Inspired by my dad’s post last week, I reflected a little bit and realized that I’ve been the person uttering those words many times in my life. “I wish I could exercise more, but I don’t have time.” Usually they’re said with frustration when I’m feeling defeated by all the commitments in my life. Often they’re accompanied by the sensation that I simply can’t control whether or not I have time to exercise – as if my schedule is being inflicted on me instead of being the result of choices that I’ve made.
But if I’m being honest with myself, virtually everything I fill my schedule with is something I’ve chosen. I chose to go to dental school. I chose to have my job. I chose to buy the Rosetta Stone software and try to learn Spanish. I chose to make a point of spending time socializing with the important people in my life. And… yeah, a lot of times, I chose to go to happy hour. (But that’s important for my mental health… so… )
In any case, I chose all of those things for a reason, and the same is true for running. I have been wanting to teach myself to feel less put-upon by my schedule and to embrace all the choices I’ve made and treat running the same way. I want to look at my schedule at the beginning of each day, see the things that matter to me, and happily accept that I’ve chosen them. So here’s a short list of strategies I’m trying to use to silence that excuse once and for all.
1. Plan ahead.
Uh, yeah, I know you know. But are you doing it? Are you really doing it? Like, do you whip out your calendar on Sunday night and map out your week including every workout?
Planning is useful, not only for making sure there’s time reserved for your workout, but also because it can help you avoid pitfalls that frequently derail your workouts. Does this sound familiar to you? You wake up ready to tackle the day with big plans to come home and run five miles after work. You’re feeling good all morning, but after lunch you start to slow down and wonder how you’re going to get your legs moving. You start to bargain with yourself – maybe if you add an extra mile to your long run this weekend, then you can just do four. And then you’re stuck in traffic on your way home so that by the time you get there it’s getting dark out. Next thing you know, you’ve called it off. If that’s happening over and over, then you might be more successful planning morning runs or by heading straight to the gym and using the treadmill during the winter instead of trying to make it home before the sun sets. Planning doesn’t just ensure there’s time, planning helps you choose better times.
Then, whenever possible, don’t let things disrupt your plan. If you had dinner plans with a friend, and another friend asked you to meet for dinner, would you cancel on your first friend? Not unless you’re an awful friend. So be a good friend to yourself. If you have plans to workout, then you’re already booked.
The moral of the story is this. 1) Make the right plan. 2) Stick to your plan.
2. But be flexible!
Just because you know you have more success with morning runs, it doesn’t mean you’re now completely incapable of doing an evening run. There’s no need to define yourself as a morning runner to the exclusion of all other possibilities. What happens on those days when you’re heading to the airport at 4:00 a.m. You getting up at 3:00 a.m. to hit the streets? I think not. So maybe you work out later that day. (Just be sure to see #1 above and PLAN IT.)
Sure you’re a runner, but might you find yourself in a situation where you “don’t have time to run” because (as noted above) the days are short during the winter, and it’s dark out before you leave and after you get home. (Yes, you can run in the dark, but this isn’t a conversation about running safety, so I’ll leave that up to you.) That’s pretty limiting, but maybe you can change the workout and try a rowing machine, stationary bicycle, or weights? Maybe you can change the venue and give the gym a chance. Suck it up, and hit that treadmill! (Try the Runner’s World podcast – it makes the time fly by.)
And finally, have you truly considered all the various times and places that you could fit in a workout? Is your lunch hour off limits? Is there a gym near the office? A trail? A track? Let’s be creative.
3. Accept something over nothing.
So you planned as well as you could, and you were going to fit in five miles after work, but work unexpectedly ran late, and you already have dinner plans. There definitely isn’t time for five miles. But there is time for one. What are you waiting for? Go do it! Hurry up before you don’t have time for that either!
4. Forgive yourself and move on.
If you get derailed (and you will because, entropy), then acknowledge that you didn’t nail it, figure out what you can do better next time, and move on. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about always seeking improvement. If you tell yourself that you didn’t run because you didn’t have time, there’s a real risk that you’ll start to believe that you don’t have time. And when you start to believe your own lousy excuses, then you run the risk of believing that you’re powerless to change the situation which is about as worthwhile as having a one-way ticket to Couch-Potato City. This is about the long game, and there’s nothing less empowering than feeling that you’re at the mercy of an uncontrollable schedule. So… when a day arises, as one always will, when you miss a workout, forgive yourself, vow to plan better for tomorrow, believe that you’re capable of this, and move on.
5. Be prepared so that you can be spontaneous.
Spontaneity requires an astonishing amount of preparation. I have a highly variable lunchtime schedule. I have a lot of lunchtime meetings, and it’s not unusual for someone to cancel at the last minute. For years, I would squander my lunch break wandering the aisles at Target feeling “productive” because I picked up a few groceries. The reality is that my energy level is really ideal for a workout at lunchtime, and buying groceries was NOT the best use of that energy. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out, but now I have everything I need in my car every morning to head to the gym at lunch if my schedule should happen to free up. And there is NOTHING better that unexpectedly finishing your workout earlier than you’d planned!
Yes, these are little tweaks. No, they don’t work every single day. But like I said before, it’s not about being perfect today. It’s about always seeking to improve. And we can’t ask ourselves for much more than that.