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Why I stopped setting exercise goals

Fitness goals seem to be a significant trend in the wellness sphere. Especially online - Instagram is full of exercise gurus, personal trainers and yogis that are helping us to become the fittest versions of ourselves. And whilst that’s absolutely great and can help us to feel motivated and even more knowledgeable when it comes to working out, I decided enough was enough when it came to setting myself goals for exercise. Read on to find out why.

I’m someone who has always felt inadequate when it comes to exercise. It’s that kind of industry where you’re constantly reminded (especially thanks to the power of social media) that there’s always someone out there doing it better than you. Harsh, but true! As much as that’s ok, it was starting to make me feel like I was never going to reach my goals. Honestly, I didn’t have the most thought-out or ‘SMART’ goals… but don’t get me started on those. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to achieve, but it became so much about my physical appearance and the numbers I’d see on a scale that my mental health was starting to take a beating.

I would spend hours planning out each workout to the point of knowing how many seconds I would break between sets, what type of shoes I would need to wear and what my heart rate would be according to my Fitbit. I had notebooks filled with workouts and a note on my phone dedicated to everything I did in the gym. I became obsessed. However, it was not only something I didn’t enjoy, I was so obsessed with the process that I became paralysed once I got in the gym and stopped achieving anything! I’d put too much thought into it and so much pressure on myself that I was terrified of letting myself down. And let’s be real, what do fitness goals look like anyway? I would encourage myself to reach a particular weight on the leg press, only to feel like I was going to pass out afterwards. This style of working out did not suit me and was just contributing to my already poor mental health.

I still go to the gym, because there are some workouts that I do really enjoy - but leg day is not one of them.

So, what did I do instead?

I began to see exercise as a way of appreciating my body. It was like a ‘thank you’ for being so amazing - cheesy, but our bodies really are incredible. It protects me from getting seriously ill (not a single positive covid test - but let’s not jinx that), tells me when I need a break, and millions of other things that I’m probably not even aware of. I am grateful for my body, but I wasn’t treating it very well by putting a serious amount of stress on it by setting such intense fitness goals.

I started to do exercise I actually enjoyed. I still go to the gym, because there are some workouts that I do really enjoy - but leg day is not one of them. I do a lot of yoga, because it not only allows me to move my body, but there are lots of other aspects of it that I enjoy. Even just going for a walk is something I really like to do, even a short one counts as exercise! Our bodies don’t care what movement we do - if going to the gym is something you despise, do. not. go. Trust me, it’ll just make you feel worse. And inevitably, you won’t do it - and that’s when that evil, negative self talk will start to tell us we’ve failed. But by forcing exercise we don’t want to do, we are setting ourselves up for failure!

Self-care is something we’re all working on constantly, and there’s no one way to do it - it’s a process and it’s individual to all of us.

I tried to be kinder to myself. The key word there is ‘tried’ - it’s not easy and it doesn’t come naturally to me! Self-care is something we’re all working on constantly, and there’s no one way to do it - it’s a process and it’s individual to all of us. For me, being kind to myself means not beating myself up that I didn’t finish a workout, lose any weight, or lift heavier every time I go to the gym. It looks like resting when I need rest, or listening to my body when it tells me to take it easy. If something doesn’t feel right, please stop. That means mentally and physically. I would tell myself I just had to do one more rep or finish the set because otherwise I would fail and not make any progress. But that’s just not true! You can make progress without putting your body and mind under immense stress. Self-compassion does not come easy for me, but it’s made exercising more enjoyable and taking that pressure off by just allowing myself to breathe and rest when I need to means that my workouts and exercise sessions are much more fulfilled… and successful! I always try my best, and make sure I’m looking after my body - and that’s enough.

I stopped basing my ‘goals’ around exercise, and started to base them on how I felt. If I wake up and don’t fancy going to the gym, I’ll try a walk and see how I feel after that. Or do a 15 minute yoga class on YouTube, to make sure I’m still moving. Sometimes, I prove to myself that actually, I really enjoy moving - and it gives me that little push of motivation to do a bit more of a workout! I promised myself that I wouldn’t push myself if it didn’t feel right, and that’s a goal that feels better for me, rather than reaching a certain weight or looking a certain way. The disappointment I would feel when I didn’t recognise physical progress would really break my heart, and I’d tell myself I’m not good enough because I failed at a goal that was based on someone else’s Instagram page.

Before you go: I started doing what was right for me, and created my own little exercise bubble filled with things I enjoy doing. Goals might work for you, but if they are making you feel bad, stressed out and under pressure - maybe it’s time to reconsider if they are the right goals for you. Comparing ourselves to people on social media who only highlight their best bits (and choose the best filters, lighting and poses) can leave us feeling like we’ll never be good enough no matter what we're doing. So, evaluate your goals, spend some time figuring out what’s really important to you when it comes to exercise and movement, and focus on that.




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