The #1 excuse for not exercising (or not being able to make progress on any life goal) is: I don't have time.
This post is my attempt to start a revolution to wipe out this phrase from our discourse. Why? Because it is not only an inaccurate assessment of a situation but it also prevents us from learning what is actually going on and how to fix it.
The phrase is inaccurate because very simply, all we have is time. Time is continuous, it is constant. How you spend that constant stream of time is a reflection of who you are, of your personal values. Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. That’s the problem.
If you don’t exercise, it doesn’t mean you don’t value it. It might mean that your life is not as values-driven as it could be. If you remember anything from this post, please remember this:
The most fulfilling, contented life is one in which our actions are an accurate reflection of our values.
What do I mean by values? Consider the following areas of life: relationships, family, work/school, recreation, health/spirituality. Now ask yourself what are the ideals you would like to be working towards in each of these areas of your life? For example, for "health" one might say: a physically active lifestyle. For "family" one might say: to be a loving mother. These are values. An action is something you do that demonstrates that value. To be a loving mother (value) you might sing to your child each night (action). Ideally, you are doing something every day that is attached to each of your values.
When actions become disconnected from values, often depression, anxiety, and other symptoms creep in. We feel that disconnect even if we aren’t sure where it is. At that point our behavior becomes emotions-driven, which creates a vicious cycle because emotion-driven activities begin to displace values-driven activities. In this fast-moving, high-octane world it is easy to look up and find that our actions have strayed far away from what we truly value. Or you might look up to find that you have completely lost sight of your values, in which case your actions will be heavily driven by the moment, other peoples actions, emotions, or who knows what. In either case, it's time for a realignment.
I challenge you to replace the phrase "I don't have time" with the phrase "I choose to do something that I think is more important" for one week. It sounds easy, but it’s hard to do because it feels bad to say. It feels bad because it brings to light the disconnect. Imagine telling someone that you didn’t come to their birthday party because you chose to do something you think is more important. Ouch! Other things were more important, right? Let’s find out...
The next challenge is to keep a journal of every single thing (hour by hour) that you did for a week. This is an eye opening activity if you are really curious about your actions-to-values alignment in general. At the end of the week, look at your journal. Do you believe that each and every activity was more important, more values-driven to you than a few minutes of exercise? Hmmm…maybe watching back-to-back repeats of Cupcake Wars wasn’t all that values-driven. Maybe dusting the ceiling fan blades could have waited until more important things were done.
Next, identify activities that are not well-connected to any of your values. Ask yourself whether these activities were emotions-driven. Take the Cupcake Wars, I did that because I was exhausted and stressed from a long day, but no, it's not connected to any of my life values. These disconnected activities are occupying time slots that could be used to do things that are more directly related to one of your values. Remember, having a values-driven life will make you feel more fulfilled and contented, and therefore less stressed-- meaning less time is spent in emotion-driven activities. I would have been better to choose an activity that was values-driven (e.g., walk on the treadmill) because those have the inherent consequence of improving mood.
If you feel all of your activities are values-driven (Unlikely! Come on, we all waste time!), then it may come down to a better distribution of your time across values. For example, 70 hours of work and 0 minutes of exercise is an unhealthy distribution. Your actions over the course of time should be balanced across all of your values, otherwise you open yourself up to problems in the neglected areas of your life. If you feel like you can’t pare back time spent on one valued-activity to make time for another, try leveraging your activities. This is where one activity knocks out progress towards two or more values. Exercise with your spouse, call mom while you grocery shop, or go for a walk during a conference call. The options are limitless.
If you are trying to lose weight, obviously the actions (like exercise) are highly value-driven. The challenge is how to bring these actions into your life. Displacing less valued activities for exercise will not only move you closer to living according to your values, but by generating a values-driven life you will experience more contentment and joy.
I sometimes wonder what terminally ill people think of the rest of us. They are the only ones who are truly short on time. They must shake their heads in disdain when they watch how we spend our time. How we slowly kill ourselves with stress. How we don’t do everything in our power to take care of ourselves. How we don’t realize we are terminal too. We have the luxury of forcing that reality out of our minds, and then go watch Cupcake Wars, skip birthday parties, and dust the fan blades…
If you are having trouble fitting something into your life that is truly consistent with your values, realign your time. Investing in your values is sure to lead to many, many happy returns.
Time is the coin of life. Only you can determine how it will be spent. - Carl Sandburg