Exercise is the limited time we have budgeted for ourselves in an otherwise hectic schedule. It is an investment we make for the health of our minds and bodies and, well, it just feels awesome when you crush a tough workout. We’re familiar with the benefits (and the sore feeling afterward that hurts so good), but sometimes we can’t help but want to skip our workout for the day.
When you’re lacking motivation, debating whether or not to lace up your sneakers and get going on your workout, check out these mental tricks for getting your focus and enthusiasm back.
The language we use shapes the way we think about things. When you think, I have to go workout, it seems like a chore and a pain. Instead think: I get to enjoy some ‘me’ time, focus on the fact that this is your break, your time to work on health and a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of daily stress. It should be fun, not “work,” make sure your language and thought process reflect that.
Convincing yourself to go to the gym can be the hardest part, but thinking about some of your best fitness achievements will help you make the trip with more enthusiasm. According to a study done by the University of New Hampshire, college students who were asked to recall a positive exercise memory worked out more frequently the following week than the control group, who weren’t asked to recall any memories. Researchers say it’s likely due to excitement brought on by remembering past accomplishments. Think of your own fitness highlight reel when your motivation begins to dip.
Many people rely on their favorite playlist or Spotify station to pump them up at the gym and research shows it can be a big help, but if you’re having trouble just getting there music might be the answer for that too. If you’re just not in the mood for the gym after a long day, put on some of your favorite workout music for your ride home. By the time you get in the door you’ll be in the workout mindset and then all you need is your sneakers.
Motivating mantras and optimistic lines can help you through even the toughest workouts, according to research out of Europe. During a study done on a stationary bike, people who were instructed to talk to themselves using positive phrases were able to ride two minutes longer on a tough ride compared to the control group. Those that pumped themselves up also reported that the ride felt much easier with the motivational lines.
A set of personal goals is just about the best motivation out there and reminding yourself of exactly what they are can help you keep working hard. Write down your goals and take a look at them when your motivation starts to slip. Reminding yourself of what you’re after—and your progress so far—provides a great boost.
We know that team sports are incredibly motivating, but what about competition when we’re working out alone? Research from New York University suggests that even when we’re by ourselves competition can drive us to work harder—it doesn’t matter that the other person has no idea they’re competing. So pick a rival at the gym and you might just feel a burst of motivation.
Visualizing, imaging or mentally rehearsing—whatever you call it—this is a classic trick used by both pro and amateur athletes. From shooting free throws in basketball to lifting at the gym, studies show that visualizing success can actually improve performance. Next time you line up on the bench or step onto the treadmill take a moment to picture yourself hitting your goal and then go for it.
Thinking about the entire workout that lies ahead can be daunting. 45 whole minutes of exercise, 12 intimidating miles of running or three killer sets in the squat rack can discourage even the toughest athlete, which is why many of them think of it differently. Instead of thinking of what lies ahead, many athletes break up their workouts into manageable chunks. When you just focus on the next 5 minutes or the next mile or the next set it’s easier to hone in on what you’re doing and make the most of it.
Everyone has days when they aren’t up to completing a major workout. Sometimes you get to the gym and just want to turn around and go home and that’s when you need to compromise. You don’t always have to do a big hour-long session but be sure to do a little something. Warm up and then focus on doing one thing you enjoy and that will often spark the motivation to continue—and if it doesn’t, at least you accomplished something.