The gym is not my sanctuary, or my church. It is not my temple of meditation and quiet reflection. It is not the place I go to escape.
I hate the gym.
As a therapist, if I were working with myself on this issue, the first question I would ask is, ‘what are physical activities you like to do?’ in order to figure out if there was an exercise I actually enjoyed.
But that’s the problem. I don’t like exercise.
I would much rather read a book or catch up on Scandal or play Candy Crush on my phone. It’s not that working out is so awful, exactly, more that it’s last on the list of things I want to do with my spare time.
I would actually rather be doing paperwork (the not so fun part of the therapist gig), and have procrastinated going to the gym with updating my case files.
In other words, I am not exercising regularly because I love it so much or find it to be such an amazing stress reliever. Those are great reasons to go the gym, and I envy folks who have those reasons. I haven’t felt like working out in…well, pretty much all my years on this Earth, but I would say I haven’t felt particularly ‘up to it’ in the last month or so.
This complete and utter lack of desire has not (yet) stopped me from exercising each week. Here’s seven methods that I’ve used to keep myself going:
1) Routine. Having a routine for exercise is essential. Work out at the same time on the same days each week. If you do this for three to four weeks, I guarantee you that it will feel odd when you don’t go. It will nag at you. Our brains crave routine, and when we honor this natural urge, we are drawn to the habit, even though we may not particularly like the activity itself. This is one of the many reasons that habits such as smoking are hard to give up. Use the brain’s propensity to form habits to your advantage.
2) You don’t have to love it, heck, you don’t even have to like it. Muhammad Ali stated, “I hated every minute of my training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ ” I certainly do not fancy myself as any sort of champion, but what I hear in Ali’s quote is his sheer drive and dedication towards his goal. He made the decision that being one of the greatest fighters in the world meant more to him than acting on his moment-by-moment feelings (e.g. I don’t feel like going to the gym). You don’t have to like it, you just have to go.
3) But…it’s better if you do. I encourage folks to experiment with different exercises—take different classes at a local gym, drop into a specialty studio such as barre or pole dancing. Try new ways to make old workouts more fun—for instance if you like to jog/run, download an app that imitates zombies chasing you. Obviously, it will be easier to exercise if you actually enjoy what you’re doing. Although no matter how awesome the activity is there will always be times you don’t want to do it. Think of Ali. Go anyway.
4) Do What Gets Results. If you are engaging in an exercise routine that is not producing results, it’s time to find a different routine. There is nothing more motivating than watching your body change in the mirror and knowing that you have worked hard to make it that way. Recently, I have added the bench press to my workout, and I am delighted to watch the muscles develop in my chest and arms. When I think of not going to the gym, I look at my muscles. Seriously.
5) Set and Achieve Goals. Along with seeing results in the mirror, getting stronger (lifting), faster (running), or more flexible (yoga) are also great intrinsic motivators. Recently, I broke a personal record while running. I hate running. But I really like meeting my goals, so I get up and put on my running shoes to try to beat my last time. This is also an area where technology can be useful, with the use of apps such as RunKeeper to track and record your progress.
6) Watch Your Mouth. As the saying goes, you can’t outrun a bad diet. It’s incredibly demoralizing to exercise and not see any progress. If you feel you are putting in consistent, dedicated effort (sweating, heart-pounding goodness) multiple times per week, and you’re not seeing any results, take a good hard look at your diet. I highly recommend using a calorie counting app for at least two weeks, logging every bite you eat. You can choose not to use it long term, but often it’s a real eye opener to see how many calories you are actually consuming. All of those little bites over the course of a day really add up! I’m looking at you, Starburst candy dish in my office.
7) Limit the Amount of Stuff You Don’t Want to Do. This is the probably trickiest piece of advice, but it plays a big role in your overall energy and motivation. Essentially, the more obligations you have in your life that you don’t want to do, the harder it is to do them because your willpower muscle becomes depleted. It’s really hard to workout when you hate your job, and the volunteer activity you signed up for, and you’re trying to cut back on your television watching. As you expend your willpower on other tasks you don’t want to do (or not doing things that you would like to do, such as watching television), it becomes harder to remain motivated to exercise. Take stock of the obligations in your life, looking specifically at the responsibilities that drain you, and think of how you could either remove them or decrease their negative impact on your willpower muscle. Doing so will give you more fuel to workout.
Nobody likes working out. Okay, that’s not true, lots of people do. But for those of us who don’t, we have to continue to find ways to stay motivated. To that end, I hope these tips were helpful. In the comment section, please post your strategies that you use to motivate yourself to exercise!