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Inertia: a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged.
You know you should exercise, but why does it feel like such a chore to get started?
The answer, simply put, is your brain. Its goal is to avoid pain and keep you safe in your comfort zone. It established what your comfort zone is based off your routines and habits. This formed neural pathways (connections within your brain) that sometimes make you act automatically.
Change is unknown = potential danger.
That’s why you experience resistance from the brain. To master the mental challenge of exercise, you need to just start. As you change your routine, your brain will make new associations with your comfort zone. This leads to less resistance.
But in those first few weeks, you could be in a tug-of-war between your conscious choices and subconscious wants. And having an achy body doesn’t help your conscious side of the argument!
How to Master the First Challenge
1. Don’t Wait!
If you wait until you feel like it, you may never start. But once you get going, you’ll be wondering what the big deal was. Remember, procrastination is the death of progress.
2. Find Your Preference
Choose exercise you enjoy so your brain will associate it with pleasure, and you’re more likely to stick to it. For ideas, refer to How to Lose Weight At Home: Top 3 Workout Strategies
3. Prepare For Your Workouts
Avoid the stress of time restraints. Have your workout clothes ready for morning sessions, so you’re not rushing around. Or have them packed for afternoon sessions when you finish work.
4. Grab Your BFF
Pair up with a friend; you can bounce off each other (mentally or physically)! Making it a social thing will help your brain create positive associations.
5. Action Plan
Make a plan by setting a workout routine with days, times and activities. Multiple field studies show that exercise habits improved with action planning and repetition.
Have trouble waking up? Move your alarm so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. If you find it hard, set your phone alarm as a pre-wake-up call before your main alarm.
Why it’s Hard to Stay Committed
So, you’re a few days into it, but it’s getting harder to stay motivated. Now what?
Your brain is still seeking the old comfort zone it knew so well. On top of that, it’s trying to maintain a steady environment with your blood sugar, pressure, temperature, fluids etc. This is known as homeostasis. When its disrupted, the body treats it as a stressor.
The trick is to keep at it. Exercise disrupts homeostasis in a good way by encouraging cells to grow stronger. The longer we practice a skill, the stronger neuron connections are formed in our brain. Some claim it takes 21 days to form a habit, but the timeline may vary depending on your situation.
You can’t always wait for motivation. Sometimes it takes the act of exercising (with adrenaline pumping and endorphins flowing) to get you feeling motivated. Be patient and consistent and it will get easier.
Beware of Negative Thoughts
Another mental challenge to master. Our thoughts influence our actions, even if they aren’t correct. It’s said that 70% of daily thoughts are negative. Considering we have thousands of thoughts a day, they can’t all be true!
Negative thoughts can shape in many ways:
Procrastinating: ‘I’m too tired today, maybe tomorrow…’
There’s going to be days when you don’t feel 100%. That’s life. Many famous people attribute their success to discipline – the ability to do things even when we don’t feel like it.
Helplessness: ‘I’m too unfit so what’s the use?’
Everyone has to start somewhere. Breaking your fitness goals into bite-size chunks will feel less overwhelming. When we were babies, we crawled before we walked, and at no point did we give up.
Comparing: ‘I’ll never be as fit as them…’
It’s hard to grow if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others. As the saying goes, “Your only competition is the person you were yesterday.”
False Justification: ‘I’m not seeing results, so this is a waste of time.’
We live in an instant world; accustomed to immediate results. But any successful person will tell you it took time (and failed attempts) to achieve their goals. The journey teaches us much more than the result.
Master Your Mindset
It’s debated whether willpower is a limited resource. But if you change the way you view exercise, you won’t need willpower. See exercise for its perks. If your brain links those activities with pleasure, it won’t resist.
So, keep the enthusiasm fresh! Here’s more ways to master this:
7. Find a Role Model
This can be anyone who’s achieved the fitness goals you desire. Whether its weight loss, becoming healthier or toning up, you can find plenty of inspiration online.
8. Vision Board
Create a collage of your fitness goals and hang it where you’ll see it every day. Use words and pictures that have strong meaning for you. This’ll keep you reminded of your goals (and like marketing, it can impact your subconscious).
9. Set Realistic Goals
Break your goals into small achievable milestones leading to your ultimate goal. This way you’ll have more wins and remain keen. If you just set yourself one big goal, it may feel impossible to reach.
10. Motivational Quotes
Keep inspired and avoid negative thoughts. There’s plenty of websites available or download an app that sends you daily quotes. Share them on social media and spread the vibe!
11. Exercise Journal
A great way to track your progress and evaluate where you might need adjustment. Seeing your accomplishments in writing can improve confidence and focus. When you tick off checklists, your brain releases dopamine. This is a pleasure chemical linked to learning and motivation. The more you accomplish, the better you feel.
Check out this post for more benefits of exercise journals!
12. Make Yourself Accountable
Tell people of your plans; keep them updated with your progress. It gives you more reason to stick to it. You’ll find people are supportive and you just might inspire someone!
13. Fitness Apps and Devices
These are great for tracking your progress and getting tips. I highly recommend MyFitnessPal.
On this app I can track my exercise, calories, macros etc. I also have an activity watch which tracks my daily steps. This syncs with my Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker watch, which adjusts my calorie allowance in accordance with my activities. There’s plenty of apps with exercise routines, recipes and more.
14. Join an Online Fitness Community
This is another way to share your progress, encourage others and be accountable. Stay motivated by reading other people’s success stories and learning from their experiences. One great example is Coach Kozak’s HASfit tribe.
Keep it fun and energising! Play your favourite tunes, an audio book or motivational videos on YouTube. Remember: keep exercise interesting and the brain will link it with pleasure.
16. Sleep it Off
Regular sleeping patterns keeps your body’s circadian rhythms in-check (which effects your daily energy levels). It’s during sleep that our body releases growth hormones, repairs and builds muscle. Sleep keeps the mind fresh, so you’re less likely to drop that dumbbell in a drowsy fog.
17. Take up Other Activities
18. Watch What you Eat
No one wants to hear it, but it’s true: what you eat makes a difference. Food is fuel for your body. Eating clean (fruits, vegetables and protein) will keep you performing longer and harder. It improves moods, sleep and concentration. It’s easier to stay motivated when your energised.
19. Keep Those Rewards Coming
We’re still showing our brains that exercise = rewards. The brain loves pleasure, so be sure to reward yourself when you’ve stuck to your workouts.
No – not with a chocolate muffin or big mac!
You can reward yourself without costing the calories you just burned. Buy yourself a new outfit, get some new exercise equipment, or spoil yourself with a massage. Rewards don’t need to be big or expensive. Have a relaxing bath or take a stroll on the beach. Choose what ever makes you happy.
20. Stay Educated
In my experience, the most powerful tool is knowledge. Research the importance of fitness, discover more benefits of exercise. Follow some blogs! Try some expert’s advice; you’ll be amazed how your life can change for the better. Keep engaged and your motivation shouldn’t fade.
The main thing to remember, is keep focused on your goals. Be consistent and you will master the mental challenge of exercise. It’ll build your resilience, your self-respect, and teach you valuable skills for life. Those characteristics you will never find in a pill.