“Put all excuses aside and remember this: You are capable.”–Zig Ziglar
During my Saturday morning run this past week, there were numerous times I wanted to quit. It had taken me nearly two hours to complete, and it had not felt nearly as good as my last run at the exact same distance. Nonetheless, I kept employing different mental strategies I’ve learned over the years and, ultimately, completed my goal.
That run got me thinking about the importance of mindset and the mental strategies/techniques we sometimes need to employ to incorporate more movement and exercise into our lives. Therefore, in this 8th installment of my “Move into Health” series, I will share several research based mental strategies for exercise/movement for those days when we “aren’t feeling it.” Moreover, many of these tips can be applied to other areas of life, such as tackling difficult tasks.
The mind-body connection is powerful. Whether discussing exercise, or tackling a difficult/challenging project, it is important to recognize the influence of the mind-body connection. From having a churning stomach in response to an upside routine change, such as shift workers, to coming down with a cold after prolonged exposure to a stressful event, our bodies respond to the changes in our mind. Therefore, by understanding this connection, we can unleash its potential to positively influence our attitudes and choices, especially with regards to movement goals.
Be patient; remember the long game, and avoid comparison: As my decades continue to stack, the long-game is most often at the forefront of my thoughts. By prioritizing the fact that I want to remain injury free, healthy, mentally engaged, and purpose-driven for years to come, I’ve had to slow down, make moderation a priority, and avoid comparisons to my past self, previous workouts, and definitely not to others. It’s important to be clear on long-term life goals and determine how movement/exercise can benefit that plan. When we see how exercise and movement can contribute to and enhance our bigger life picture, it provides a bit more motivation to get out there, even when we don’t “feel like it.”
Let go of attachments, especially to perfection and the all or nothing mindset: Our mind can be a bit of a trickster and convince us that exercise and movement should feel, be, or look a certain way. That’s all nonsense. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel great, but if nothing is hurt or injured, we have to keep going. Other times, we may have little in the tank or reduced time. Rather than throw in the towel, try another workout or shorten your workout time. Some form of added movement is always better than nothing!
Embrace the unknown, including discomfort: Along with letting go of attachments to how exercise/movement should be, it is important to embrace the unknown. Whether it is going to a new gym, a new exercise class, or walking in a new area, accept that it will feel uncomfortable and new for the first few times. Likewise, it is important to understand that with muscle growth comes some discomfort, including sore muscles. This is where it is important to discern the good pain from the “I-might-be injured” pain. Most of our pain is the good kind, but we do need to pay attention to unusual or persistent pain.
Muscle has memory: The more we exercise/move, the fitter we become, and the “easier” it is for the body to move. This is important for those of us who are not “naturally” gifted athletes, or no longer spring chicks for that matter! As our fitness levels increase, our likewise energy increases, making even everyday movement tasks feel easier. Now that’s motivating!
Break “large” workouts into smaller tasks and start easy: When I am faced with a long run, I think about it in chunks, and I start slowly with a walk to build success. With each successfully completed chunk, I mentally celebrate, “One-third down, only two-thirds left to go!” I continue in this manner until I attain my goal mileage. Additionally, I’ve applied this mindset across a multitude of workouts and projects unrelated to exercise.
Visualize the feeling of success that comes with finishing, and don’t underestimate the potency of a smile: This is a tool I employ before and during a workout. I think about how good it will feel to know I accomplished whatever it is I set out to do. By focusing on that feeling, I automatically smile. Smiling starts a chain reaction of positive feelings coursing throughout my body, but especially my brain. It is those good vibes that keep me going, and they can keep you going too!
Adapt a “no-fail” mindset. Since we do have that mind-body connection, we can harness the power of words to move our bodies. Create a mantra, or saying, for when your workout or movement gets tough. I often talk to myself during, especially hard workouts. I’ll use phrases like, “You can do this, Steph.” “You’ve got this, Steph.” Other times, I use one word, such as, “Fortitude,” “Perseverance,” and “Tenacity,” which are a few of my favorites. The key is finding the motivating word(s) that strengthen your resolve.
Power up with music and songs: Music doesn’t motivate everyone, but it certainly does a large number of us. The right playlist can motivate and move you into action.
Create a reward system: I call it the if-then principal. If you do this, then you get to do this. Have some sort of reward system in place for yourself, and focus on it during those challenging workouts.
Have a purpose for your run: I often have a prayer/meditation that I repeatedly say. Other times, I run in honor of a veteran (Team Red White & Blue and Wear Blue) by writing the name of a veteran on my hand, or creating a list of several vets and tucking the list into a tiny pocket in my tights. The point is that by adding a higher purpose to my workout, I attach greater meaning to a workout that increases my motivation.
Everyday may not offer ideal situations for movement; therefore, having a toolkit of mental “hacks” can help us push past our own resistance and/or excuses. Exercise not only works only our muscles, but also our mental strength and, ultimately, our overall well-being. Combining the power of the mind-body connection, especially over time, improves both our physical well being and creates a more disciplined and determined mind. So grab your toolbelt, and learn to attach and switch out any of these various tools to motivate you to move into health, so you never have a reason to give up.