It’s All in the Mind: How to Trick Yourself into Working Out Even When You Don’t Want To

It’s true, even the greatest athletes occasionally have days when working out is the last thing they want to do, and who can blame them? It’s time consuming and hard work! However, no progress was ever made by giving in to your lazier impulses.

It’s at times like these where most of us tend to beat ourselves up for lacking motivation. The truth is that everyone battles to psych themselves up for a workout from time to time.

Fortunately, we live in a time where psychological research has given us insight into the workings of human motivation. The next time you can’t bring yourself to exercise, try these tricks to get your brain back on your side.

Reward Yourself

If you think the human brain is massively complex and mysterious, well, you’re kind of correct. However, in some ways, it is remarkably simple. The mechanisms for reward and punishment that reside in our minds are easy to predict and control.

In essence, when we learn to expect a reward for doing something, we have greater motivation for doing it. For a reward to work in this way, there are a few conditions that need meeting.

First, the reward has to come after the workout, not before.

Second, the reward must come soon after the workout for the association to form.

Finally, the reward must get repeated.

In other words, you can’t reward yourself once and expect your motivation levels to multiply immediately. It takes time to build the association in your mind. But it is well worth nurturing that reward expectation.

Remember What Inspires You

When it comes to motivation and inspiration, everyone is different.

Some people plaster their walls with pictures of super-fit athletes and models, while others find this discouraging. It’s all about identifying what makes you want to get up and go.

If you love scrolling through fitness blogs or Instagram accounts, do it! If you draw inspiration from the support of your friends and family, then ask them to help motivate you.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to motivation.

Some days you may find that what usually works doesn’t quite hit the same spot, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to identify when you feel that surge of inspiration and what gave it to you. Then, you can use that to your advantage later on.

Don’t Commit to a Full Training Session

Commitment is important in fitness. But sometimes, you simply don’t have the energy to complete a full training session.

In these instances, doing something is better than doing nothing. Even if that something is ten minutes on the treadmill or fifteen minutes of free-weights, it counts!

If you let yourself take it easy when you don’t have the juice for a full 90-minute workout, you’re less likely to feel apprehensive about training in the future.

It’s natural for your body to have dips and rises in energy levels. You’ll do more good for yourself by honoring those patterns than you will by pushing yourself to the absolute limit every time.

Just Show Up

Rule number one in getting difficult things done: don’t overthink it.

If you start to ruminate on how tired you are and how hard it’s going to be, you’ll never make it out the front door.

Make it a habit to take things one step at a time. Half the battle is simply getting in your activewear and making it to the gym, park, or wherever it is you work out. Once you’re there, it’ll be much easier to start working out.

Take Your Rest Days

Sometimes your body is trying to send you a message. If you’re feeling fatigued, sore, and completely incapable of getting up for a workout, you might just need a day off.

Your muscles need time and rest to regenerate properly after a hardcore training session, even more so if you’ve been working out for several days in a row. You’re not doing your body any favors by putting it through the wringer when it needs rest.

That being said, don’t let rest days turn into rest weeks!

Do Short, High-Intensity Workouts Instead of Long Ones

Sometimes, the thing that’s most daunting for you is the amount of time you have to spend sweating and panting. If an hour-long jog or a 90-minute weights session feels like a chore for you, try to incorporate some high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your routine.

These workouts are designed to push you hard and fast. Yes, they are exhausting, but they’re usually over within five minutes or so. HIIT is also recommended by many fitness experts for greater weight loss, fitness, and muscle gain.

In fact, the renowned fitness movement, CrossFit, is founded on the principles of HIIT.

Set Goals and Celebrate Victories

Goals are an essential part of motivation. If you don’t know what you’re working towards, then how do you expect to feel motivated to do it?

Goals are a personal thing; don’t feel any pressure to share them or broadcast them on social media. They can just as easily be private things for you, and you alone.

Don’t sabotage yourself by setting unachievable or excessive goals, either. Small, realistic, achievable goals will allow you to relish in your success more often. Whether your goal is to lose five pounds, to be able to run a mile without stopping for a breather, or to complete a series of split workouts from start to finish, your goals are for you, and they should get tailored to your current fitness level.

When you do eventually achieve your goal, celebrate! Your celebration could be an indulgence, a night out with your friends, or something small, simple, and private. However you choose to do it, acknowledging your successes will keep you motivated to carry on to greater heights of achievement.

Feeling more motivated? Grab your SPIbelt and get going. Here’s to lapping everyone else sitting on the couch!

-by Tracy Renning