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Why DON’T we do the things we know are GOOD for us?

Posted: October 01, 2014 by Nani Waddoups

Why DON’T we do the things we know are GOOD for us?

You know what I’m talking about, right? Here’s a short list of mostly agreed-upon things we know are good for us:

  • Eating whole foods and less sugar
  • Exercising our hearts and lungs
  • Saving money

There are also more personal things that we know are good for us. For me, this list includes

  • Keeping my house orderly and clean
  • Stretching
  • Making to-do lists
  • Meditating and journaling

When I do all the things above, I feel better physically, psychologically and emotionally. I’ve identified these obvious tasks and have felt the benefits. So why on earth would I NOT do them? Below are the two most common explanations:


In order to be motivated, there has to be an element of hope, faith, or belief.

I will feel better if I exercise today. My neck will stop hurting if I do my stretches. I will be secure in the future if I save some money today.

If I don’t believe that exercise will give me energy, or stretching will reduce my neck pain, or that I will ever be able to retire on my savings, my motivation to take action will be low. Even though there is EVIDENCE, both scientific and anecdotal, that the effort will be rewarded, we don’t believe it. Why? Because there are elements that smother hope. Here are some surefire reasons to feel hopeless and unmotivated:


  • Not exercising to be healthy, but exercising to look like a supermodel
  • Not meditating for five minutes, because an hour is “real” meditation
  • Not cleaning the kitchen floor because there isn’t time to do the whole house


  • So I don’t have what it takes to be successful (smarts, self-discipline,etc.)
  • I’m not worthy of success the way other people are
  • No one in my family has been successful, why should I?


  • An overarching sense of hopelessness for the future in general
  • A pervasive sense of self-loathing and self-criticism
  • Unrelenting despair


Another impact on our motivation is fear. It seems counterintuitive: one would think that a fear of being unhealthy would be a motivating factor for exercise, but the fear is often of something else.


  • What does it say about us if we don’t reach our fitness goals?
  • How will we feel about ourselves if we really try to achieve something, but don’t make it all the way?


  • What would my life be like if I was as fit as I am always wishing to be?
  • Would my worries really go away if I had money in the bank?


So how do we overcome the hopelessness and fear that zap our motivation to do what is best for us? Here is the prescription:

  • Have RAGS (Realistic, Achievable Goals): You can do anything for five minutes, right? Start there
  • Respond to your internal critic with compassion and reason: You know you need support to achieve your goals, so don’t spend time with the critic in your head who is discouraging; listen to someone else who is encouraging and believes in you
  • Seek professional help if you suspect you are depressed: There are a range of depressive states, some temporary and mild and some more severe and long-lasting: get support.
  • Identify your fears: failure? change? both? Failures are part of learning: think of all the times you fell while learning to ride a bike. Remember that while the unknown is naturally anxiety producing, change also represents possibility, opportunity, and growth.

In addition to the above, and perhaps most importantly, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not exercising or saving money or practicing yoga! Take care of yourself as you would a beloved child: model self-care and kind self-talk, be encouraging, soothe after a fall. Talk to yourself as you would to a dear friend: instill hope, validate fears. And then take a walk for just five minutes and breathe in the belief that you are doing something good for you!

Tags: mood and feelings, addiction and behavior, body issues

Nani Waddoups (she/her)

Licensed Professional Counselor

Navigating toward existential meaning, and consideration of conditions at play are the roots of my counseling philosophy and style.

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