The Compassionate Way to Health and Fitness

March 17, 2017 Updated: March 17, 2017

Most of us have an ideal when it comes to fitness. We want to be super fit, thin, or healthy, and we strive for it. Maybe we fail and feel bad about it, but we strive.

But what would it feel like to not push so hard for these specific fitness goals? What if we could be more open-minded about what success looks like, and find self-compassion instead?

The Problem With Striving

When we strive for a fitness ideal (which is usually what we do), there are a few fundamental problems to be aware of:

  • The Ideal Is One We Will Never Meet. Even if we do reach our goal, it won’t be what we pictured. For example, I successfully ran several marathons because of ideals I had, but they weren’t at all what I pictured. They were still worthwhile, but not even close to what my fantasy was.
  • There Is a Good Likelihood of Failing. The more lofty the goal, the more likely it is you will not meet be able to meet it and will then feel bad about yourself for failing.
  • You Won’t Achieve Noticeable Results Right Away. Most fitness ideals take several months, if not years, to achieve. So for the first few days or weeks you will endure the activity but not see the results you pictured. This is not fun and it won’t be what you fantasized about.
  • Once You Reach the Goal, You May Not Be Content. You may just find another goal to strive for, and another, and another—having never been satisfied—until you’re dead.

What we don’t realize is that there’s nothing to strive for. We’re already in the perfect place: A moment filled with beauty and wonder, a life filled with untapped love and compassion, and a goodness underlying everything we do. We’re already in the ideal moment, but we take it for granted and fantasize about something else instead.

We can just stop striving and instead find joy in this present moment without needing the crutch of our fantasies.

The Compassionate Way

So if we stop striving for health and fitness ideals, does that mean we should just lie on the couch, stuffing our faces with potato chips and slurping soda all day? No.

What we can do is this: realize there’s joy in who we are and where we are, find contentment the here and now, and act out of love. What are some acts of love that we can do in this moment of joy and appreciation?

(Zach Betten/Unsplash)
(Zach Betten/Unsplash)
  • Appreciating the Gift of Our Bodies, We Take Care of Them. Our bodies are complex wonders of nature, and we take them for granted. We abuse them by being sedentary, taking drugs, eating junk food—not taking care of them. Instead, an act of love and appreciation is to care for our bodies well: exercise, walk, eat healthy, floss, meditate.
  • Appreciating the Gift of Life, We Explore the Outdoors. There is so much to notice and explore, to behold with wonder, that it’s a waste to be online or on our phones all day. Instead, getting outside in the sun and fresh air is an act of love.
  • Appreciating the Gift of Food, We Nourish Our Bodies. Instead of abusing ourselves by putting junk in our bodies (just to satisfy cravings for comfort), we can find joy in the nourishment of healthy, delicious food. We can appreciate that fresh food is a gift, grown by people and land that supports our lives—and should not be taken for granted.
  • Appreciating This Moment, We Meditate. This moment is filled with brilliance, yet we often ignore it. Instead, we can practice paying full and loving attention through meditation. We can sit or practice yoga, or we can meditate as we go for a run, lift a barbell, ride a bike, swim in the ocean, or walk in a sunny park.

There is no need to strive relentlessly for fitness and health ideals. Instead, we can let go of those ideals and appreciate what’s right in front of us—and with gratitude, act with love and compassion.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit