The brain seems to be schizophrenic at times. One day it’s motivated to workout and the next day it doesn’t want to. The best intentions to exercise can come undone when it’s time to actually start moving. Perhaps the brain is not to blame and it’s actually the body being lazy. Does the body negotiate with the brain? Ultimately, the brain really is in charge and psychologists have studied ways to program it more effectively.
Set yourself up for success with these two tricks.
One way to coerce your brain into exercise is with antecedents. This fancy psychology term describes triggers that come before exercise happens. They could be simple, like an alarm on your smartphone or note on the car door. Having your gym bag/clothes packed and sitting on the bathroom counter for the morning is another example.
Antecedents can also be a scheduled appointment with a friend or personal trainer. A dog is an antecedent when he sits by the door wanting to go for a walk. You’re more likely to exercise when someone is waiting for you or reminding you.
Another way to help your brain stay on track is with consequences. These are outcomes from exercise. They can be positive or negative. Feeling accomplished, stronger or happy after a workout is positive examples. However, these feelings may not last until the next exercise session. The euphoria quickly fades and so does the motivation to repeat the behavior.
Write down how you feel after your workout on colorful paper and hang it on the bathroom mirror or somewhere visible. You might use words like “accomplished”, “healthy”, “energized” or “happy”. You can draw pictures too. This turns a consequence into an antecedent. You take the positive outcome and place it in front of you, creating a meaningful reminder for next time.
If the feelings of euphoria aren’t natural after you exercise, you can reward yourself with a positive consequence. Treat yourself to a favorite smoothie or healthy meal out after you exercise. Give yourself a pat on the back and say “good job”. Thoughts affect attitude, which affects actions.
Consequences Can Backfire
If you can’t walk after a workout, are in pain or feeling drained – this programs your brain to feel negative about exercise. Even if you think that it’s “good” to feel really sore or worn out. You can tell yourself that story, but your body remembers the pain and struggle and will resist repeating the behavior. Hence, negotiating with your brain. Without a real positive consequence, the painful memory is all that is there.
Exercise that really makes you feel good helps you stay committed and consistent. Seek out exercise programs that cause positive results and feelings. Think about how you feel after a workout and if it’s run-down, exhausted or beat up, then consider lowering the intensity or duration slightly. You’re working against yourself if you’re over-doing it. Contemplate the antecedents in your life that you can use to motivate your brain for exercise. Set one in place for your next exercise session!