My yoga practice is going to the dogs — literally. I’ve had company on my mat for the last two days.
It’s not easy to have a nice, relaxing practice when you’re having to get a dog off your head because he takes lying on the mat as an invitation to lie down and roll on it. Somewhat better is the little guy who stations himself right in front of you and stares in your face. I didn’t have the heart to make him move because he’s not feeling well, and I knew he just wanted to be with his Mama, so I just adjusted as needed to accommodate him.
Although these last couple of practices haven’t been what anyone would consider great, they have helped me get back to my mat. I got off-track after the skin biopsy I talked about in Is Your Chronic Illness Hiding A Problem? and have struggled to get back into my routine ever since.
Building consistency with exercise isn’t easy for most people, even those who don’t have health issues. It’s even more difficult for those of us who live with chronic pain, but there are so many benefits we can gain from exercise, it’s worth the effort.
As I talked about in I Like To Move It, Move It, the best exercise is the one you’ll actually do, but building the habit, even for the things you like to do, is hard. Once your routine is interrupted, it’s hard to get back to it.
Part of the problem with building consistency in our exercise program is that, for me at least, things that are typically effective for helping us build that routine don’t always work for those of us living with chronic pain.
Conventional wisdom concerning establishing the exercise habit has become the standard because it works – the majority of the time. We definitely shouldn’t ignore it, but because we deal with a unique set of circumstances, we may have to make some small adjustments to make it work for us.
As always, the first step in developing an exercise program and becoming consistent with it is to consult our medical team. Our doctor and the rest of our team know the challenges we face and the modifications we may need to make.
I thought I’d share a few of the tweaks I’ve had to make to those tried-and-true recommendations to help me keep moving forward with adding more movement into my day and allow me to build consistency with my exercise.
Then Some Fibro Hacks
Make an “appointment” to exercise. Write it on your calendar just as you would any other appointment. This helps you avoid allowing other things to cause you to let your workout slide.
Take a more relaxed approach to planning exercise. If you’re able to go the “appointment” route without feeling a sense of failure when you can’t keep the appointment, this is still a great way to go. If, however, this is a struggle, adapting a more fluid approach to planning your workout might be better. For me, adopting an attitude of “I plan to exercise today if my pain and energy levels allow” has helped me keep it at the forefront of my mind so I don’t forget about it, but allows me to avoid guilt if I don’t do it.
Work out at the same time each day. Doing the same thing at the same time each day is a great way to reinforce a habit. When we consistently take the same actions at the same time, it becomes automatic and keeps us from having to depend on our own motivation to do it.
Realize that due to the ebb and flow of our energy and pain levels, we may not be able to do our exercise at the same time each day. Some days we have more energy in the morning; sometimes it’s better in the evening. If we listen to our bodies, they will usually tell us what the better time is. We just need to set the intention to exercise in our minds so that when they tell us, we’ll pay attention. We also will probably need more than one rest day between workouts if we do something a little more vigorous. Giving our bodies appropriate rest time helps reduce our chances of a flare, and helps us build that consistency over time.
Set small goals along the way to your ultimate goal and reward yourself when you meet them. Breaking down larger goals into smaller action steps and rewarding yourself when you meet them can help motivate you to keep going when you just don’t feel like it.
If you wish to reward yourself, tie the reward more to individual actions than actual goal accomplishments. With Fibromyalgia, when we tie our rewards to goal accomplishment only, we can be setting ourselves up for yet another guilt trip. We need to set goals and work toward them, but tying rewards only to goal accomplishment may end up having a more de-motivating effect. Instead, we can set up our rewards based just on our individual actions. For instance, to help motivate me, I reward myself with my watercolor lesson after I do my exercise for the day. It gives me something to look forward to and encourages me to go ahead and get it done.
If you fall off the wagon, get right back up there. If for some reason you get off-track with your exercise program, don’t beat yourself up. Just start again as soon as you’re able. Feeling badly about what we didn’t do is not constructive. What we need to do is focus on what we can do now. As the old saying goes, “it doesn’t matter how many times you fall. What matters is how many times you get back up.”
There is no Fibro Hack for this! This stands true for everyone. Looking back doesn’t help us move forward. In fact, I even go so far as to give myself permission to be inconsistently consistent; I realize there will be many times that I’ll have breaks in my exercise routine. When dealing with an extended flare, I could go a week or two without exercising at all. That’s okay, though – I know that as soon as I’m feeling better, I’ll just start over.
As I said earlier, the standard recommendations regarding exercise consistency are called conventional wisdom for a reason – they work for most people. They’re based on behavioral science, so we shouldn’t ignore them; we just may have to tweak them a bit to meet our needs.
This can be the key to becoming more consistent overall with our exercise program.
Have you had experiences of having to make adjustments to the standard practices of habit-building to make them work for you? Please share!