I wish I could, but …

What’s your excuse?

I have a love/hate relationship with this question. How does it help people to act like not “eating clean and training dirty” – or whatever someone is evangelizing right now – means they must be lazy whiners? Whenever we fail to do something we know we should do, but can’t seem to manage, there is a reason. Yes, there are some excuses, and some reasons are worse than others, but people who fail to act usually do detect a genuine obstacle of some kind. Here are some examples:

  • “Nothing works – I know, because I’ve tried a bunch of stuff.”
  • “Honestly I’m not sure how to start – everything I read says that I could get injured doing X or ‘ruin my metabolism’ doing Y. What to believe?”
  • “It’s truly a struggle to get up earlier, and by the end of the day I’m totally run down.”
  • “I have to work around an injury, and it’s frustrating on top of hard.”
  • “If I’m serious about getting in shape, I have to go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, and I can’t make that commitment.”

None of these are very good reasons, but they are real. The fitness industry is chock full of bizarre claims and crazy promises, and high-circulation magazines are under pressure to offer simplistic answers with lots of variety – not harping on the tried and true every month. And there’s no money in the boring, yet effective, messages of better health, so even when health agencies and other groups try to get the information out, their efforts are underfunded.

Another complication: because people have such a wide variety of preferences and obstacles, it can be hard to know how to match them up with the information that will help them most. “I can’t seem to lose this pudge” could be down to very different needs:

  • How to tell the difference between snake oil and evidence-based recommendations – or even get just a base of good health information
  • How to start small, as with simple home exercises that will put them on the right track – and help give them the energy to try more
  • How to find a gym that is convenient to home or work – or even how to choose a gym in the first place
  • How to keep good track of what they are eating – enough information to make good decisions and easy enough to stick with
  • How to exercise in a way that supports their goals without making them feel like they are being punished

If those high-circulation magazines thought deeply about all the different details that go into the millions of ways to combine healthy food and different forms of exercise, they’d never run out of truly useful information to share. But it still couldn’t be teased as well on the cover as “DROP A DRESS SIZE IN 7 DAYS,” “KILLER ABS,” or “BUILD A BUTT THAT DEFIES GRAVITY.”

The next time you catch yourself thinking, “Ugh, this person should just get out of a chair once in a while,” try asking something simple, like, “Well, what’s the toughest hurdle to getting started?” You may be able to help them figure out something that now seems so second-nature to you that you’ve forgotten that you had to learn it somewhere, too.

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