Guilt is a funny thing...well, maybe only if you have a really oddball sense of humor. It comes in all shapes and sizes and it can strike anyone - men and women, exercisers and non-exercisers or athletes and couch potatoes. We feel guilty for skipping a workout, or for not working as hard as we planned. We may even feel guilty for exercising when we could've been doing something else, like paying the bills or cleaning out the closet.
Whatever form this guilt takes, it reminds me of the grapevine growing in our backyard. It grows fast and silent, creeping along and slowly strangling every plant in its path. Guilt has the same effect, draining us of precious energy we could be using for more productive things.
Guilt can be motivating at times, perhaps giving you that extra push you need to do your workout. The problem is, using guilt to motivate yourself on a regular basis can actually backfire. I saw this happen with a client who took a break from training. I emailed her from time to time to check in and she didn't respond. My own overdeveloped sense of guilt made me wonder if I'd done something to offend her, but it turns out, it was her own guilt that kept her away. In fact, she felt so bad that she avoided not just me, but anything that reminded her of the workouts she was missing.
Getting rid of guilt isn't easy, but it helps to ask yourself a few questions:
- Did I really do something wrong? - This seems silly, but we often feel guilty for imaginary mistakes. For example, if you feel guilty because you took a day off when you really needed it, that guilt is probably misplaced. Think about what you did, or didn't do, and imagine what you would say to someone else in that situation...then say that to yourself (unless it's something mean like, "Gee, lazy much?")
- What can I do about it? - If you feel you did make a mistake, creating an action plan will help you feel more in control and give you some direction so you can let the guilt go and get on with your life. For example, if you missed your morning workout for the third day in a row, make a plan for getting some exercise in before the day is done - Walk the stairs for two 10-minute sessions and/or walk around the parking lot for 10 minutes before you leave work. Any activity is better than nothing, even if it isn't the original workout you had planned.
- Is this really helping me? - Is feeling bad really doing anything for you? Once you get past the initial feeling and make a plan to do something about it, that guilt becomes pretty useless. Answering this question may help you let go of your guilt and move on.
What about you? Do you ever get struck by exercise guilt and, if so, is it real or imagined? How do you deal with it? Leave a comment and tell us your experiences with exercise guilt.