How To Motivate Yourself To Exercise
Illustration by Mr Patrick Leger
As we step firmly into the colder months, here’s how to drag yourself off the sofa and out on a run or to the gym.
Nothing drives one to exercise quite like the prospect of disrobing under the harsh glare of the summer sun and your fellow beachgoers. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. Darker, colder days and wearing more, thicker clothes all serve to make your workout motivation plummet in inverse proportion to your consumption of starchy carbs. Before you know it, your winter layering includes an insulating blubber bodysuit; instead of making “bare gains”, you’re bulking like a hibernating grizzly.
Gorging on Instagram “fitspo” will only do so much, and can even have a negative effect. Instead, take positive action – for example, by scheduling your workouts for a week or month into your calendar ahead of time, so that other appointments don’t intervene with your best-laid plans. Another tip is to buy your workout gear exclusively in black, grey and white, so that a kit clash is never a valid excuse to skip a session. (It never is, but that hasn’t stopped us using it before.)
If all else fails? Then deploy some Mr Derren Brown mind tricks – or resort to bribing yourself with rewards. These psychological hacks will strengthen that weakest point: your willpower. Then when the warm weather returns, you can take a well-deserved, unapologetically shirtless break.
Apply “bro science”
Looking bad in front of others isn’t limited to taking your shirt off. Telling your friends, family or colleagues about your goals also increases your accountability and therefore your likelihood of success. Social media can be genuinely useful here: one study found that participants who published their weight loss on Twitter dropped more pounds than those who kept schtum. A good analogue would be a gym buddy – ideally, someone who is fitter and more motivated than you. Not only will you be more likely to go the gym with them guilt-tripping you, you’ll also work out harder when you get there: Kansas State University discovered that training with a much stronger “swolemate” can increase the intensity and length of your session by a whopping 200 per cent.
Perhaps you’re dreading the brutal leg day that you diligently penned into your calendar. Or maybe your mind is willing, but your energy levels are lower than the winter sun at 3.30pm. An effective tactic is to mentally bargain with yourself that you’ll just go to the gym, warm up and do an exercise or form of cardio that you enjoy at a reduced intensity, as opposed to the scheduled heavy deadlifts or Hiit. Then see how you feel. Often, you’ll find that you get into it and do more than you anticipated. Sometimes you won’t, in which case you can just engage in some active recovery, such as stretching or foam rolling, or call it a day. Either way, you’ll do more than you ever would have on the sofa, and won’t enter a negative spiral of missing sessions.
Cash rules everything around us, as behavioural economists the Wu-Tang Clan so perceptively observed. And loss aversion – the prospect of being parted from your money – is even more of a powerful motivator than stacking paper. Hedging its bets, the app Pact employs incentives, making you stake a small sum on hitting your weekly workout or clean-eating goals and rewarding you with money from users who didn’t. If you’re not the gambling type, try “temptation bundling”: for example, doing cardio at the same time as an activity you like, such as listening to a podcast or audiobook, watching an episode of your favourite box set or shopping for some new workout gear. NB: the exercise bike is perhaps a safer bet for the latter two than the treadmill.