Do you find it hard to work in regular exercise to your daily or weekly schedule? Does it become increasingly harder as you pass Halloween and head toward Thanksgiving? Is it nearly impossible during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas? As it gets closer to Christmas, do you start feeling hopeless about your ability to work in exercise, eat properly and get enough rest? Do you eventually say……”I guess I’ll have to start after the holidays?” and give up on it entirely until after the New Year?
If you are one of those people struggling with the above holiday “facts of life” (which is most of us) you know that in spite of all our best efforts to break the cycle every year, usually it turns out about the same. The average weight gain during the holidays is 10 pounds, and many of us spend the rest of the NEXT year, trying to get rid of those unwelcome holiday guests.
So, why is this true? For most of us, work gets busier toward the end of the year. The days get shorter, so we feel more tired at the end of day in many cases. We struggle to meet goals previously committed to during the year, including those at work, school, church, and so forth. Many of us have to do new budgets for the year, take care of benefits registrations, and plan for taxes. Most of us with children find ourselves busier than ever with school functions, sporting activities and practices, music and dramatic arts that crank up during the holidays and all the rest. Add to that our obligations to entertain, or attend other people’s social events, our need to shop and cook for the holidays and the travel that is often required for the holidays, and it is easy to see that there can quickly not be enough time to sleep, much less exercise.
How can we break the cycle? How can we make sure we take care of ourselves first during the busiest months of the year? The following suggestions might help:
1. First, schedule it! Put it on your calendar. Make it an appointment. Make it something that you PLAN to do, and then do it. Pretend that it is as non-negotiable as a lunch with your boss. If you block off the time, and put it in ink, it is a lot less likely to get pushed aside.
2. When it comes time to leave for your appointment (with yourself to exercise) don’t put it off. Don’t say to yourself “I’ll just do one more email,” or think “I just need 30 more minutes to finish this one project….” Just stop what you are doing, and leave. Act like this is an appointment with the President. Get up and go, with plenty of time to get there, on time. Otherwise, you will short yourself, and it won’t happen.
3. If you find yourself constantly “missing” or shorting yourself on time to exercise, in spite of it being scheduled formally and on your calendar, then put it at a time when you won’t be doing anything else that can get in the way. I schedule my workouts before my family gets up in the morning, before I have time to get on the computer, before I start cooking breakfast, and before I have any time to get distracted by other things. I also go before showering and dressing for the day, which is one reason many people don’t want to work out during the day----too much trouble to shower, dress and get “fixed” again. Some people exercise when they first get home from work…before they eat dinner. Others choose to exercise immediately after dinner, or just before bed. You can find disadvantages to any time you choose of course, but you have to just decide what works best for you, even in spite of whatever disadvantages you find. So, schedule it when work can’t get in the way, family can’t get in the way, emails and phone aren’t coming in and when you know the time is all yours. Then choose to use it to exercise---in other words, to take care of yourself, first.
4. Now, if this seems to still not fit into your life in a comfortable way, try making a deal with yourself. Tell yourself that you will only schedule your workouts during this “odd” time for a limited period. In other words, if you have decided to try working out early in the morning, but you are having a hard time getting up to do it, make a deal with yourself that you will only do it during the holidays. Make a plan to just do it for the six weeks from December 1st until January 15th. This way, there is a limit on the time you are going to the “extreme” to work in exercise. There is a starting date and an ending date, and you can just tell yourself that you can do it for this period and then reassess. By that time, you will have survived the holidays, hopefully averted the usual “holiday weight gain” and most likely, will have developed a habit. Remember, it only takes three weeks to establish a behavioral habit.
5. Now, while you are making a deal with yourself, add up all the hours you will be spending on exercise during the six weeks you are planning. Then ask yourself, “is it worth it? Is it worth the sacrifice?” My guess is you will decide it IS worth it. Even if just during this period of time. If you are unsure, make a list of the pros and cons of exercise, at this time, for this amount of time, and for this number of weeks. The answer will become obvious to you, once you see the list.
6. Another strategy, especially if you are scheduling your workouts early or late is to enlist a buddy. Get a friend to agree to work out with you every time you plan to during the next six weeks. Chances are, if you are picking someone up at 4:30 in the morning, neither one of you will blow it off and just sleep through. Same if you are meeting someone in the dark and cold and rain to run the trails. You will definitely feel an obligation to be there!
7. Last, try to couple your exercise time with something else you need or like to do. Do you like music? Do you love to listen to your favorite play list on your IPod? Then take it with you to the gym. Do you like to read the paper, but never seem to have time? Read it while you are on the stair climber. Like movies? Watch one on the treadmill. Like podcasts or books on tape? Listen while you spin. Many people I know, including myself, actually work on the exercise machines. I review papers, articles and plan projects. Some of my most creative thinking gets done while working up a sweat.
At the end of the day, at the end of the month, at the end of the year…..will you be happier if you work in some time for yourself to exercise? My bet is yes. You will have saved yourself some unnecessary weight gain, eased your stress, slept better and had a better attitude in general. All of the benefits of exercise can be yours, with a little planning. Good luck and happy holidays!