Working with your triggers in fitness

I had a conversation with a client last week who is struggling with her training. She’s showing up. She’s putting in the work. But right now, everything about the gym feels hard. 

First of all, whether you’ve been training for a few months, a few years, or a few decades, gym fatigue is going to set in. There are times when getting yourself through the door and under the bar will feel hard. 

This is Trigger. Willie' Nelson's guitar. But I'm not talking about that kind of trigger. Image from

This is Trigger. Willie' Nelson's guitar. But I'm not talking about that kind of trigger. Image from

Learning to train through those times is important. But recognizing what sets those feelings off is equally as important.

I asked the client if she knew what started it.

“Well, I had a couple of days of not-so-great eating, and then I felt super guilty, and ever since then, the workouts have felt harder.”

When pressed a little further, she mentioned the guilt. 

“I grew up Irish Catholic,” she said. “I’m really good at feeling guilty.”

(I also grew up Irish Catholic. We learn to apologize for the weather and other things out of our control. It’s just what we do).

Brene Brown has made a career on studying shame and guilt. And there’s a reason her TED talks are among the most viewed. People understand shame. They understand guilt. We live it on a daily basis.

It wasn’t the two days of not-so-great eating that affected this client’s mindset. It was a lifetime worth of guilt triggered by some less than ideal nutrition.

The word trigger is defined as a cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist. (Trigger is also the name of Willie Nelson’s guitar, should that come up in trivia. And Roy Rogers’ horse. You’re welcome).

We all have our triggers. I have massive anxiety and one small mistake on a Monday morning can leave me feeling anxious for most of the week. I've learned to understand that those feelings often have little to do with the present. They’re  tied up in my history, and they lead to a lot of negative self-talk.

It's not just the one mistake I'm thinking about; I'm consumed with anxiety about not being good enough and never doing anything right. 

It’s important to recognize our triggers for what they are. One or two poor nutrition choices or a missed workout isn't the end of the world. It's a bump in the road, not a complete detour.

But it's difficult to recognize the difference between the two. Suddenly feeling like you'll never be able to stick to a nutrition plan or workout routine makes it a hell of a lot easier to throw in the towel completely.  

There is a practice in meditation called R.A.I.N. Recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture. (For many, this is a life-long practice, much easier said than done).

Recognizing your triggers, finding ways to allow the feelings they bring and not pass judgment, understanding where the feelings come from, and offering a little self-compassion can go a long way.

Life can be hard enough without constantly beating yourself up. 

It’s also important to recognize the triggers that set off feelings of joy and happiness. In my case, it's listening to Patsy Cline on vinyl, so I'm gonna go ahead and trigger some of that joy right now.