I tell people to find their underlying motivation for working out – their “Why.” The Why helps you get through the What – whatever it is you don’t really want to do, but know you need to.
I have to admit, though, sometimes I need even more than motivation. Sometimes I need to flat out trick my mind into working out – distract it a little. Like the equivalent of making airplane noises to fly mashed-up veggies into a child’s mouth. A “Hey, look over there!” to my brain while I start jogging before it protests.
Over the years, I’ve learned various tricks to convince my mind that I need to work out. From putting on active wear until it persuades me into actually being active, to downloading my favorite songs and only letting myself listen to them while I’m working out – I’ve tried a lot of tricks. Here are a few of my go-to’s for running in particular:
Burn the Ships
My pastor once referenced this phrase (not sure why, my church doesn’t even own ships, but nonetheless…) He was referring to a Spanish conquistador who, upon landing on some shore to start a conquest, ordered his men to burn their ships, leaving them no option to retreat.
I use this “no retreat” idea as a trick on myself at times. Race fees are non-refundable, and bragging on social media about the race you are going to do is non-retractable. So sometimes I pay for races and announce them just to cut off my retreat routes until my heart catches up to my head in believing the race will be worth it. My head knows the race will be worth it—because they always are, and because there are always free bagels at the end—but my heart may need to be dragged along a bit before it agrees and stops attempting retreat.
Sometimes you need to stop over thinking it and just hit the button and commit yourself to a race. Then you naturally start working out more leading up to it because your brain understands it doesn’t really have a choice in the matter anymore.
There’s a behavior change technique often used when someone asks us to sign a petition. Most of the time, a signature doesn’t achieve anything directly. The bigger (sneakier?) purpose is cognitive. When I sign a petition to save the wombats, for example, it signals my brain that I am someone who does something for wombats. Then, when I’m approached again later and asked to do more— give money, host a wombat rally, whatever—I am more likely to do it, because I already took one step that proved to me that I am a person who takes action for wombats. If I don’t take the next step, I’ll feel like I’m betraying the person I am. So sometimes I will go for a run, even if I can only run for a few minutes, because just the simple act of getting out there signals to my brain that I am a runner: I am someone who runs. I am someone who runs and organizes peaceful protests for wombats. That’s who we are, brain. We just have to accept it!
Finding some little action to take that convinces your mind that you are someone who works out is like signing a petition – it can help trick you into actually becoming someone who works out.
Find your people
One last trick I use is to turn workouts into social activities. I’ve met many great friends through running groups and race experiences. Whether you need people at your pace, or you just really want someone you can talk about cats with during a long run – I promise, they are out there somewhere. Start putting out feelers and they will come.
So on those days when your motivation runs low, try to trick yourself into getting active anyway. Eventually your mind will remember how awesome it always feels afterwards and it won’t need to be tricked so much the next time.
Dana Ayers is the author of the #1 Best Seller “Confessions of an Unlikely Runner (A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated).” Dana accidentally became a runner over 10 years ago and has logged a vast array of average finish times since. She is a former White House staffer, and current military reservist.
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For more smart tips on how to be healthy and active, check out these other articles from Together Counts!