“It’s too cold,” is what I hear EVERY day, when people sheepishly tell me they haven’t worked out in a while. “I know I should be exercising, but I just can’t make myself do it,” is another frequent one. As I write this, we are two weeks into the new year, and in the Washington, DC area the snow has mostly melted from one big storm and in two days we are getting another one. We are about two years into the pandemic, and I don’t need to list all of the ways this has disrupted even the most committed health warrior’s routine and motivation. So when I hear these statements from clients and friends, I totally get it. Yes, it’s cold out. Yes, it sucks working out with a mask, so I wouldn’t go to the gym either. Yes, it feels like this whole pandemic BLAH-ness is never-ending, especially with all of the fear-based messaging we are bombarded with by mainstream media. Of course our energy levels and inner drive are being affected by the collective doom-and-gloom! I totally get it!
I was thinking about all of this while running with Bruno (my chocolate lab) this morning. He LOVES our almost-daily 3 mile runs. He knows exactly when there is a possibility of his going for a run, based on little things in my routine (a sip of my energy/immunity drink, my appearance in running tights, my taking one step toward the location of my Hoka running shoes…). Any of these actions send him into an expectant tizzy, where he runs at full speed to the top of the steps that lead to the garage. On the days that there is, sadly, no run in our future, I feel like the worst Dog Mom alive, as I have to tell him, sorry, but stay, and I’ll be back soon.
Three days ago, after a two week hiatus from running, I finally took him out. He hadn’t been running for those two weeks, because he had a skin infection and I couldn’t put his collar on him, so I decided to become reacquainted with my Peloton bike. After all - it was cold, potentially icy, so I may as well just workout indoors, was my justification. During those two weeks poor Bruno was whiny, and followed me like a shadow. It was really cute but also annoying. I work from home, and there were a few times when I had to apologize to clients and explain that if they heard some whining, it was my dog, not my stomach. I thought maybe he was still adjusting after our having been away for two weeks and leaving him with his dog sitter. Did this increase his separation anxiety, I wondered?
Three days ago I felt this CRAVING for a run outside, in the fresh air. I do like my Peloton, and am deeply grateful to have this option of a convenient, effective, rewarding workout. But it’s just not the same as being outdoors, in the elements, feeling the cold air (or warm sun in other seasons), engaging with nature. I recognized I was becoming wimpy - using the cold as an excuse not to go outside - and I did not want to get used to having this justification. So I took my absolutely THRILLED dog for a three mile run. And afterwards, I noticed how good I felt. It was a different post-workout feeling than when I do indoor workouts. Mostly mentally - I felt more invigorated, energized, alive. My coaching sessions afterwards felt more effective and focused than on days I hadn’t been outside.
This morning, as Bruno and I went up and down the local hills for half an hour, I reflected on how I haven’t heard him whine a single time since we restarted our routine three days ago. And he has no longer been clingy. Yesterday, when I finished coaching around 6pm, I went downstairs and realized I hadn’t seen him all day, as he had been contentedly chilling in the kitchen.
We are all like Bruno. We NEED fresh air, exercise, and the regular poops that come along with this. Our brain and other organs and systems are not designed to be indoors and sedentary all day. Bruno whines and clings. Maybe your version of this malaise is to be cranky, depressed, glued to the news and social media, unable to sleep or sleeping too much, feeling like everything is hopeless, eating although you’re not physically hungry, needing weed or wine to unwind, trying to control the people around you or on social media.
In my hundreds of conversations with coaching clients over the years, I have often heard of people finally deciding to change because they are “sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” or they were given the “gift of desperation.” Getting out of our comfort zone is hard. As humans, we are innately motivated to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort. So choosing to leave the plushy comfort of our heated (or air-conditioned) homes, to engage with whatever uncomfortable conditions lie outside our door, can take a massive amount of willpower. Like I said, I get it. When we lived in CT for 16 years, I recognized that cold winters were an annual occurrence, so I had a choice: bitch about it and be miserable, or embrace it. I chose the latter, and got my kids into ice skating and skiing. I got gear that would lessen the discomfort of being outdoors for a 10 degree Fahrenheit run. I have Reynaud’s Syndrome, so being outside in winter means I will experience a high level of discomfort, even when I’m done, in my toes and my fingers. It is what it is.
Bruno would probably tell you, and I fully agree - there is no such day as a bad day to go outside for a run or a walk, as long as you get the gear (layers, hat, gloves, etc.). You probably have friends and family who “cosign your bullshit” (help you justify staying in your comfort zone), so hopefully now you have read this post, and seen Bruno’s photo, you can replace their voices (remember, they want you to stay in your comfort zone, so you don’t challenge them to change too) with a nudge to move, preferably outside. Just do five minutes - but do it every day. I guarantee you that after 30 days (or less) of small, consistent effort, you will feel noticeably better. And here's a bonus tip - check out this Mel Robbins hack on how to quit your whining and just do the thing you keep procrastinating:
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.