This post covers two ways to overcome mental barriers to exercise: 1) making personally relevant goals, and 2) planning for failure. Using these two techniques will help you stop making excuses and to start exercising more.
How often do you skip workouts?
It happens to everyone. You’ve had a long day at work, you’re hungry, you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, you forgot your gym clothes - the list goes on. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to occasionally slip up and miss a workout.
But what happens when those slip-ups are more than occasional?
When your motivation starts to wear thin, there are a couple of tactics you can use to keep yourself going. These two methods, based on psychology, can help you keep going when the going gets tough.
Make Personally Relevant Goals
Everyone talks about goal setting—for good reason. At its best, setting goals can help direct your workouts, help you focus on the right things, and keep you motivated to work towards them. But to get those results, you need to be setting the right kind of goals.
You’ve probably heard of SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goal setting. Each of those elements of goal setting is important, but even combined they fail to tell the whole story.
You need to also ask - why is this my goal?
Why doesn’t your neighbor, or brother, or boss have the same goal as you? What makes this goal uniquely yours?
You aren’t doing this “just because.” You have clear and definite reasons that this goal is important to you, and knowing the answer to this question will help you stay motivated and on track in the long term.
At the same time, it can be hard to confront the real reasons behind the goal. It can be hard to admit that you don’t like your body, or that you don’t feel attractive. To get to the reasons, write down three answers to this question: how will my life be different if I achieve this goal?
With these answers, go deep. Go below the surface. If you want to lose weight to look better, don’t just say “I’ll look better.” How would looking better affect your life? Would it help your relationship with your SO? Would it help you date more, if you’re single? Would it help you become generally more confident in yourself, and happier?
Then ask yourself again: how would each of these things improve my life?
You don’t need to visualize your end goal before every workout, and in fact you probably shouldn’t. But when you’re struggling, it’s helpful to remember why you’re putting in the work to begin with.
Plan for Failure
People are too optimistic.That isn’t to say that optimism is a bad thing, or that we shouldn’t be optimistic. But it’s important to be realistically optimistic, to recognize that not everything will come without effort.
If you’ve ever decided that this time is the time you lose weight, keep it off, and get fit...and then two months later find yourself back on the couch, chances are you had a little too much optimism and not quite enough planning.
When we decide to make changes, we tend to focus mostly on things that we are planning to do. We will work out 3 times a week, we will count calories or otherwise sort out nutrition, we will start meal prepping, etc. But we don’t think as much about what can go wrong, about what we won’t do.
Saying “yes” to working out three times a week means saying “no” to sitting on the couch those days. That seems obvious to read, I’m sure, but it’s something that our minds don’t instantly comprehend.
When you’re tired after work, when you haven’t eaten since noon, when you still need to go grocery shopping and prepare dinner, that couch starts to look mighty inviting. Saying “yes” to that workout becomes so, so much harder. And even if you say yes most of the time, you’ll occasionally start saying no...until you wind up on that couch again.
Instead of this cycle of temporary optimism that results in yoyo dieting and sporadic exercise, plan for challenges and failure. Ask yourself: what are the five biggest challenges I'm likely to face while trying to get fit?
Your challenges will be unique to you, but common ones include being tired after work, not knowing how to cook or exercise, and trying to eat healthy while also going out with friends.
Then, make a plan to prevent or address those challenges. If you’re tired and hungry after work, what about a 3pm cup of coffee? What about shifting to a late lunch? What about shrinking your lunch but adding a small mid-afternoon snack?
When your friends want you to come out, will you go? If you go, what will you be eating/drinking? If they want you to drink more, what are the exact words you’ll tell them?
What if you don’t succeed? Challenges are challenges for a reason, and there’s a good chance you’ll eventually slip up and overeat or miss a workout. Plan for that too. If you miss a workout, can you immediately make it up on the next day? When failure does happen, do a post-mortem. Ask yourself: what made me slip up, and how can I address it next time?
Just the act of writing out your challenges makes you more likely to succeed.
If you can see the challenge, if you know that it exists, and if you remember why your goal is important, your mindset changes from “ugh, I skipped my workout today and I stink at this” to “okay, that didn’t go well. How can I do better next time?”
This guest post was written by Benyamin Elias. He uses psychology to help busy people get results and stop skipping workouts. You can learn more about his approach to getting fit through consistent habits and gradual lifestyle change at http://routineexcellence.com/.