When you live in a society obsessed with body image, it's no surprise that getting to the gym more is a super common New Year's goal — with weight loss being a major motivator for those membership signups. Forget staying healthy or the mood-boosting benefits of exercise: With that kind of cultural pressure, it's nearly impossible to walk into the gym without any other mindset besides weight loss — and feel even worse when life gets in the way and you sleep through that 7 a.m. barre class, or stopped the treadmill after two miles instead of three. Here's a thought: What if, instead of berating ourselves for "giving up" on our resolution to get to the gym more, we just said it's OK?
Nearly half of Americans set some sort of New Year's resolution, according to The Washington Post, but only about 9.2 percent manage to actually achieve those resolutions, says Entrepreneur. So why do people keep setting New Year's resolutions if they can never seem to do them? The desire to start fresh with a new year can be traced all the way back to the Romans, according to LiveScience, so it's just something people have been doing for, like, ever.
The issue with this, other than the fact that you can set goals or resolutions for yourself whenever you want, is that often, it's easy to feel guilty when they fail. Because these goals are tied in with the new year starting, it can feel like you "missed your chance" to make these lifestyle changes happen if you happen to not go to the gym on Jan. 12.
But that doesn't mean you have to carry over any guilt or shame when it comes to your own resolutions for the coming year. Let's say you don't make it to the gym one day, or you don't reach your workout goal for the week. You can engage in the negative self-talk around not hitting some arbitrary number, or you can have compassion for yourself by saying, "Self, I forgive you. I know you did your best. You're amazing." And then feel excited to back to the gym on Jan. 13. Or on Jan. 20. Or in March.
You might think negative reinforcement will push you to reach your exercise goals, but forgiveness can actually make you feel healthier overall, according to the American Psychological Association. Practicing forgiveness makes it likelier you'll feel more comfortable with going to the gym, as opposed to feeling shame associated with that one time you couldn't make it.
"We know chronic stress is bad for our health," Loren Toussaint, a professor of psychology at Luther College, told the American Psychological Association. "Forgiveness allows you to let go of the chronic interpersonal stressors that cause us undue burden."
But it's not just about saying the words "I forgive you," according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Forgiveness is an active process in which you make the decision to forgive yourself, says Johns Hopkins Medicine, and then you try to let go of those negative feelings associated with the situation. (And if you still feel those feelings, that's OK and valid, too.)
If you're simply too tired to make it to the gym after work one day, forgive yourself; the gym will still be there tomorrow, or on the weekend, or next week. Remind yourself that you are still just as awesome. If you need an extra self-compassion boost, you can repeat a mantra like, "I'm having compassion for myself today. It's perfectly OK for me to need rest. Giving myself rest is the same kind of care as getting myself to the gym."
If you want to motivate yourself to exercise more, try finding a friend to go to the gym with, or sign up for a workout class you've never tried, or spend a Saturday making a pump-up playlist. And, at the end of the day, if you aren't exercising as much as you set out to at the beginning of the year, that's OK. The cultural pressure to head to the gym every new year is super intense, but the only voice you really have to listen to is your own.