No matter how motivated and committed we are, when we set off toward accomplishing big things at the gym, at some point, the inspiration runs dry. But there is a simple, proven trick you can use to trick yourself into working out when you don't feel like it.
I get it. It's the end of the day, and the last thing you feel like doing is strapping on your workout gear, shuffling down to a busy gym and waiting in line for 10 minutes for a squat rack.
The couch, Netflix and a bowl of greasy popcorn are beckoning. “Hey you, it's me. Are you listening? It's OK, it's just one workout. You'll make up for it tomorrow. Probably.”
When we're sitting on the outside and looking in on a workout, it becomes super easy to rationalize abandoning it. This is especially true if we have a particularly gruesome session planned for ourselves, or if it's been a long day. We'd rather be doing anything else.
There will always be these types of days and moments when even our most well-groomed habit of working out fails to get us to the gym. No matter how consistent we have been at the gym in the past, it still becomes a total and utter struggle to get the work done.
So, what do we do to conquer these types of scenarios? Allow me to introduce you to the “thing before the thing.” It's a stupidly simple technique that you can use to do just about anything you don't feel like doing.
It works for everything, including laundry, cleaning and washing dishes. It can work for doing homework, or even for that 12-hour work assignment your boss saddled you with over the weekend. But in today's example, we will focus on getting your foot into the gym and getting you to work out.
When we think about our workouts, we tend to do so in terms of totality. We sit there and endlessly go over the amount of work and effort that is required to complete a workout.
"OMG, I have to run 12.6 miles today. FML."
“The only time I can work out is on Monday after work, when the gym will be packed. FML."
"It's heavy squats day? Definitely FML."
We get locked into thinking about the whole workout, and when we present that to ourselves, we launch into a case of FML (with a healthy side dose of "Whatever, I don't even care"). But if we can make the goal something simpler, and something we can easily digest and act on, then we can bypass the gloom and muck we are experiencing about having to work out.
Here's an example: Let's say you planned a punishing workout for later this evening. But by the end of the day, you're feeling a little run down thanks to a long day at the office. You are in a grumpy mood because your partner took 14 hours to return a text and there's some TV you want to catch up on.
Your original goal looked something like this: "I am going to go to the gym and do 45 minutes on the step machine, 35 minutes of lifting and 15 minutes of foam rolling." Ugh. If we reshuffle some of our expectations, we can change the goal into something much more manageable.
It's easy, and it will end that "screw this sh*t" mentality we are experiencing: "I am going to drive to the gym and walk through the front doors. If I still feel like working out, I will." Now, how easy is that?
Driving to the gym? That's pretty easy. Parking the car? Yeah, that's doable. Walking through the doors? Certainly manageable. Once you walk through the doors and start working through the motions, something pretty darn cool happens.
Your brain — that amazing thing it is — absolutely hates incomplete tasks. It's why you can't clean a corner of the bathtub without eventually cleaning the whole thing. It's why you keep working at something until it's complete. It's why, when you walk through the doors of the gym and even just do your warm-up, it's almost impossible for you at that point to abandon your workout.
Your brain, being the insecure little fellow that it is, won't let you. Your totally benign, meaningless little step sprouts full and complete effort.
The “thing before the thing” works well on a few different levels.
- It lowers the bar of entry. The “thing before the thing” operates on the concept of a small thing creating enough momentum to launch you into a bigger thing. The lower the bar, the less resistance you will put up. This makes it more likely that you are going to do it.
- It removes the intimidation factor because you are not considering your whole workout. Just thinking about your workout can make you tired, intimidated and lazy. But driving to the gym? That's easy. Anyone can do that, even if one has no energy or motivation.
- It capitalizes on your brain's infatuation with completing the things it starts.
- It gives you an exit loophole. By making the goal completely risk-free — knowing that you can leave if you really feel the desire to do so — it removes the heaviness of the whole thing.
Here are a few more examples of how you can use this little piece of brain judo:
- “I don't really feel like going to the gym today. But I'll go and warm up, and if I still feel crappy, I'll call it quits.”
- “I'll walk to the end of the block, and if I still don't feel like going for a run, I'll turn around and come home.”
- “I'll commit to doing my first set of squats at the gym today, and if I'm not feeling up to it after that, I'll do something else.”
So, the next time you're feeling the pull of “It's OK, you don't need to work out today,” just throw the “thing before the thing” right back in its face.
Simple? Yes. But it's almost always the simplest things that work the best.
This article was originally published here.