How to Deal with the Fear of Exercise
Do you ever swear to yourself that you're going to go to the gym, and then back out of it last minute?
Does your stomach get all dodgy just before a workout - or even at the thought of one?
Do you keep putting your training off until a time when you feel "ready"?
If so, then you most likely have some deep-rooted beliefs that are stopping you from taking action. And from being healthy, happy (and wise.)
If you think that's just who you are and nothing can change that, think again: I have helped dozens of clients to go from shaking newbies to empowered fitness fans, simply by following the steps below.
So if you would like to learn how to deal with your fear of exercise for you to finally live a healthier life and have the superhero body you always wanted, read on...
Where do our fears come from?
It is a well-known fact that the early years of our lives are when we create our beliefs and perceptions of the world.
In short, we create a story about everything around us, then we live according to that story.
So if you decide that people are naturally unfriendly, you will most likely find it hard to trust those around you.
The same applies to exercise; if you experience it early on as painful, uncomfortable and even humiliating, it is very probable that you will develop a negative association with it in your later years.
Take my friend and client James for example, whose fear of exercise stemmed from some bad experiences during his school years, in which he felt self-conscious, embarrassed and even humiliated at times.
The equation is pretty simple:
Bad Experiences + Little or No Positive Experiences = Fear
Get the idea?
How do they hold us back?
Once a negative association has developed, it stays there until a new perspective is show and a new belief is installed. Just like an old computer program that needs an upgrade
For many people however, it remains to play around in our minds and affect our behaviours.
You see, our conscious thinking represents only 3% of our thoughts. 97% of our thought patterns are in fact subconscious!
So although you may think that you want to exercise, another part of you is screaming "No don't, it's going to be awful!
And so day after day, try as you might, you hold yourself back:
- You procrastinate big time until its too late to go to the gym.
- You find millions of good reasons not to.
- You put it off until tomorrow - and then the day after and then the day after.
- You suddenly develop a headache or stomachache before your planned session.
Yes, our subconscious really is that strong and manipulative. It will do anything it can to keep you safe and out of harm - even fake an illness!
So, I hear you asking, how do I deal with it? Here's how:
4 Simple Steps to Befriend your Fear
1. Give it some luvin'
In our Western societies, somewhere along the line we have learnt to avoid negative emotions at all cost.
And so, when feelings of stress, fear or anxiety arise, we respond by ignoring them, numbing them, or trying to "overcome" or "beat" them. We resist them. And what resists, persists.
However, these emotions are nothing more than misplaced love. Love that has been given a very outdated set of files.
Let me explain: fear of exercise is nothing more than a protection mechanism against further bad experiences. And where does that protection stem from? Self-love.
You love yourself too much to put yourself through those situations again. So you developed a way to avoid them.
So instead of trying to kill or overcome the fear, allow it be present. It's intentions are good. It just needs to be shown that you are now capable of handling yourself and the situation.
2. Listen to it
When you allow the fear to be present, you can start to develop a relationship with it.
The key is not to judge whatever arises: instead, become a witness to the feelings, emotions, and the sensations in your body.
What does it feel like? Where is it located? How does it affect your posture, your breath, your movement?
Only then can you ask it what it is REALLY afraid of. What specific situations does it feel it will not be able to handle?
Here's a good example from my own experience:
A few months ago, I woke up breathtakingly early to swim with a client. A little voice inside of me was screaming for me to stay in bed.
I realised that I was afraid of 3 things:
- that I would train so hard it would be terribly painful
- that my client would laugh at me and that it would be embarrassing
- that it would be cold and uncomfortable
What did I do? That leads us to step 3:
3. Show it a new perspective
Once you have identified the specific situations you are afraid of, you can start to reassure yourself.
Find a few examples of when the feared experiences did not occur. Draw on your own experiences or of the people around you, heck even the Internet if you need.
I remembered all the times that I had been swimming and I had really enjoyed it. All the times that it had been fun. All the times I had felt incredible afterwards.
And I questioned the outcomes I was afraid of:
- Would I really push myself to the point of physical pain?
- Would my client really laugh at me?
- Would it really be that cold and uncomfortable that I wouldn't be able to handle it?
Of course not!
Our fears are fantasies and made-up stories that we believe as truth. We believe that we won't be able to handle the situation. We believe that we are not strong or resourceful enough to tackle the outcome should it arise.
Because they were born out of experiences when that was indeed the case: when you were laughed at, hurt, humiliated and were too young, too weak, or too shy to stand your ground.
And they do not see that you have changed and are now more than capable of handling yourself. So you need to update its software. It's time for the 2.0 version.
4. Act in spite of it
As Marie Forleo (an awesome marketing coach whose online B-School I am currently undertaking) says: "Clarity comes from engagement, not thought". In short, "Don't overthink it".
In our Western societies, we live in our heads. Many of us spend our time planning, analysing, worrying - before acting.
This is very different to Eastern philosophies, in which instinctive action is first. Analysis comes next.
Once you have identified and reassured your fear, you must act in spite of it. You must trust yourself, trust your ability to handle the situation, trust in your capacity to take care of yourself.
You will never be able to completely predict what happens, no matter how hard you try. It is impossible to know for sure how the action will unfold. You will not get clarity on it until you do so.
So, simply know that you will be alright. Get out of your head, let go of your fears, and jump - headfirst!
Now it's your turn: use the 4 steps above on a fear that is holding you back, ideally exercise-related. Then leave a comment below with your results. I can't wait to hear from you!
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Love & Health,
PS: If you enjoy exercise but find the gym a really daunting and frightening place, hold tight for next week's blog post, which will give you some awesome mind tricks to help you deal with the fear of the gym, including the ONE insight that will change the way you think - forever!