I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones in a sense. Sports were a monumental piece of my childhood and remained so until my early 20’s. But even as a health coach/personal trainer my mindset isn’t always where it needs to be when it comes to exercise. I’ve also accepted the fact that exercise doesn’t come naturally to many.
If you’ve been following my work even casually you will know that I believe mindset to be the bedrock of success in whatever you pursue. Here’s how to develop the right mindset for exercise.
1. Reframe how you look at exercise
The “reframe” is a key component to any meaningful long term change in any endeavor –and exercise is no different. Unfortunately many of us have been conditioned to see exercise as punishment, or to make up for overeating . We may also see training as something we “should” do or as something mundane or overly taxing. Here is how to reframe exercise;
- Exercise as a reward: What if we thought about our activity as a reward for what may otherwise be a sedentary day? What if we saw our workouts as stress relief, energizing and invigorating? Even on days when we don’t feel like doing it.
- Power of play: As adults we somehow lose our innate desire to just play. This is best if you have children or young nieces or nephews but nothing wrong with going to a park and trying out the monkey bars again. Have a soccer or basketball? Get out on the field or court. Skipping rope? Jump rope for a minute. Seek out opportunities to revisit your childhood exuberance.
- Movement as part of your values system: Is exercise an interest or a commitment? If moving with intent on a daily basis isn’t sacred to you it will be relegated to a hobby. And hobbies are reserved for when we “have time”. If exercise isn’t part of your personal mission statement, find a way to include it.
- You were born for this: To move is to be human and to be human is to move. We are hard wired for activity – even if our lives have taken us away from our ancestral roots. Remembering that we are meant to be active can give us the solid boost we need to get going and keep going. I find it helpful to repeat the following to myself: “when I exercise I am closer to who I am meant to be”.
2. Set Goals. But set them the right way:
I’ve outlined a 3-step goal setting process for health endeavors here. To summarize and adapt to the realm of exercise, here are some foundations of goal-setting;
- Find your “why”: Think about your most profound desires. Why is your health important and how movement is a central component to this. Think deeply, think long-term and think from the heart and be able to clearly articulate and repeat this. Your “why” should go way beyond the “I want to look better” or even “I want to feel better”. Perhaps it’s being able to play sports with your children into their adult years… with your grandchildren. Perhaps it’s being able to travel well into your senior years, or reclaim the ability to do something you loved to do years ago but can’t now due to your physical limitations.
- Look at Process Goals: When looking at your health and fat loss goals, it’s absolutely critical to look past the outcome goals (ie. Run a 10k, squat my body weight) and look at the habit goals – the goals behind the goals are the building blocks that form the foundation of your actions that will beget your exercise goals. Many productivity gurus espouse the concept of creating systems over setting goals. A process goal would entail showing up at the gym 4 times this week, tracking your steps or using your bike instead of your car this week.
- What discomfort are you willing to endure? As much as I do preach about enjoying activity and framing it as a “reward”, the hard truth is that the kind of exercise required to elicit change is (and should be) uncomfortable. We need to “embrace the suck” and ask ourselves if we’re willing to push past our comfort zones. Some days will be easier than others, some days you will dread your workouts but we need to embrace the fact that there will be sacrifice in the form of comfort.
3.Set Exercise Triggers
A huge part of the execution is setting your environment up for success. Creating triggers – antecedents that will spark you to movement. Here are some strategies to nudge you into action;
- Exercise gear front and center: Make it so that you will have to trip over it. Keep a bag of backup athletic wear in your car, have your running shoes at the front door. Essentially set up your environment to make it as convenient as possible to exercise.
- Put it in your calendar: This is time slotted in for YOU. Treat it as any other important appointment.
- On the technology front, use push notifications, alarms etc to remind you to move.
- Technology (wearables): Fitbit and other tracking devices have become very popular and are great for giving instant feedback on your movement. Use this as a barometer for your progress.
- Low tech strategies can also work well: Post-it notes are still awesome! Post them on your fridge, laptop, workstation etc. Little reminders here and there.
- Habit stack: One of the best ways to introduce a new habit is to stack it on top of another one. In the case of exercise you can piggypack a session of any length on top of another habit you already do daily. As an example; coffee brewing? Do some squats or push-ups. Watch a show regularly at night? Have a treadmill or stationary bike? Watch said show only while on an exercise device. Perhaps your drive home should be associated more with a stop-over to the gym first?
4. Avoid “all-or-nothing” mentality:
The amount of opportunity we miss out on due to this mindset is incalculable. Far too often we adopt a dichotomous approach to our exercise. Let me be clear: Every bit counts – all of it. 20 minutes is better than 10 minutes and both are better than 0 minutes. Take the think work out and just do it. Make it a short, intense burst of activity. Pick 6 exercises and do them back to back – hybridize your strength and cardio. Or… just go for a 15 minute power walk at lunch time.
Whatever you do, however don’t let yourself off the hook if your workout time might be cut short. There’s ALWAYS something you can do.
5. Join a class, sport or organization
Did you play a sport growing up? Is there a sport that intrigues you that you want to take up? Joining a team/group/organization can be a perfect way to build fitness into your weekly routine. Pick something you can do 1-2 times per week (or more if you have the time). Being part of a team is extra awesome as you can feel accountable to show up for others – boosting your incentive not to skip.
If team sports aren’t your thing.. no problem. There are running/walking, hiking, swimming groups everywhere. I took up martial arts again last year as they have flexible class schedules to accommodate my weird hours.
6. Find your ideal zone
Optimal training stimulus is a fine balance. You want to work hard enough to spark change and yet not so hard that it becomes demotivating and/or high risk. This is a process that is individual and something you need to work up to and figure out over time. In general, lift resistance that will be difficult to complete, move with intent – exercise to a point where you feel out of breath. While subjective, the best I can offer here is kick yourself in the comfort zone – without beating the ever living crap out of yourself.
There are charts/guides and the like when it comes to exercise intensities and set/rep/weight ranges. As long as you are seeing some progress in your strength and exercise capacity then don’t be overly concerned about being in a specific “zone”. Heart rate monitors, fitbits and journaling can help monitor intensity and gauge your progress.
7. Hire a Coach
I highly recommend enlisting some professional guidance – especially if you are new to training. A qualified personal trainer can help you with technique, programming and accountability. Whether for a few sessions or as an ongoing commitment, a trainer can help you reach that next level. Be sure to find someone with experience and someone that you gel with.
While you still have 23 hours in the day where you have to be accountable, a great coach will help guide, empower and instill the right mindset for exercise. Building confidence in the gym will help promote feelings of competence. Competence will lead to habit… habits will produce results.
Take Home Points
Like all aspects of life, our mindsets form the centerpieces of our success. Exercise is no different. No matter your preconceived ideas, current fitness level or current emotional place in life – anyone can benefit from altering narratives about physical fitness.
Practice consistent, hard work and patience… and watch yourself flourish.