This is the second of a series of posts I am writing about how to get past that common road-block of “I don’t feel like it” when it comes to exercising.
In my first post I discussed the use of a mindfulness-style approach. If this alone worked for you – fab. If not, keep practising, because engaging with the present and being aware of your internal goings-on makes other psychological techniques much more effective. If you haven’t read it, check it out before reading this one as I explain why it can be so difficult to “motivate” yourself in these situations.
This second technique I am about to talk about is actually simpler to use than the first. In fact, it is so simple that I expect you might wonder why I’m suggesting you do it.
Make a small commitment
If you feel like bailing out of your planned exercise session, before you completely throw in the towel just adjust the goal-posts first. Stop worrying about what you are meant to be doing in the session, i.e. the outcome, and instead promise yourself you will take just one step towards it.
For example, commit to just getting changed into your workout gear. If you exercise first thing in the morning, commit to just getting out of bed and washing your face, or even just getting out of bed and standing up for 30 seconds. If you have an exercise partner, try sending them a text asking when they want to meet, or what they fancy doing. That way, you’re halfway committed.
Often, by the time you get out of bed or get changed, you’ve made the initial step and that’s enough to get the ball rolling. If you still really don’t feel like it, then you can always go back to bed or skip out. But you aren’t giving yourself a chance if you don’t take at least one step towards your goal.
You may be wondering: this sounds too basic – why can something so simple be effective?
When we have a task in mind that takes considerable effort, the task as a whole can seem daunting. We only have limited energy resources to allocate to cognitive activities such as planning, self-control and problem-solving. This means if we are tired, demotivated or stressed, we rely on our “emotional brain” (see previous post for an explanation) to guide our behaviour. Essentially the thought of having to motivate ourselves to go and do something strenuous that we are “too tired” or “not in the mood” to do seems too much, and we will make up any excuse not to do it.
However if we shrink the size of the task, i.e. break it down into bite-size pieces, it doesn’t seem quite so daunting. You may doubt your ability to motivate yourself to get your workout done, but I’m fairly sure you will feel capable of changing into your workout gear, at least. Then you’re one step closer.
NB: if you are ill or injured, do NOT try to push yourself into exercising.
This same principle can be applied to ANY task looming over your head – set yourself a small target first just to get the ball rolling, and you’ll often find that you get more done than you think.