Fitness Corner: The momentum of doing nothing

Pritam Potts

A couple of weeks ago, there I was, as usual, on the couch. A common place for me to be, two months into recovering from what felt like the slowest-healing-ever sprained ankle and pain-won’t-go-away broken wrist.

That was the moment when I realized that I felt too comfortable on the couch. Far more comfortable on it, in fact, than off of it attempting to move or be productive. This realization was a shock. This is not how I operate in my life.

I had already felt my motivation slipping. My severely limited activity had started to feel even more challenging. The modified micro-sessions (let’s call them) of my hamstring physical therapy that I was still able to do, were occurring less and less each week. The limping around the house felt harder and harder, so I figured might as well sit as much as possible. A sense of active purpose was more difficult to muster each day. It felt far easier to do less and less in all areas of my life.

That’s when I knew that my physical and mental energy had significantly shifted toward . . . doing nothing. Momentum is powerful indeed.

It feels like a very long time ago that I lay on the couch in the first week after this accident, fired up with resolve. I was determined to stay focused, make the best of it, do whatever I could do to keep moving, and maintain my physical and mental well-being, no matter what.

Until my energy imperceptibly seeped away as I lay on that couch, a little bit at a time.

Activity perpetuates itself. The more you do, the easier it becomes to move and keep moving.

The downside is that inactivity also perpetuates itself. The less you do, the easier it becomes to stop moving and the harder it is to start up again.

This is why it’s so hard to begin an exercise program. This is why it’s so challenging to change deeply ingrained habits. This is why we join a gym in January when our clothes are tight after the holidays, and never go again after the first two weeks. This is why it is feels much harder to come back from injuries or surgery or life challenges that alter the momentum of activity.

But, of course, it is possible. People do it all the time. There is no question in my mind that despite my limitations, I must get moving again! I feel a strong sense of urgency, but I’m working on it in just a couple of ways so as not to overwhelm myself or overdo it:

First, I’m giving myself credit for what I did manage to do. I never stopped doing “micro-sessions” of physical therapy. Heavily modified and a fraction of my pre-accident program? Maybe so, but it would have felt far worse to completely stop. I already have a foundation to build upon. Plus my wrist has improved significantly, which is hugely helpful, so I’m using that progress to kickstart my energy.

Second, I’m continuing to practice perspective, which of course, will come and go. My wrist physical therapist keeps reminding me that my wrist needs time. She’s totally right, obviously, and it goes without saying that my ankle needs time too. I’m glad to have the reminder even though I do relatively well at remembering on my own (until I forget and get frustrated.) This is why it’s a “practice.”

Third, I’m am determined to treat myself from a place of healing, not a place of health. My healing process must take priority. So, in increasing activity, I have to do it in the context of “I am injured and I must take it slowly” instead of where my brain really wants to go: “After two-plus months you should be fine, so toughen up and act accordingly.” If I am not careful, I may end up back on the couch. It helps me to pretend that I am a client and treat myself accordingly—start slow and build up strength and endurance in a safe but effective way, taking limitations and pain into consideration.

There’s no transformative end to this story (not yet, at least.) It doesn’t feel like my theoretical future column, “How Pritam got her momentum back,” will appear anytime soon.

I am very good at making the best of a situation, but the last two months have tested me in many ways. However, I’m sitting here typing this (not writing this from the couch using talk-to-text), I’m about to go do my physical therapy for the second time this week (up from once) and just a couple of days ago my foot pain practically disappeared and hasn’t returned to the previous extent.

Could it be that what I am feeling is the momentum of doing something? Anything?

I’ll find out soon enough.

— By Pritam Potts

Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at and

  1. Yes!!! That slow decline into doing nothing. I never have gotten my motivation back from a surgery 3 yrs ago! It is overwhelming the feeling to have to climb out and get moving again. But you’ve reminded me it’s okay to take small steps just start small get the momentum started! Thanks Pri! Beautiful insiteful writing!!

  2. They say, “start with 10 minutes a day”. Slow and steady works. As a reminder for some people, chair workouts are great when needed.

  3. Great thoughts! I love the title, “The Momentum of Doing Nothing”. So true. It is so easy to slip into bad patterns of thinking and that then turn into bad behavior. Fitness is a way of thinking. Then it must move to action. Exercise and a healthy diet. It ain’t easy as they say. But the benefits are well worth it. Like Ms. Potts, I was an avid gym guy. Lifting weights, riding my bike, etc. Then it happened, I was injured in an accident. I slipped on the ice and torn my quadratic tendon off my knee. That led to a reattachment operation, 8 weeks in a full leg brace and crutches, twice a week physical rehab, and a whole lot of emotional adjustment as well.
    For what it’s worth Ms. Potts, in my opinion, you are thinking right about how to overcome your situation based on what I went through. It’s more of a mental issue than a physical issue. It all starts with your thinking and determination to turn that into good health practices. It has been over a year since my accident but through action focused rehab work, good diet, and determination, I’m back to nearly where I was running, biking, hiking, with full recovery of the strength and use of my tendon and knee. By the way, judging from your picture, I am well over twice the age of you.

    Good luck and keep smiling!

  4. I have had both knees, both hips, both shoulders replaced. Feet arthritis so my arch is collapsing and multiple hand arthritis and carpal tunnel surgeries. Currently the worst is spondylothesis – my spine giving out and all that pain when I move. I know there are folks with pain symptoms super worse than mine.

    SO, I totally understand that doing less decreases motivation which is a downward spiral. And I know my pain is not going to get better. Hey, I’m old!
    But your discovery is what has been working for me. And yes, it is a huge struggle to keep my motor going. And when it runs down, so hard to get it going again. For me and others – without end.
    I totally understand the importance of doing SOMETHING, anything to carry me forward, with as much purposeful activity as I can muster. Because LESS begets LESS
    and MORE begets MORE.

    Thank you for writing about this topic and I hope you are better so soon.

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