I love fitness, sports and physical activity, so I don’t need to coerce myself too much to get off the couch. But during the actual workout? That can be a different story.
There are some workouts that are riddled with mental roadblocks for me. In particular, activities that are endurance-based and also repetitive — like cycling and running. Even though my body is capable, I struggle with tolerating boredom and panic if I start to feel tired or stressed.
I guess I could just not do those workouts, but they’re the ones where I reap some of the best mental and physical rewards. Because, life’s not fair. But seriously, I really think it’s because the biggest gains come from being out of your comfort zone.
So, how to not only face these nemesis workouts, but also sustain them long-term? Enter fitness mind games.
I think of it as one part self-awareness and one part mental jiu-jitsu. That is, first know thyself — get to know what motivates you and makes you tick. Second, find strategic ways to trick your brain into engaging with that motivation.
Here are a few mind games that work for me (usually while running):
1. To tap into my achievement-orientation (yay, gold stars):
- Set mini goals for hitting a certain # of steps in a given timeframe (I like to use my fitness tracker for this).
- Set a % mileage improvement goal since your last run (hint: it doesn’t need to be a huge increase).
- Learn something new about better technique and form prior, then do “form” sessions where you’re less concerned about pace or time, but rather perfecting your technique and simply noticing how it affects your performance.
2. To tap into my need to be emotionally inspired (I like to feel all the feels):
- Run outside as much as possible, seek out beautiful and interesting routes, and change it up often. Nature, fun people watching and new scenery/terrain help with boredom and stress.
- Run with a friend and chat about everything. I find I can run two, three, four times as far.
- Geek out with your favorite music. Music dramatically amps up my mood and energy level, so I tend to favor really fast-paced, loud dance music. I also love classical music, so sometimes I even run to my favorite piano concertos and symphonies. Who cares if it’s weird — no one but you needs to listen to it!
- Borrow from yoga and focus on your breathing, body awareness and non-reaction in uncomfortable situations. This one can be tougher to pull off, but when I do, I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for and in awe of what my body is capable of and what my mind can overcome.
3. To tap into my need to be in control and know what’s next (not super flattering, but this is what I mean by “know thyself”):
- Create pre-planned circuits if you’re on a treadmill. For me, the key is to build in pace or intensity change at very short intervals. For example, start slow and increase your speed by .1 mph every minute for 10-15 min, then sprint for 4-5 min, then decrease your speed at the same rate until you get back to where you started. Repeat as desired. You can also do this with elevation changes (hill climbs).
- Run for a pre-set number of songs. It helps to create a playlist in advance of the amount of time you want to run. Bonus points if your songs match the varying pace that you want — it’s extra motivating!
Although these tricks work for me, everyone’s different and the key is to design strategies that address your unique personality and motivation factors.
I’d love to know (and potentially borrow!) your favorite fitness mind games … what are they and how have they helped you reach your goals?