Everyone runs into a wall at some point. For me, running into that wall takes the form of sitting on the couch. Why is it that even though I always, 100% every single time, feel better after a walk, I still have trouble from time to time sticking to my very easy fitness walking program? It’s like having a headache and not being able to summon the will to take an aspirin! What’s wrong with me?
I have an idea. Anxiety. This is a beast who you have to recognize to defeat.
I should mention that I don’t have an anxiety disorder – I have anxiety like any normal person does. When I am anticipating an event or situation which could go well or badly, I am anxious. And for some reason, anxiety makes me very reluctant to leave the house. I am currently anticipating such an event – one that is likely to go well – and am reluctant to leave the house. There is likely something very deeply rooted in the house=safety response to anxiety even if the anxiety has nothing to do with physical safety or something that will happen if I leave the house. Honestly, our distant ancestors had real anxieties like starvation or weather or big mean animals which could mostly be avoided by staying home.
My anxieties are more modern day. Things like starting a new job, returning to school, or moving house are enough to keep me rooted to the chair.
Knowledge, as they say, is power.
And I know three things:
- When I am reluctant to leave the house and take my walk I can usually trace it back to anxiety. It’s not so obvious as the thought ‘I can’t leave the house’. It’s a more subtle ‘I don’t really want to walk today’ even though that’s not true. One could say the answer is walking on a treadmill but that’s a bit like jail to me and I would only do it as a matter of last resort (plus, I don’t have a treadmill).
- Anxiety, when babied and cosseted (see: walking on a treadmill rather than leaving the house) will grow. Because my primitive brain will say, ‘see? You didn’t leave the house and the BAD THING didn’t happen.’ That reinforces the trap we can fall into with anxiety. Don’t forget – I already know that my anxiety is in no real-world way related to leaving the house. It’s not like I live in Syria or the jungle. Therefore, it becomes important not just for my workout but also for my mental health that I get out and do this thing.
- I always feel better after I walk. Always. There has never been a time when I didn’t feel better after a walk than I felt before it.
Knowing those three things and doing a little bit of self pep-talking is usually enough to get me out the door. And once I’ve gone a few hundred feet, that lack of motivation fades away just like the comment Neo forgets before he’s finished the cookie. Don’t underestimate the value of positive self talk for motivation. Avoid the ‘why am I so lazy’ kind of negative, self-punishing behavior. I can tell you from experience that no one responds very well to that sort of talk either from themselves or from someone else. You get a lot further by giving yourself positives and countering unreal arguments. Tell yourself you can do it! You want to do it! You can always come home if you hate it! It’s just a walk, and you will feel better after a bit of fresh air.
And if all that fails, promise yourself a reward. Not a tube of pringles – but maybe a bubble bath or that you’ll make your favorite dinner.
You’ll feel better after a walk. Everybody does!