Exercise Motivation: Adjust Your Focus For Action

Exercise motivation by dinosaur.

For many getting past the anticipation of starting an exercise regimen or a new training program is more difficult than the program itself. And while Woody Allen likely wasn’t thinking about exercise when he said  “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” it holds true nonetheless. The problem is that showing up becomes incredibly difficult when you are battling your own negative thoughts. You can find a 100 excuses to procrastinate instead of starting a personal training program if you allow dread to hold you back.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Recent research from the Institute for Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London has provided evidence to show that anticipating pain or discomfort may actually be worse than the painful experience itself. Participants in the research study were given a choice between a more painful electric shock immediately or a less painful shock later. Most of the subjects actually chose to receive the more painful electrical shocks as opposed to having to wait around and dread having a painful experience later on, suggesting that the actual dread of discomfort can be worse than the experience itself. (1)

Additionally, they found that, not surprisingly, as the painful experience drew closer the amount of dread subjects experienced increased exponentially. These findings offer some insight as to why so many people can find just about any last minute excuse to avoid starting an exercise program. If you’ve chosen a day to begin working out, you are likely to experience an increasing amount of dread as that time approaches, so just about any other activity begins to seem like an excellent excuse. 

Create Motivation By Changing Your Focus

The results of the study drive home how important it is to reframe your thoughts in a manner that supports the initiation of action when creating new habits. The author summarizes the study with a helpful suggestion to do just that, “...dread can be attenuated by describing pain in terms of relief from an imagined even more severe pain.”

Rather than thinking about the difficulty of your first day training or whatever you’re putting off, focus on the more negative consequence of missing workouts or not exercising. Sign up for competitions to create deadlines that bring real consequence to your inaction. This way you take control of your thoughts and reframe them in a way to support your actions.

Consequences of Inaction and Procrastination

Working out may be difficult, but its not as bad as:

  • being unprepared and doing poorly in competition
  • not achieving goals you’ve stated publicly
  • lacking self confidence

These are the types of outcomes you should dread, put them at the forefront of your mind when you’re considering sleeping in or blowing off your training for something less than amazing. What are some other ways you stay focused, and take control of your of your own thoughts?

Works Cited

Story GW, Vlaev I, Seymour B, Winston JS, Darzi A, et al. (2013) Dread and the Disvalue of Future Pain. PLoS Comput Biol 9(11): e1003335. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003335