Stopped Working Out? Here's How to Start Again

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Most of my coaching sessions with clients begin with this question: “In what area of your life do you experience the least satisfaction?” While phoning and prospecting rank first and second, another very common response is, “I used to be [a regular exerciser/a college athlete/a professional athlete, etc] before I became a Financial Representative (FR). When I started the career, exercise was the first thing to go.”

Many of my clients then begin to shame and blame themselves with the following “reasons” they are no longer physically active:

I think I might be lazy.

I lost my good habits because I don’t have the discipline anymore.

I just can’t get up in the morning—I always hit snooze!— and I’m so exhausted at the end of the day. It’s no excuse.

…and so many more

These are some of the least lazy, most disciplined, hard-working people that I know! Is it really fair to characterize your lack of workouts as lazy and undisciplined? Are these FRs laying around on their sofas, eating potato chips off their chests and sleeping until noon? Never in my experience. So what’s really going on? First, becoming an FR is what Martha Beck coaches call a catalytic event. “It means any event that pitches you into a major life transition. The change is so big, in fact, that it ends up redefining the way you see yourself,” writes Dr. Beck in her bestselling book “Finding Your Own North Star—Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live.”

Once you experience a catalytic event, it not only changes the way you see yourself, but the way others see you and may even come with a new label such as “Financial Representative at Northwestern Mutual.” The old you—the runner, the triathlete, the college basketball player, the person who never missed a workout—is thrust into the first part of the Change Cycle called Death and Rebirth. You may feel like you’ve lost progress, your old competencies and expertise no longer quite apply and you may even grieve the loss of your old familiar ways—even if the change is a good one! If you ignore this stage, you may spend a lot time feeling stuck. “Square One is a time of fundamental death and rebirth, the period during which you mourn your old life and being to explore your new one,” writes Beck. It is a Square of small moves and inner work. It can be a chance to break free into a life that is more true to you. However, if you do not spend a little time leaning into the discomfort of the change and figuring out who you are now, you may notice unhappy side effects such as feeling a lack of connection to your authentic self.

When your contract flipped, did you take the time to re-evaluate your life? If not, why not start now?

If you ignore this crucial step, you may notice the following:

You start up your old workout routine but can only maintain it for short bursts

You become so exhausted that working out seems to deplete you more than it energizes you like it used to

You beat yourself up for your inability to do something that was once so natural and consistent for you

“I believe with all my heart that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” Beck famously wrote. Give yourself permission to suck! Is it really realistic to jump back into college-athlete level workouts while running a financial practice more than full-time?! Start by examining your beliefs about working out. If you believe that you must return to your old Herculean workouts with zest and rigor tomorrow you will probably be setting yourself up for a big fail. If you believe that you can keep your old pace with less sleep and more responsibility that ever, you may be very disappointed. Write down all of the crappy thoughts you tell yourself and start by asking yourself “Is the thought true?” Most likely, you will find you are believing a pack of lies.

Next, notice what you feel about your new life. Many of my clients tell me when they think about their present level of physical fitness and activity they feel ashamed, disappointed, like a failure, sad, frustrated and so many more uncomfortable emotions. Instead of stuffing those emotions down, try giving them all of your attention. Really sit with them and imagine you can move closer and closer to them. Let them get as big and uncomfortable as they want. Breathe in and exhale the word “allow” right into the discomfort. You will notice that they tend to move on once they have your attention.

As you begin to emerge from Square One you will begin to have some new ideas. Square Two is called “Dreaming and Scheming.” You may brainstorm some ridiculously small and easy steps that you can play with such as:

Start wearing an activity monitor (such as FitBit, Jawbone, etc). Add mindfulness to your day and see how much you move around naturally with no judgement. (You are collecting data!) Once you’re feeling ready, challenge your fellow FRs to move around more by joining you and sharing your online stats with each other.

Pick simple ways to get a little more active (do some push-ups in your office, run the staircase, etc)

Examine why you can’t get up in the morning. Maybe you need more sleep?

Figure out why you’re so exhausted every night (Are you in Lizard mode all day long?)

Think of the smallest workout you can do, cut it in half, and then cut it in half again

Reward yourself for every effort

I promise you that you are not lazy. You are not undisciplined. You are more likely, exhausted, overworked, and have never given yourself the chance to redesign your life around your career. I give you permission to begin this process very badly, to do it wrong, to bumble around figuring it out because you and your health are worth it.