Let’s face it, working out is hard. It is supposed to be. That’s why it makes you stronger. But when you are initially starting on a fitness routine, it is tough to motivate yourself to go to the gym or get out of bed and do 20 pushups. If you’ve never had a consistent habit of physically exerting yourself, then what I just stated could sound excruciating. The mind is quick to come up with hundred different excuses when it knows there’s effort to be applied. But on the other hand, without proper physical fitness you feel weak. And deep down inside, you know you want a healthy and strong life. So why on earth do we experience this conflict?
We are wired to seek out pleasure that requires least effort and that which is most immediate. That’s why it is easy to binge on a pint of ice-cream and Netflix than go for a run. Just as you need some force to move a stationary physical object because of its Newtonian inertia, you will similarly encounter mental resistance when applying any effort. But this resistance is short lived. And like any other resistance, it can be overcome. Initially, this resistance looks monumental and tricks you into believing that you’d be better off just hitting the snooze button. But that is a lie. There are several ways to break it down.
Change Your Relationship to Fitness
When fitness and exercise is seen as a chore that needs to be performed in order to avoid ill-health or to keep you from feeling guilty, then finding an excuse is not that hard. A better way would be to think about exercise is as a tool that aids in your overall growth. For example, one of my core values is physical strength. As detailed in my manifesto, being physically strong is not only a necessity for my mental well-being but also the foundation on which my advancement rests. Exercise is a prime factor in my growth. I would invite you to change your relationship to exercising from thinking about it as something you do to prevent illness to something that empowers you. Exercise to grow stronger and feel vibrant, not just because your doctor said so or you don’t want to feel like a slob.
Take Baby Steps
The easiest way to get started is to take a small first step. Suppose you have never been much of a runner and you want to lose weight. You might find it easier to get out the door if you tell yourself that you’d only run for 4 or 5 blocks than telling yourself to run 3 miles on your first run. You may by all means be capable of running for 3 miles, but the resistance associated with such a long distance might make you give up easily before you even begin. Starting small also helps you to gradually build the supportive physical strength and reduce the risk of injuries. The idea here is to gradually increase the intensity as you go along. And when done consistently, a month after you started, you won’t be dreading a 3 mile run or a full 45 minute of weight lifting. You must start with the absolute lowest possible intensity that will make you get up and going without overwhelming you. A 5k run begins with one step. A 225 lbs. squat begins with an empty barbell squat. Start small and take baby steps towards your goal.
Have a Goal and a Plan
Having a goal can help push yourself to take action. Goals can vary from running the next half marathon or 5k to doing ten pushups or twenty pull ups. Goal focused workout can motivate us to get over the initial bump of exercising. When a goal is combined with a good plan, it becomes easier to tackle mental resistance. Going into a workout and figuring out what exercise to perform next can be taxing on your brain. Do not waste your mental energy on this. Know in advance what you are going to be doing in your workout on any given day. It will make you stick to your whole workout and not give up easily. Write your plan out. Keep it simple at first and try stick to it as much as possible. This is paramount in creating a good exercise routine.
Set Up Triggers
One of the easiest way to initiate a routine is to set up a trigger. For example, this could be as simple as putting on your workout shoes. If you are feeling particularly resistant to working out on a given day, just concern yourself with that one trigger action. Do not care about how cold it is outside to go for a run or how intimidating that squat looks today. Have a narrow focus and put those shoes on. Now what are you going to do? Go back to bed in your Nikes?
Design Your Environment and Life to Reduce Excuses
Find a gym that is closer to your home so your mind is not complaining about how far of a drive it is. Find a trainer, it’s highly recommended if you’ve never been able to find the motivation to go to a gym. Pay for 10 sessions upfront. You will go because you wouldn’t want to waste money. If you can’t afford a trainer, join a group class or find a training partner. Use meetup.com to find a group or even post it on Facebook asking for your friends to join you. This way you’ll be accountable to an outside agent. Other ways to design an exercise ready environment is to keep everything you need for your workout or run ready and on sight. If you can see it, is not easy to avoid it.
Get enough sleep if you workout in the morning. This means going to bed early a few nights of the week. If you train after work, do not take on anything monumental an hour before your workout. Plan your meetings and schedule them accordingly.
The initial few weeks are the hardest just like any other initiative. Figure out a regular schedule and stick to it. Get specific. For example, instead of a vague 3 days a week workout plan, try re-framing it as doing a specific set of exercises on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m. Once the wheels get moving, a couple of things will happen. You’ll want to see results quickly and things may begin to get boring. First of all, do not worry about results early on. You may find a change in your energy and may feel uplifted. This will make you come back for more. But physical changes will take a few weeks to months. Don’t lose your heart. Your body will take some time to respond to the new stimulus.
If even after a few solid weeks of following a routine you feel it’s hard to stay motivated, then try looking for alternative activities. There are so many options from yoga to rock climbing to rowing to good old weightlifting. But have patience and do not jump into a different activity every week. Consistency is what differentiates someone for whom fitness is part of their lifestyle from people who go to the gym only during the first week of a new year.