In my 20s, I was completely and on-again, off-again exerciser.
I exercised super regularly the last year of college and got in amazing shape, but then lost interest and steam after I graduated, and all my support systems and friends who liked to work out got jobs and moved away.
Sometimes I would go for a run, but it would be hard, especially in the phases where I’d put on weight from going out and eating too much or having too many beers with friends.
Then I’d get back into a phase of working out again, hire a personal trainer for a while, lose some weight, feel better, then end up losing interest or getting knocked off track by some other life event. (Nutrition was definitely a huge factor in all of this, but I just didn’t realize it at the time!)
I loved feeling fit, but I just couldn’t manage staying consistent for more than a few months at a time.
Until I fell off a friend’s grouchy barrel racer, landed on hard Louisiana clay, which broke two ribs, messed up my low back, and created a giant hematoma on the back of my right hip.
Well, it wasn’t the injury that got me back into working out really consistently, but the fallout.
I don’t talk about this a whole bunch—like almost ever, really—but I was on prescription painkillers for a few weeks after the accident.
I remember the comfort of the numb, dulling feeling those medications gave, and I remember when they stopped working as well because I’d built up a tolerance. I remember trading pain meds with my neighbor down the street because we had different meds and had both built up tolerances to the ones we had.
And, finally, I remember looking myself in the mirror about a week after that, and recognizing that I was at a fork in the road: I could stay hooked on my pain and limitations and surrender to life on painkillers (and I’d already seen how that worked out for other people in my life), OR I could stop taking them, throw the rest away, and start figuring out how to rebuild my body.
After the hematoma disappeared, my ribs healed and my back became less painful, I went to physical therapy and hired a personal trainer. That was in October of 2006. I’ve been working out consistently ever since.
Because of my history of being on-again, off-again in my 20s, and my newfound determination to stay fit this time, I started taking note of the things that I did or needed to do differently to exercise consistently. Life wasn’t getting any less complicated—being married to the Army, far from family, and having really small kids, so I needed to do things differently!
Below are the 5 steps I’ve come up with and followed that ensure I stay consistent with my movement/exercise/workouts.
By doing these 5 things regularly and mindfully, I’ve stayed super consistent working out for the last 10+ years—through PCS moves, illnesses, deployments, injuries and more. So these 5 strategies really are proven to work!!
One of the things I regularly do is anticipate. This means, I look at each week on Sunday, then at each day as it begins, and look to see what my obligations and responsibilities are, and where the challenges are likely to come in.
When I sit down on Sunday and look at the family calendar for the week to come, I can see how much of my time is already taken, where the ‘little windows of opportunity’ might be, and I can predict with some accuracy where things might get ‘hairy’ at the last minute.
Doing this again each morning helps me get really focused on THAT day’s business, since each day’s schedule and responsibilities is a little different.
After a while, we understand the challenges that are most likely to pop up in our everyday lives, so it’s not such a surprise when things don’t work out the way we’d planned!
Which leads me straight into…
Once I’ve taken a good, hard look at the schedule for the week to come, identified my pockets of free time AND potential pitfalls/challenges, I start creating my Plan A for my workouts.
Then I create Plan B, and Plan C, and Plan D—I plan myself all the way into the ‘when all else fails’ scenario.
Plan A is my ideal workout, B is my backup plan, and all the rest are contingencies—usually shorter and simpler exercise options so that I know I can do SOMETHING even if the workout I really wanted to get in can’t happen that day.
I plan it out BEFORE things go sideways on me so that I don’t waste precious time and mental energy trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. I know what to do, I don’t get so frustrated by the situation, and that means I still get something done that day!
And this brings me to this next point…
3. Have an iron-clad WHY
When things do go sideways on us—and they WILL at some point in the week, guaranteed—feeling frustrated can be a really natural, normal response. And this feeling of frustration, ESPECIALLY when it happens towards the end of the day when we’re lower on energy and emotional bandwidth for dealing with things, can tempt us to just throw in the towel and give up.
‘It’s too hard, I’m too busy, I don’t have the energy, I just can’t deal with this, it’s just not meant to be…’are all totally normal, reactive thoughts and feelings.
Having an ‘iron-clad’ WHY, aka: having a clear sense of purpose for why you are committed to moving/exercising regularly.
When we know deep in our gut WHY it is important to us to move regularly/get in those workouts, we are SO much more likely to stick with it—to fight to overcome challenges and obstacles and do what we can no matter what gets thrown our way.
Knowing our WHY makes it SO much harder to quit. That big, deep, meaningful WHY gives us purpose—it gives us a vision or the words we need to dig deep and find our grit when it would be so much easier to just give in or give up (easier in the short-run at least!).
The thing is, our WHY needs to be both powerful and rooted in a positive source. It needs to be a force that leads us forward and towards a goal or a feeling that makes our lives better, not simply an avoidance of negative feelings or outcomes.
Which brings me to the small stuff that let us know we’re in line with our WHY…
4. Notice the smallest of wins—and celebrate them.
To stay consistent, we have to stay positive. To stay positive, we have to notice the smaller, daily things we accomplish, because THOSE actions are the things that make our big wins possible, and that feed our WHY.
I like tracking these wins—in a notebook, on a consistency calendar, on Instagram, because it’s proof that I’m trying. It’s data that shows how I’m working toward a vision or a specific goal.It’s a course of pride—it reinforces my belief in what I can do, and helps me believe I’m strong enough (inside and out) to get up and do more again tomorrow.
And those wins on the days when I wasn’t feeling it, or everything went sideways on me right up to the kids’ bedtime, those moments where I did something anyway?
Those are the ones I value most, that have the most meaning for me—and when I revisit them on other hard days, I know I can handle it again, even if it’s REALLY hard at the time.
And when worst comes to worst, and all these other tools aren’t working for me for whatever reason, I call on a friend.
5. Find a Fitness Friend/Have a Fitness Friend
Fitness Friend, supporter, accountability partner, or in my case: pain partner. These are the people that can make a world of difference.
Having someone in your corner, who really does have your best interests at heart, who’s ‘in it with you,’ who celebrates your wins with you, and who picks you up when you need a lift can be the difference between us giving up when things are really hard, and digging in to get through that tough time or phase.
I had one in Germany, and she’s been the biggest support for me throughout this transition. She still is!We share our workout successes and struggles, she helps me figure out the crazy new exercises in the Kettlebell Strongman program we’re both doing now, and all from the other side of the Atlantic.
I knew what it was like to have in-person fitness friends, and to be one for others, too, but now I’m convinced of the power and effectiveness of the long-distance/online form of fitness friendship!
So if you don’t already have a fitness friend, find one.
Connect or reconnect with someone you know who cares about your health and fitness.
Find a supportive group or community—in person or online. There are many FB groups created just for that purpose, just like mine.
And I’m always here for you! Send me an email to email@example.com, FB message, whatever, any time. I’ll be your fitness friend if you need one!
I know there are things that can threaten to knock us off track, and that life, well, just happens sometimes. Really, I do. I’ve been married to the Army for 16 years, lived in 3 different states, two different continents and gone through 4 deployments.
I also know, from lots of trial and error and life experience, that when we have a plan, put strategies like the 5 I’ve shared today into action, and adapt as we go, we can get fit, and stay fit no matter what life throws our way. It’s not always easy, but we CAN do it!
Here for you everyday, and cheering for you all the way!
I’m just a message away: firstname.lastname@example.org