Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When a Reason Becomes an Excuse

A little while ago, I wrote a blog post about how too often shame is used to dismiss legitimate reasons for not making or taking time for exercise.  (You can read that post here.)  I wrote about how shame is not empowering and does not motivate anyone to make healthy lifestyle choices or changes. 

There are times, however, when reasons take over and become excuses.  It’s an easy trap to fall into. 

Recently Rob hurt himself while protecting Snowdoll from a dog attack.  (I wrote about that here.)  Because the pain was in his back, he was unable to do many things.  No morning walks with Snowdoll.  No exercising with me.  Not that he had been anyway.  We were on a roll, for a while, exercising together on a regular basis.  When I want to visit my family, however, he stopped exercising and, when I returned, he did not join me as I recommitted to my daily workout.  He said he would start “on Monday.” 

I don’t know about you but I know what “on Monday” typically means.  Typically it means that, between then and now, I can do what I want to do, or avoid doing what I am not yet ready to do, until Monday.  Eat what I choose.  Sit and watch television all day.  Whatever. 

And then he hurt himself and his excuse actually became a reason for him not to exercise.   Of course, one can speculate that he might not have hurt himself had he been exercising still.  There is no reason to assume that would be the case.  Rob was careful and even went to see a doctor when the pain was prolonged.  He eventually, and gradually, joined us for our daily exercises.

I share this story because it’s important to recognize the difference between a valid reason for not doing something and an excuse to avoid doing that same thing.  Pain is a reason.  But pain or even discomfort can be an excuse as well.  When I was stung by a bee, I had just started doing my Plank Challenge and I could not see how I would continue with the challenge.  (Yes, I wrote about the bee sting too here.)  After all, the bee had stung me on my toe and how does one do a plank without allowing the toe to touch the floor. It didn’t help that the sting was right on the bottom of my toe, precisely where the pad touches the ground.  Oy, it hurt.  Then Rob suggested I try a reverse plank and I was delighted to have found a way to convert my reason (bee sting) into an excuse.  While I had a valid reason for not doing a regular plank, there was no reason I could not do a reverse one.

Now that seems like a rather obvious and uncomplicated paradigm shift, I suppose, but here’s one I hope you will find remarkably inspiring.  I know I do.  On Leslie Sansone’s Walk, Eat, Lose dvd for the 2 mile walk, everyone in the room has lost 100 lbs using Sansone’s simple walking method (and modifying one’s diet, no doubt).  In the group is one man who is in a wheelchair. 

Yes, the man in a wheelchair lost 100 lbs “walking” along with Sansone. He moves his body as if he were walking even as he sits in his stationary wheelchair.  He raises his arms, pushes them forward, and moves along, albeit in a limited manner, with everything everyone else is doing.  He has lost 100 lbs and this is a man who obviously has a reason to not exercise but doesn’t let a wheelchair become an excuse.

As I said in my previous post, most of us have reasons why we can’t make or take time to exercise but the truth is we also owe it to ourselves not to allow those reasons to become excuses.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, try to think of things you can do.  Can’t do a full body push-up?  Try doing a push-up supported on your knees.  Have knee problems?  Do a cobra pose as though you were doing push-ups, exhaling as you push up and inhaling as you lower down. 

But I get it.  Believe me.  I get it.  Sometimes it’s hard to see what you can do when you know what you can’t.  So don’t be shy.  Talk with your doctor, if you have a physical limitation, and see what a professional has to say about what you can and cannot do.  Keep an open-mind about other ways of doing things.  When I could not do a sun salutation, I created a series of asanas that moved my body in a similar manner as a traditional surya namaskar.  From a hero’s pose, I would rise to a kneeling position, inhaling as I lifted my arms over my head.  Then I would move forward, lowering down before rising up into a cobra from which it’s easy enough to lift up into a downward dog before lowering myself back down to my knees and then back to hero’s pose. 

Do you have a reason (or reasons) that may be in danger of becoming an excuse?   Have you ever found a way to shift from letting an excuse get in your way so that you had no reason not to do what you needed to do?  If you’re struggling with an “excuse” share it in a comment and let’s see if we can’t find a way to redefine things.  Or share your successes in shifting an excuse out of your way and maybe you will help someone else find a way to do the same.


  1. Ah, a very good post! I know a lot about struggling with my reasons... With by back problem there are not a lot of things I can do, and when I realized I needed to exercise terribly to make my diet work, I was first at a loss and that nearly became an excuse not to do anything (and order some pizzas for cheering up). For how are you to get some tummy muscles, if you are not allowed to bend and curl in any ways? But then I decided I'll do what I can, which is swimming, walking, some approved exercises... And it worked! I still don't have any tummy muscles to speak of, but my diet worked, and now that they don't have so much to hold, they are enough for me :)) Now I'm thinking of starting a yoga class if I find a teacher who is willing to pay attention to my condition, or go to dancing classes.

    1. Obviously, for me, it's all about my balance. I have to be careful and mindful. And of course, my knees have been bothering me more and more lately so that's another factor. So it's easy for me to say what I can't do, like lunges, because my knees hurt or my balance is off. But on my worst days, I can still do leg lifts while lying on my side, leg extensions while holding onto a counter top or the back of a chair. On my not so bad days, I find doing lunges backward rather than forward easier on my balance.

      When my hip was bothering me and even lying on the floor was impossible, doing chair yoga and upper body strength training was better than nothing and that's what I did.

  2. I've had trouble straightening and bending my left knee all the way for about a year. It doesn't hurt as bad as it used to, but it still hurts. Last week I hurt my right ankle somehow so that's bothering me too. I used to use my knee as an excuse not to workout, but realized that if I stopped working out, I'll get stiff and won't be able to. You need to keep moving so you don't get to a point where you can't.

    My husband is a quadriplegic, but and he loves working out with me from his wheelchair. He only has one arm muscle that works, but luckily it's the bicep muscle. He can do bicep curls using wrist weights and then he lets gravity lower them back down. Because of this, he's got very strong arms.

    1. Vicki, Thank you for sharing because I know there are so many other stories, like your own, out there. Whether we have physical limitations or time restraints, finding creative ways to be our healthiest is all we can ask of ourselves. Or anyone else.

  3. I used to avoid all lunges and squats due to my knees. And, then, I gradually worked my way into them using all kinds of supports and instructions and inspirations. Now, my knees are better precisely because the muscles supporting them are stronger when I do things like climb steps. And my back is much improved now that I'm strong enough to use lunging and squatting movements to get closer to the ground instead of bending over which really caused most of the problems in my back (not that I knew it).

    Keeping an open mind and experimenting makes such a difference. And asking yourself and others what you can do instead of focusing on what you can't.

    Joy's Book Blog

    1. Thank you, Joy. I always feel like I want to do more but I need to remind myself that it's okay for me to do less if it will help me build up the strength I need to do more. It's frustrating because I know losing weight will ease the pressure on my knees. Knowing this, I feel an urgency to lose weight so I want to do more. It's at the crossroad where my need to lose weight and my urge to do more meet my need to be careful I end up hurting myself. I should focus on patience and not progress, I suppose. Easier said than done! :)

  4. I don't really have any medical/physical reasons for avoiding certain exercises, just emotional excuses. I've lost just over 50 pounds but still have close to 60 to go, most of which is carried in my abdomen. I've never had strong abdominals, even when I was thin and fit, so even thinking about doing any sort of group fitness class where my abs will be engaged - and are there any classes that DON'T require ab work? - makes me want to run away. I know that I have to allow myself to be bad at something, to not be able to keep up with others, in order to improve, but knowing it intellectually and actually getting out there and doing it seem to be two very different things for me.

    Any suggestions for overcoming my fear of being the only girl in class with a fat stomach who can't do crunches or sit ups?

    I'm here via Joy's Book Blog, by the way! (Should have introduced myself first.)

    1. Welcome Denise! Hmmmm . . . very interesting question because you're right, there probably aren't many out there. I know that some women's only fitness places are more body friendly, by which I mean you won't be dealing with the scrutiny that some other places seem to "encourage." But I know finding those are not always the easiest things to do.

      Off the top of my head:

      Bellydancing is not for skinny girls. And you'll work your abs without a single crunch. Believe me, I speak from experience. In fact, in traditional ethnic dancing, being slender is not ideal. You want curves and flesh and all the wonderful things women have.

      Qigong and Tai Chi

      Walking on local trails with friends or with a group is a great way to go. My friend Kanika and I go walking on Saturdays and we see other men and woman of all shapes and sizes.

      There are yoga studios that offer classes for larger women and they won't ask you to do any crunches.

      I'm pretty much housebound so I use dvds. Some I've found thanks to my local library. (That's a great way to try a dvd before buying it.) Still it can be hard to motivate myself to use them. I have to schedule things and then hope for good days. The weather hasn't been cooperating at all and I'm feeling increasingly ill each day. However, I'm more likely to slap a dvd in the player if I schedule myself to do so.

      Anyone else have any ideas/suggestions?