Everything starts in the mind — if you think you’re going to hate something, you’re usually right. Most people I work with hate exercise. It starts early on with a negative experience at school PE class and this is where we decide we hate exercise. (One day I’ll write about the problem with compulsory PE). My job is not just to get people fit but to get them to change their mind about exercise — to realise that they can enjoy it so that they’ll keep it up for life.
Here are 5 mindset tricks I use with my clients to help them learn to enjoy exercise:
- Focus on the immediate benefits
The mistake most people make is they focus on some distant end goal — for women, this is often weight loss or it might be an event such as a 10k or a marathon. When you do this, the activity becomes a means to an end, something you do just to achieve a goal one day. This is why most people give up. The goal is too far away, too out of reach, to keep you motivated. You also miss the immediate benefits of exercise when you’re so focused on a future goal.
You might have your long term goal but your main focus should be on the immediate benefits. For example, exercise helps you sleep better, it reduces stress, it alleviates depression and anxiety, it gives you a break, a bit of alone time to clear your head, it boosts your immune system, it eases aches and tightness in your body, it makes you feel alive, it energises you… and so on. I encourage you to make your own list — pay attention to how you feel before, during and after exercise. How do you feel when you haven’t done any exercise in days versus when you exercise regularly? Notice the benefits yourself, in your own life and before you know it you find yourself enjoying exercise!
2. Be present
When you exercise, be fully there. Try to keep your full focus on your body and your immediate environment. This is mindfulness. Notice how your body feels when it moves — if it doesn’t feel good, you need to slow down. Scan your body top to toe. Moving should always feel good. Notice how strong you are, appreciate your body for being able to move even after all the neglect and abuse!
As you’re moving, make a mental list of things you appreciate right now — 5 things about your body and yourself and 5 or more things about your environment. Look around you, notice the beauty that surrounds you if you’re outdoors (I recommend exercising outdoors as much as you can, so much better for your body and your mind!)
3. Think of it as moving
If you’ve always hated exercise, then I recommend that you stop using the word ‘exercise’. Instead, talk about moving because that’s all it is. It’s about moving your body. It’s the same thing but the idea of moving feels so much easier and more pleasant, doesn’t it? My 10-year-old hates sports and exercise but she is constantly moving — walking, running, climbing, playing, skipping, scooting… so she is super fit. If I ask her to go for a run with me or suggest she joins a sports or exercise club, she won’t. If I take her to the mountains or the beach for a walk just for fun, she runs most of the time — much more than a 30 minute run with me! Same thing, same (or even better) results, different approach! Words are so powerful!
4. Observe your self-talk
How do you talk to yourself about exercise? Notice what thoughts come to mind when you even think about going for a walk or a run. Pay attention to what you say to yourself when you are moving. Is it all negative? I have to do it, I should do it, I hate it, how will I get out of doing it…. I hate this, I’m so slow, I’m so unfit, everything hurts, I’m disgusting, I’ve let myself go…
Most people bully themselves non-stop when it comes to exercise and this makes it even more unpleasant. The first thing you need to do is notice what your self-talk is like then stop any negative self-talk. If you don’t have anything nice to say then say nothing at all. Then you want to slowly start saying positive things. Start with it might not be so bad, I might enjoy it, maybe if I just slow down a little…. and so on. It has to be believable to you so you can’t go from I hate exercise to I love exercise overnight. Work on this consistently and you’ll notice a big difference very soon!
5. Choose to do it
This is a really powerful trick — rather than saying I have to do it or I should do it, say I choose to do it. The fact is that you do not have to exercise, no one is forcing you. It’s your body, your life, no one else’s business so stop feeling like you have to exercise because someone else says so.
Next time you think about exercise, say I don’t have to do it but I can choose to do it. I choose to go for a walk today. Or I chose not to exercise yesterday. I’ve chosen not to exercise in a year. I choose to start walking more today. Notice how different that feels? You feel empowered. The pressure is off. Now you have a choice, and because you feel more in control, there’s a good chance that you will choose to go for that walk!