Preparing for Your Own Worst Enemy


I left the YMCA in a huff last night after a mediocre workout. A group of women were having a yak-a-thon in the corner of the weight room. This is a pet peeve of mine – rabid, loud socializing when I’m working out. It’s not just the women, either. I’ve seethed as men stood around saying creepy things to each other like “you’re getting really big” or “which protein powder do you use?”.

I’m on the road back to fitness after a tedious winter of flus and injuries and entropy. It means that any excuse is enough to make me give up and go home. When you go looking for reasons to quit, you are guaranteed to find them. My trainer used to say “you get to use that excuse only once and then it gets crossed off the list.” I’m a creative person, though. I once used the fact that I’d forgotten my headphones, to go home and have a snack instead.

My goal over the next three weeks is to show up at the gym consistently. The idea that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit is pseudoscience from the 1960s. A current study suggested that it can actually take over two months for a habit to become automatic, but it also showed that the time frame can vary widely from one individual to another.

For me, the three week repetition seems to do the trick. I emphasize the words show up, because I have walked into the gym, seen how busy it was, turned around and headed home. I still gave myself kudos for making it through the door. Most of the time, I do stick around and get some exercise done.

For the last decade, I worked as a business manager for a recruiting firm. The training for recruiters/sales people always involved starting out with a script. When the potential client/customer raised an objection or concern, the sales person had to be ready to overcome that objection. Much the same concept can be applied to personal goals. Know your favorite obstacles. Go through the script. Be prepared to counter that obstacle. Here’s the conversation I had yesterday with myself:

I need to work out today.

My shoulder hurts from the Pilates class yesterday.

Quit whining. Ice it and do leg work instead.

Fine. But I’m not going to enjoy it.

Injuries are a common excuse of mine. The injuries are real. At 45, doing high impact activities like taekwondo and running means injuries every other month or so. It’s a known obstacle and one that I’ve had to become adept at overcoming. This is where having a trainer has been especially useful. The minute I say that I need a break because of a quad injury, she has 20 exercises at the tip of her brain that I can do instead. I’ve learned enough from her to know that, unless I am in a coma, there is always something that I can do.

The practice of overcoming objections is a habit in and of itself. It’s hard for me to make excuses about anything without that other voice in my head saying “but you can do something“. Unexpected change in my schedule is high on the list of obstacles. If I planned to write all afternoon and have to take my mother-in-law to the dentist instead, it’s very easy for me to do a Scarlett O’Hara and put off writing until tomorrow. I have to force myself to think of that something that I can still do today. I have learned to jot notes and outlines in waiting rooms, during piano lessons, at an oil change or in the five minutes before I have to go somewhere else.

Taekwondo training lately has been focused on self-defense techniques in real life scenarios. The key is always awareness and thinking through the “what ifs”. Just like objections and obstacles, I have to talk myself through the B I will do if A happens. It’s important not to confuse concepts, though. If a mugger jumps out at me in a parking garage, I might whip out a notebook and jot down tomorrow’s post. Worse yet, when my neighbor needs a ride to the grocery store on a day when I’d planned on painting the kitchen, I might take out her kneecap.

When your biggest obstacle to meeting a personal intention is yourself, you know all the tricks and excuses. I give myself a mental, condescending pat on the head. That’s nice, dear. Now, go do something.

42 thoughts on “Preparing for Your Own Worst Enemy

  1. I’m with you on this. I became a couch potato over the winter, stopped going to the gym, and put back on a lot of the weight I worked so hard to lose last year. I’m up early on a Sunday, though, and getting ready to go to the gym. Stick with it! 🙂


  2. Excuses, excuses. One of my specialties as well. I think you’re going to stick with it, though. Sounds like you really want to. That’s half the battle.


    1. Sometimes the want loses out to entropy, though, which is why preparing to counter my own excuses is necessary. It has been the one skill that has effectively kept my falls off the proverbial wagon to be weeks rather than months. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that it is effective for writing as well. I am always delighted when I can “cross-train”.


  3. Oh this is wonderful. I laughed out loud.
    And also some useful strategies for stopping/changing the stoopid mind stories that will do whatever they can to derail you.


  4. I am almost done nursing a calf injury (that reminds me in my mid-40’s, damn I can feel old sometimes when I can’t even remember how I injured it!) and having been out of the walking/running routine for over a week now, the danger is letting THAT become the habit (but I cannot, because I am so much the crabbier person without those things, and my best 4-legged buddy has the saddest look lately!) To keep up with friends, I have several who I will meet for a XC ski or walk or hike periodically, rather than coffee, wine or a meal out, to catch up — has killed two birds with one stone and a great way to enjoy each other’s company!


    1. I am also much crabbier without some daily exercise. And I got REALLY crabby this winter. It’s important to allow injuries to heal. I also learned that lesson the hard way. It’s a choice sometimes between a week of rest or a month of re-traumatizing an injury. I prefer to go with the rest period these days. You just have to be gentle on the return.
      Since I work from home and most nights are either at taekwondo or school-related activities, I have been hard-pressed to find active friends (most have young children or other jobs during the day). This is one of the reasons I have a trainer – she keeps me on task. We try to build activity into our family outings, which helps as well.


  5. This is so true… might be the perfect time of year for it, too. The resolutions of the new year are long forgotten and like you said excuses are a dime a dozen…. maybe even cheaper than that!
    I weighed in this morning… first hurdle. Got some new herbal supplements to hopefully jump start me back on track. Dug out my WW information. No more excuses. today.


  6. Yep, there’s always an excuse not to work out. Good for you for making sure not to use them. And it definitely bothers me when people treat the gym as social hour. Sure, you can talk while exercising, but it should be done in brief bursts


  7. Yup. Excuses are powerful stuff. And if you’re imaginative enough you can come up with some good ones. I just gotta learn how to be not so convincing that my excuses are good ones. I’m a good excuse lawyer.


  8. Starting is the toughest part for me. I am anxious for the last of winter to leave so that I can get outside and exercise doing the things I love like hiking and kayaking – ahhh, but that’s just another excuse. I did work out yesterday and today I feel 20 years older – creaky and achy – I gotta get back in the habit.


    1. It’s been a painful last week for me and I foresee next week being a walking bruise, but I also feel my energy level picking up. That always helps. I have spent a good portion of my day icing a shoulder and knee, though. Poor body! I see my elderly relatives getting less mobile and it’s a reminder that movement can positively impact quality of life down the road.


      1. That’s so true – a walking bruise – that just about describes it. I came home and tried to finish a section of an impromptu remodel and with all the lugging and ladder climbing I’m spent today. I want to be active so there’s no alternative. I watched my father’s world get smaller and smaller because of his inactivity. Can’t let that happen – a very good motivator – thanks for the reminder.


  9. This is so true. I find myself making excuses to not do work or go work out as well. Your forgetting the headphones excuse made me laugh because I have done the same thing! I guess I am my own worst enemy as well.


    1. It doesn’t take much and sometimes I think I subliminally sabotage myself. One time I packed my daughter’s tennis shoes in my gym bag to run in. I actually made myself go home and get the right shoes and return to the gym. It doesn’t take much, though, to knock me off track. Especially on a cold day when a book and a cup of tea sound like a better option!


  10. It’s the all-or-nothing thinking that gets me. If I can’t do it all, I don’t want to do any. This post is a great reminder that thinking this way is a trap–and it can be escaped.

    Plus, I think you’re right about “just showing up.” In fact, my trainer tells us this on a regular basis. “You showed up. Great! Now, while you’re here….”



    1. I have so often fallen for the all-or-nothing mentality. It’s only been over the last few years that I’ve recognized the flaws in that kind of thinking. And sometimes, when I think I have only a few minutes and do some sit ups and push ups, it inspires me to do more or if I repeat mini-workouts throughout my day, I end up really having spent a substantial amount of time getting exercise. It’s amazing what we have time for when we really want to do something!
      If I’m truly uninspired, I’ll just tell myself that all I have to do is go to the gym, with no preconceptions about what I will do there and then momentum carries me the rest of the way.


  11. I started going to the gym when my youngest was 18 months old. I just went so I could put the kids in childcare. If they had a sleeping room at the gym, I would have gone there. Alas, I worked out. I got into the habit. Now it’s hard to stop. Every other goal I need to write it down.


  12. Great post – love your final line too, that’s inspiring to think there’s always something, it’s a good one thank you


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