The New Niggle: How to Get Rid of Missed Exercise Guilt

Most active people know that there is no better feeling than finishing a workout covered in sweat and knowing you’ve really put some effort in, which is why so many people get hooked on a healthy lifestyle.  However, sometimes it’s not finding motivation to get to the gym, but the anxiety caused when you can’t that is the problem.  Life just gets in the way sometimes and be it having to work late or simply wanting to see friends, I know I’m not the only one who has taken a gym bag to work in the morning only to bring it home again in the evening, unused.  Loving exercise and being fit is great, but sometimes self-deprecation becomes too powerful over appreciation and we end up feeling guilty for what we don’t do, rather than positive about what we do.

This became a problem for me when I first started marathon training, as if I couldn’t complete all the runs that were scheduled by the non-personalised training plan I had chosen, I felt panicked incase by missing particular runs I might be jeopardising being able to run on the day, and like I was letting down my training, sponsors, commitment etc.

I shared my thoughts on this last January and found a lot of people could connect to that sense of niggling guilt so I thought I would re-share and expand from just training with a specific goal to applying some self-appreciation into a broader healthy lifestyle.

I think it’s too easy to get caught up in the details and fall into the mind-set where you can’t appreciate everything you do for a holistic lifestyle, instead feeling guilt over a missed workout or like you have failed entirely.   This could not be further from the truth. If you feel missed-workout guilt then here are the four things you should be doing, and the answer is not in doubling up in your next session.

  1. Make a List

Take a step back from anxiety and guilt and instead focus on the bigger picture.  Write down all the exercise you’ve done in the past seven days as well as any other good choices.  I can pretty much guarantee that if you count up all the movement you’ve done, including walking, then stressing over a missed run or gym session will seem laughable. So laugh and move on to a fresh day.

2. Controlled Failure

This is probably going to be a little controversial, and is only my opinion, but if you are genuinely panicked by the idea of missing a workout to the extent that it effects the rest of your life, and you prioritise going to the gym over other goals and choices then I think it is good to purposefully not go for a few days.

Count everything you have done in the past week and if it seems a little much then appreciate what you have done rather than feel guilty, and now decide that you are not going to go for a certain number of days, say a week, and then commit that time to other things you would otherwise like to do, like seeing friends, reading a book or paper everyday, or just sleeping a bit more, and watch the world not fall down around you.  Then hopefully return feeling refreshed and through a want to be active, rather than a sense of obligation.  Hopefully this will reset your intentions and feelings towards exercise.


3.  Forget the Tech

I’m constantly on my phone and there is definitely an app for everything, and sometimes this is great and really helpful, but it also means you forget to look beyond the numbers that can’t quantity the feeling of a PB or pushing yourself when you thought you couldn’t.  This is a problem because if you think about exercise in terms of top line numbers (so workouts completed, calories burned, miles run and heart rate averaged) you’ll consider success, and failure, in those terms.

Go for a run without your app or watch, and don’t take your heart rate monitor to the gym.  Do something for the feeling it gives you rather than the stats and remember that feeling.  ‘Motivation is what gets you started, but habit is what keeps you going’ is a meme constantly flying around instagram, and I couldn’t agree with it more, but I do think it should be caveated with ‘inspiration is what keeps you wanting it’.  If you need a bit of inspiration about why you’re doing it, then don’t get bogged down in what you’re down with various stats, but do it, feel it and inspire yourself.

4.  Set some goals

Finally, if you’re feeling guilty because you’ve missed a few workouts and you’re struggling to get back on track then setting some targets makes you feel instantly more positive and in control, but whilst a goal should be quantifiable and realistic it shouldn’t be bogged down in specifics nor punishable if not met.  Don’t think about weight or body image, but instead the actions you can take for your relationship with your body.  Think of something you’d like to accomplish, be it push ups from your toes or a distance to run and build up to that. Focus on that feeling of doing something good for your body, and how it feels for your mind when your body gets stronger.  Hopefully this re-enforces a bigger picture and the quality of what you are doing, rather than the quantity.


3 thoughts on “The New Niggle: How to Get Rid of Missed Exercise Guilt

  1. Great tips! I often don’t reflect on what I have achieved. I’ve often caught myself, when moaning to a friend about how little exercise I have done that week, that I actually haven’t done too badly. I went for a few runs and cycles in the summer without a watch/monitor and just enjoyed it for what it was – it was refreshing!

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