Exercise and movement are so essential to true wellness, but it’s something so many of us overthink.

How to Stop Overthinking Movement

In this episode, we’re going to break down consistent movement with some tactical tips, strategies, and habits to get you out of overthinking and into action.

Today’s episode is about how to stop overthinking movement.

It happens to all of us from time to time, or for some of us, a lot of the time- exercise becomes a thing on your to-do list that never actually happens.

Maybe it’s something you dread or something you can’t find time for, but we know that it is so essential to true wellness.

So, today we’re going to break it down with some tactical tips, strategies, and habits to get you out of overthinking and into action.

We’re right in the middle of a mini series about overthinking.

And overthinking isn’t a bad thing, it’s not about shaming you or making you feel guilty, it’s something we all do and it’s such a barrier keeping us from the wellness that we really want to infuse into our lives.

Last week, we looked at meals: how overthinking might be standing in the way of healthy eating, and I gave you five really tactical things that you can do to stop overthinking and get into action.

And I’d love to hear how that’s going for you- let me know on instagram @realfoodwholelife or on our Real Food Whole Life community Facebook Group.

And today we’re going to take it another step and talk about moving your body.

When it comes to exercise and movement there are so many misconceptions that really get in our heads, which can cause all kinds of problems.

In so many ways, moving your body on a daily basis is really a mind game.

So, what comes up for you when I say the word “exercise” or when I talk about a daily exercise habit?

Chances are you’ve got some stories around it.

Maybe you didn’t feel like an athlete growing up; you got teased or picked on, you hated gym class.

Maybe the activity you wanted to be involved in wasn’t available to you or you didn’t have the resources to participate.

Maybe you decided early on that you weren’t athletic, or maybe other people told you that.

On the flip side, maybe you were really into sports growing up, and you went so hard that you burned yourself out.

Maybe you took a sport to the extreme and it took all the fun out of it.

Or maybe somewhere along the way you developed an injury that makes moving your body a little more painful (or a lot more painful) than it used to be.

I know my story is somewhere in a mix of those things- I played competitive basketball through high school which sucked some of the joy out of movement for me; it was very much about competition and the ways that I wasn’t good enough.

It definitely impacted my view about sports, but over time, I’ve found a reconnected love for all things movement, how it makes my body feel being outside hiking, swimming, or things like yoga and practicing pilates.

And it’s also a love that I share with my husband, Andrew- he is one of the most athletic people I know.

He’s an avid hiker and walker and that’s something we’ve been able to infuse throughout our relationship as something we love to do together so it doesn’t become a chore, it’s just a daily activity that brings us together, allows us to connect, and is just a beautiful thing.

But I know that’s not always the case; whenever we overlay the stories we have about exercise with the wellness mindset barriers (like perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and comparison) it oftentimes results in overthinking, avoidance, or missing out on ways to move your body on a daily basis.

And I’m not here to try and convince you to start running marathons or become a super-athlete- I’m just here to say that we know daily, consistent movement is so beneficial to our bodies.

It helps with longevity, it helps with brain health, it helps with memory, with focus, it helps us get better sleep, it impacts mental health, anxiety and depression.

And of course there’s that whole weight management thing, which is important but I think it’s so often the focus of movement that we forget all of those other benefits.

I’m telling you, if we could put exercise in a pill and say “this pill may potentially help you live longer, it might help your memory, will help prevent a number of diseases, will help you sleep better, will help you feel better, will allow you to have more energy”, we would all take that pill.

And even though it’s not as simple as taking a pill, it actually is as simple as daily movement.

So if it’s that simple, what’s really going on?

Back to that overthinking conversation: wellness mindset barriers can throw all kinds of problems into the mix when it comes to doing daily, consistent things, like when it comes to moving your body.

Think about perfectionism when we’re talking about movement for a minute, think about how that shows up.

Maybe we have a perfect idea of what exercise has to look like and has to be and then if we can’t meet that perfect ideal, we don’t do it.

And that happens all the time.

Then there’s all or nothing thinking about what actually counts when it comes to exercise.

This a big issue when it comes to movement!

Think about how often you feel compelled to do an exercise for a certain amount of time, and often that’s for an hour, or at least 30 minutes.

And get really honest with yourself about what you think counts when it comes to movement, and then how often you practice what you preach: if you can’t get that hour or you can’t get that 30 minutes, or maybe you can’t even get that 20 minutes, how often are you doing something incremental to move your body?

I actually think all or nothing thinking gets made worse by fitness trackers (I’m not saying to not wear a fitness tracker, I actually have one myself), but when you’re supposed to hit a certain number of rings or a certain number of calories and you look and see that you’re not going to hit it that day, it’s often the case that people will just quit altogether.

And if it happens day after day, they actually stop wearing their fitness tracker altogether because they don’t want to be told that they aren’t getting the full number of points or calories, and it really helps cement this cycle of thinking, that it’s all or nothing and if I can’t do it that way then I’m not going to do anything at all.

Similarly, calorie tracking is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to all or nothing thinking because if you’re hyper focused on calories, you’re probably not going to do a five minute walk, especially if you’re looking at your watch seeing how many calories it burned and it doesn’t seem worth it.

But when we’re only looking at that, we’re forgetting all the other benefits of movement.

Getting out of that all or nothing trap is so key and really makes a difference.

Comparison also throws quite a wrench into movement, because maybe you’re comparing yourself to the fitness Instagram star who you love following but you look nothing like her, your form is nothing like her, and your body is nothing like her- that can be really discouraging.

Or maybe you’re looking at the person next to you in class in the mirror, and again, you don’t look like her, your form’s not like her, your body’s not like her- trust me I know that can be enough to send you for the hills and never come back.

When I found my way back to wellness after having Elle, I was really hard on myself.

I didn’t like the way my body looked, I didn’t like the way I felt, and then I walked into a class that had a lot of beautiful, fit women and a lot of mirrors and I spent the whole time looking at myself and beating myself up.

Instead of being compassionate and noticing what an amazing job I had done to just even show up, I spent the whole time thinking about how far I had to go and what a failure I was and after the class Andrew picked me up and I got in the car and I cried.

I felt so defeated and ashamed and so much of that came from comparison of looking at these other people who had nothing to do with me; their journey was not my journey, and yet I looked at them and felt so defeated.

The other way comparison shows up is comparison to yourself in the past, and in my story that was the other thing- I used to be an athlete, I did two hours of exercise a day, and here I was, completely out of shape, comparing myself to who I used to be.

While comparison, all or nothing thinking, and perfectionism are all totally normal, natural ways the brain works, they’re not particularly helpful.

The good news here- we can flip the script, we can find another way, and we can get out of overthinking and make movement sustainable, joyful, and consistent.

Tactical tips for getting out of overthinking

Just like with our overthinking meals episode, I want you to pick one of these to start with instead of trying to do all five- pick one and take action.

It’s not going to be perfect, it’s not going to go exactly how you plan, but put it into your life, start trying it, experiment, see what works, see what doesn’t, and come back and make it happen.

If you’re someone who already has a really consistent habit of exercise, that’s amazing, and I imagine that you can take one of these tips and actually update what you’re already doing

1 | Focus on the afterglow.

We’ve all been there, you’re sitting on the couch after a long day and all you can think about is why you don’t want to move your body, or maybe it’s a weekend, or it’s raining or snowing.

Regardless, we can quickly get stuck in a mind game of talking to ourselves about why we don’t want to do it, how hard it’s going to be, or how much you’re not looking forward to it and the longer we spend thinking those thoughts, the more likely we are to just not do it at all.

So, the next time you catch yourself overthinking or telling yourself that you don’t want to do it, just skip to the after.

Skip to the afterglow and reframe the whole thing as a gift you’re giving yourself and a gift you’re giving to your body by moving blood to your brain, by getting fresh oxygen to your muscles, by moving and clearing out whatever’s stuck, whatever needs to move on.

And that reframe can have a lot of power, because you don’t even have to be looking forward to it or love the moment of exercise, but it’s that afterglow that makes such a difference, that feels good; you sleep better, have more energy, and reframing it as a gift you’re giving yourself can really change the conversation you’re having in your mind.

Don’t give yourself too much time to overthink it and talk yourself out of it, flip the script, think of it as a gift, and then get up and just do something.

The hardest part is actually starting, so just get past that small barrier and you will find that you’re able to fit movement in a lot more often.

2 | Take an honest look at the barriers to moving in your daily life and in your environment.

This is such a simple one, but we’re all about radically simple here, and this one is going to change things for you.

Once we get past that mind game of telling ourselves we don’t want to do it, what is actually standing in the way of daily, consistent movement?

Is it that your yoga mat is buried under ten feet of other stuff in the back of your closet? Is it that your shoes are worn out and they make your feet hurt?

Is it that you find yourself on a work break without a pair of shoes to change into?

Is it the time of day- you keep trying to force yourself to workout in the morning but you would really do better at night?

Do you find yourself after work without a gym bag or without the right clothes in the car?

These are all examples of environmental barriers that we can change.

Pull the yoga mat out and put it right next to the couch where you can see it, maybe put some hand weights right on top so when you have a few spare minutes you can fire up an online workout and get in ten minutes of movement.

Maybe you go to a special running or walking store and have them fit you for some shoes that make your feet feel really good so you don’t dread walking, or you keep a spare pair of shoes under your desk at work so if you do have a lunch break where you can get out and move, you do it.

And yeah, you can totally be that person who is walking in a skirt and shoes, it’s fine!

But just be really honest with yourself, what may seem like a big barrier may actually be something that’s pretty small and with some little tweaks it can become easier for yourself.

“A little thinking ahead, a little advanced planning, and a little bit of designing your environment… goes so far when it comes to daily movement”.

3 | Find the joy.

Maybe you’re never going to love exercise, but maybe you can find ways to make it a little more enjoyable.

I want you to take a few moments to actually connect with what you like to do.

We did an episode about personality types and wellness and I think this ties really well- knowing yourself, what works for you, and what you like and don’t like.

For example, do you like to connect with others or do you want time for yourself?

And the answer to this question might vary; for me, lately, exercise is a time for me to be by myself, I really feel like I need that inner time so I might take a walk by myself or do a quick home workout, or go to a yoga class.

That’s the gift I give myself, not only to move, but to have some down and alone time.

But there have been other times when I’ve needed more community and social time, so I found classes where there were other people my age and with the same interests.

You can plug into a community of people who you can get to know and become friends with over time and who also might help you stay accountable, or maybe you know that you need one on one friend time right now or a group of people who can really hold you up.

Maybe that’s a walking date with a friend- you’d be surprised how many people, you know, who say let’s meet for a drink or let’s meet for coffee but if you offer the alternative of a walk or a hike they might take you up on it.

There are other ways to know what kind of movement will bring you joy; do you need to burn it out?

Really workout hard and get sweaty and get some endorphins, or do you need more restorative, calm, and focused time?

There are millions of options when it comes to movement, so the question is: what do you need? What works for you and bring you joy right now?

If you’re doing something that’s really high intensity and that doesn’t feel good to you and your body, find something a little more gentle and a little more restorative or a little lower impact.

And conversely, if you’re doing something that’s a little low and slow but you really feel like you need more activation and energy, find something in that realm.

Another way to look at finding and infusing joy is whether you want to get into nature, if that fills your cup, or if you want to catch up on your favorite show, maybe right now a Netflix binge sounds really good so you could pair a home workout with your favorite show.

There’s no right or wrong so we kind of have to take a step back and think, what are the hidden rules we have for ourselves around exercise, what we say counts and doesn’t count?

Wipe that slate clean and say “I can make this joyful, I can make this absolutely fit me and what I need”.

4 | Batch scheduling.

Okay, so here’s what we know for sure about movement: if you don’t schedule it or plan it, it probably isn’t going to happen, especially if you have a very full day every day.

I think what most of us do is use our calendars and planners for all of the ways we are responsible to other people, like our jobs, meetings, volunteer work, stuff for our kids- we put all of that in our planner and then we think somehow, magically, we will also find time to take care of ourselves and for wellness.

So here’s the opportunity to schedule that stuff in just like you schedule everything else.

One of the ways to make that happen is to sit down once a week and look at your calendar and schedule in those workouts, being really specific: what are you going to do and at what time and for how long?

Those three little things make a big difference and there’s a ton of research; it’s crazy, that just writing it down and scheduling it makes a difference.

And this might help you be a little more realistic about the time that you do have- it might be that an hour during a workday doesn’t work but 20 minutes does.

Here’s a little gentle-wellness hack for you: come up with contingency goals or fallback goals.

Those contingency or fallback goals are really what you’re going to do in that case that things go off the rails- if someone in your family gets sick or you have to work late, or you end up traveling.

Because what often happens is what we schedule, we schedule for the perfect world thinking everything is going to go exactly how we think, but when it doesn’t, we get thrown off and we get that “on or off the wagon feeling”.

So when you’re scheduling in what you’re going to do, when you’re going to start, and for how long, come up with a couple of backup options: some shorter workouts, some alternative days.

Then for those weeks when things get crazy, you know that you’re at least going to get to do something, which is always better than nothing.

5 | The two out of three rule.

So if you do miss a workout, or you miss a whole day, or you miss a whole week, you can use two out of three to be consistent.

I keep talking about daily workouts or daily movement, but what I really mean is consistency, moving your body more days than you don’t- it is as simple as that.

That could be two out of three days that you get movement in and if you end up missing a day, you come right back the next day and say, “okay, the next two out of three days I’m going to try to fit something in”.

That could even be two out of three weeks, if things get really crazy, and you always know you can come back and start again.

I like embracing this idea of more bad workouts, sometimes I do movement or go to a class and just don’t feel great, I’m not able to push really hard, and I actually think that those bad days matter more than the good ones.

It means that you’re showing up, it means that you’re being consistent, and it means that you know that perfection is not the goal and really knowing that everything counts.

This is not a competition to see how many rings you can close, or how many days you can go without missing, because that is not the (only) point of movement.

So really, let’s stop overthinking movement, making it a bigger deal than it has to be, making it a chore and something you dread, or something that you go all in on and then all out of.

Consistency and sustainability is what actually moves the needle when it comes to wellness.

These five strategies will help you get there:

1 | Focus on the afterglow. Don’t get stuck thinking of how much you don’t want to do it or how tired you are, flip the script and think of it as a way you’re giving yourself a gift.

2 | Take a look at those barriers keeping you from moving on a consistent basis, and make small tweaks so that it becomes easier.

3 | Find the joy. What do you actually like doing? And how can you leverage that self-knowledge to make exercise and movement more enjoyable?

4 | Batch scheduling. Once a week take out your calendar and schedule it out: what you’re going to do, when you’re going to start, when you’re going to finish, and then come up with some contingencies or fallbacks for when things don’t go as planned.

5 | Two out of three. More bad workouts. Everything counts.

Wherever you are with movement in your life, I want to encourage you to find ways to make it a priority, to find ways to infuse it into your life on as many days as possible.

Because I know you can do it, I know you can show up for yourself and you can find ways to do it so it’s a little less of a chore and something that actually fills you up and makes your day a whole lot better.

Be sure to come back next week for the third and final in this mini series on “stop overthinking”

We’re going to dive into mindfulness, how to be more present and calm in your everyday life.


Wellness Personality Quiz

How to Stop Overthinking Meals

How to Use Your Personality Type to Win at Wellness

3 More Feel Good Effect Episodes You’ll Love!

The Secret to Consistency with Wellness

The Secret to Finding Time for Exercise, with Robin Long

Gentle is the New Perfect

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