off of our plates and still make some progress, or at least maintain until a better opportunity to push ourselves arises? It is so much easier to add to a minimal plan done consistently than to break the inertia of doing nothing and create and institute a plan from scratch. Every step forward is a step in the right direction, no matter how small.
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