How to trick yourself gently into a hard workout

I know that a lot of people have trouble finding the motivation to keep exercise a priority so I’ve been thinking on how I have been able to keep it a high priority for over 8 years now. I make it a priority not because I am some sick masochist who enjoys running up and down hills when it is cold and raining outside.

So good for me, so not in the mood...

It’s not because I get a runner’s high – I think I’ve had a total of three in my entire life (I get totally shortchanged in the runner’s high department). It’s because I have to do it.

I would bet that most of us do something we don’t particularly love every single day because we like the payoff – we get up and go to work. I use exactly the same mindset. I need the payoff of controlling my weight and maintaining my fitness, so I get up and go to work. When I’m working at my job it’s not a question of, “How do I fit my job into my day?” it is a question of, “How do I fit the rest of my life around my job?” and that is exactly how I see exercise. I need to exercise, everything else needs to fit around it. In fact, I am not free to relax at the end of the day until I have done the exercise I need to do.

A list of daily priorities in my head would read,
1. Work
2. Health
3. Everything else.

This is how I take care of me. But most of the time I would rather just skip it. So, how do I get out there and run or walk or ride my bike or lift weights when my mind is trying to give me a hundred excuses not to do it?

I trick myself gently into it. Every little step is broken down into it’s own little task, and I just focus on the little task. The trick is to tell myself that I’m not really committed, I can stop any time and go do something else if I really, really want to, but since I’m here I might as well carry on. The first step may be the hardest, but it really is a tiny step, so I can handle that. So last night it went something like this:

1. Grab gym bag, walk over to the gym. Ok, I’m just walking to the next building. No big deal. It’s not even very far.
2. Change into workout clothes. I’m just getting dressed, I do this every day.
3. Tie hair back, put in contacts. La la la, I’m just grooming myself.
4. Grab iPod and headphones. Ok, yay, I’m putting on some tunes.
5. Head into the gym. I’m just here to look, really. I can leave whenever I want.
6. Get on the bike. Just going to do this for a few minutes. Just a gentle motion, no resistance or anything, I can stop any time I want.
7. Hey, this isn’t so bad. I could probably keep doing this for a while…maybe just up the resistance because my blood is starting to pump now…
8. Well heck, now that I’m here and sweating, might as well make it a good one!

This seems to work on me every time. 40 minutes later I’m so proud of myself I’m oozing smugness.

And that is how I get it done. My little mental trick for forcing myself to do it when I don’t feel like it is to focus on each individual little step until I’m there. If I think of it as a big event – “I have to go to the gym and it’ll be a whole hour of my day and it’s so much work and I’d rather just go home and lie on the couch, blah blah blah…” I can easily talk myself out of it, but if I focus on accomplishing each individual little step without focusing it as a whole giant production, it’s doable.

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9 Responses to “How to trick yourself gently into a hard workout”

  1. lisalys Says:

    That’s so awesome. I can manage to get myself on a treadmill or eliptical, but then I want to stop at like 20 minutes, and getting to 45 or 60 is a constant inner mantra of “I don’ wanna!” vrs “just shut up and do it!” :->

    But the numbers on the timer – they pass so slowly!!

    • Laina Says:

      That’s why I initially started doing my exercise outdoors – if I’m 2 miles out on my run I CAN’T just decide I’m bored now and stop – I still have to get home.
      However, when I have no choice but to exercise indoors, I do little personal challenge intervals. They don’t have to be totally hardcore, but I start out walking for 5-8 minutes, then I say, “Let’s see if I can get my speed up to 4.5 for 2 minutes, then I’ll drop back to a walk for 2 minutes as a rest interval.” So I’m still watching the timer, but I’m not watching it because I want to get off, I’m watching it because I’m timing my intervals. And when I’m done with that set 4 minutes have passed. Then I start the next one – I put the speed up to 4.7 – look I’m challenging myself! 2 minutes there, 2 minutes rest. Then I start feeling pretty good about the whole thing and I up my interval to 4.8 for the next set…etc, etc, etc. It ends up being kind of fun and rewarding and before I know it the time is done! Give it a try – it’s a really good workout and the time passes quicker because you’re focusing on something besides being bored.

  2. Donna Says:

    Since my exercise time is first thing in the morning, the first and most difficult trick is getting out of bed an hour before I *need* to. 6am is a bike ride to work, with possibly a detour to the Wharf before I get to work. 5am is bike to the boat house and workout in the gym and then bike to work. As soon as I’m cleared to go out on the bay in the row boats, I think 5am will become much easier. I’m not getting out of bed for a workout. I’m getting out of bed for a boat ride, woot woot 🙂 Besides, the earlier bike ride accross town is much less crowded and more pleasant.

  3. beanolc Says:

    In the morning I’m less likely to talk myself out of a workout– I get up, put on clothes, go work out, shower, get ready for work. All routine motion (it helps I’m not a morning person!). However, right before sleep when I’m setting the alarm, the voice in my head (aka the Saboteur) talks me out of it. It’s time to be stronger than the Saboteur.

    • Laina Says:

      I totally hear you – when I was with my first husband getting out of bed in the morning to go running was easy. Now it’s a lot harder and there’s much more holding me there. I actually gave up on morning runs and shifted to working out after work because I failed to resist the cozy so many times. I manage to get myself to do it more often. Trial and error, and I find that different routines work at different points in my life. You can do it!!

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    Started out walking on a trail this morning, then jogged a bit, then noticed the trail had points where you can go off and it’s more like a hike. A little bit of everything. It is easier to start off gently and let your inner self motivate you.
    I asked the therapist about bike riding when I saw her this morning, and she basically said no. Bummer. But I’m still trying to do something, even if it’s not my favorite activity.

  5. Betsy Says:

    I dislike gyms. It’s not the exercise part so much as the vibe. On the other hand, I don’t (usually) mind the sort of cold and rain we get around here. Not that I don’t occasionally relish a cold, rainy Saturday morning as a chance to stay in and read. I find I can get myself to walk or bike “because what’s the point in taking my car out on such a short trip?” and because I’m saving gas and wear and tear on the car. For me, that’s much easier to sell myself than “because I really should be exercising.”

    I can also walk on my lunch break because it’s an excuse to get out of the office, though I don’t usually go as far on days when I bike in. That, and because every so often I hear from some coworker, “I saw you all the way down *there*. How far do you go?” (2.5 to 3 miles on a lunch hour if I hustle. Which is enough to astonish somebody who drives a shorter distance just to pick up a sandwich.)

    So I biked to work and back 4 times this week, for a total of about 60 miles out of the 170 I’ve gone so far this September.

    I think I will add some hand weights (or maybe some shoveling in the garden on weekends—yay, getting useful stuff done) when my shoulder and wrist get just a little better. Just so I don’t get too Tyrannosaurus-looking.


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