So You Want to Exercise, But Your Brain is Being a Discouraging Jerk

Almost everyone gets bitten by an exercise bug at some point in their lives. It makes sense: exercise can have many benefits, from allowing people to outrun zombies, to clearing out some brain bats, to giving them the muscles to heft around gigantic kegs of beer. Actually getting going and keeping up with an exercise regimen is a different story. It can be easy to get discouraged, and with that in mind, here are three tips for keeping up with working out.

1. Celebrate what you did.  Did you get your butt in gear for half an hour? For fifteen minutes? For five? Awesome! That’s that much more time you spent active and moving than you otherwise would have. It can be easy to set goals that are way too ambitious – I know that I do it all the time – and when those goals aren’t met, it can be really discouraging. Instead of focusing on a work out cut short or on how far you are from your goal time/speed/weight to life, focus on how much progress you’ve made and on the fact that you got yourself moving. Celebrate that you did something good for yourself and that you found the motivation within yourself to get going. Every step is worth acknowledging. Every ounce lifted or pressed is worth celebrating. You accomplished something – don’t let that get overshadowed by what hasn’t been achieved yet.

 2. Accept that it won’t always be great. Sometimes, for whatever reason, workouts suck. I try to think of reasons why the workout didn’t work out – maybe I hadn’t slept well that night, or I didn’t drink enough water, or maybe I couldn’t focus because I was too wrapped up in stress. I don’t usually pinpoint a reason and I have grown to accept that regardless of the underlying causes, the workout didn’t quite click that day and that’s OK.

It is hard to accept a bad workout. Exercise can be a surprisingly emotional activity. I am not much of a crier, but I have both started and finished outdoor-in-public runs in tears. I have also started and finished outdoor-in-public runs with fist pumps and smiles and yelling like She-Ra. With all those emotions invested, a bad run, a really bad run, can threaten to sour the whole experience.  After my first horrible run, I stopped entirely for almost a year. I wish I hadn’t.

 3. Take the long view. I love tracking numbers, a tendency that is a blessing and a curse when I exercise. The movement towards improving a running time or increasing the amount of weight lifted or generally improving endurance and strength is not clean and linear – it is totally messy and full of minor movements backward, sideways, and loop-de-loop. One work out might be great and the next one will be short or slow or smaller or just somehow not quite up to expectations. That’s OK. That day to day variability doesn’t say anything negative about the progress made or the potential for more improvement in the future. Instead of making day to day comparisons, look between months. I can guarantee that barring any major life events/etc, those monthly comparisons will look a whole lot better.

Exercise is not something that will yield instant results. Getting more fit takes time and while consistent work will get you to your goals, it won’t necessarily get you there quite how you expect. If you have decided to work out for yourself and for your happiness, keep that in mind. Embrace the process and be loving and forgiving towards yourself. And if you get down, remind yourself that each step you’ve taken, each rep you’ve completed, each stretch you’ve done has made you quicker, stronger, and more resilient. Get out there – you can do it.

14 replies on “So You Want to Exercise, But Your Brain is Being a Discouraging Jerk”

Yes! Yes! and Yes!  Great article.  Number 3 is what *really* works for me.  This year I made a New Year’s Goal (not resolution) to ‘go’ X miles.  It didn’t matter if it was hiking, biking, or running (swimming, roller skating, etc) – just as long as it was not motor powered.  And seeing my miles add up each month has been a huge, huge confidence booster.

I exercise three mornings a week. I try to make it 45 minutes, but if my bed won’t release me, it can spin down to 15. For somebody who thought in As .. Ifs for a long time, I’m very glad I can be completely fine with it. I exercised, there will be more/some exercise later that day (or maybe it won’t) but for now I’m finished.

I find that if I share my success I am less likely to do it again.  So I have to keep my workouts hush hush…but I went on a 12 mile bike ride this weekend!  I have a pushy person trying to help me and that works.  So I do more because this person is motivating me in a way that works for me.

I always find it helps to have some kind of active goal. Like a friend did her first 5k because it was a ZOMBIE-CHASE 5k!! Some people volunteer to dress like zombies and other people run and get “chased” by the zombie-people, and then everyone gets to drink and have fun afterward. I love doing just regular local small races, too, or the obstacle course ones like Warrior Dash. I know I’m not going to win (not even close), but just finishing is pretty great, especially if you know a couple other people doing it, too.

My friend has this app and absolutely loves it!  Apparently it gives you missions to complete, keeps track of the number of times you’ve been caught and bitten, and all sorts of stuff.  I’ve been meaning to try it out as well, but keep forgetting (Aka, I can’t get my lazy butt off the couch).  :-)

Haha very timely with this article… my best friend and I are trying to keep each other motivated to work out 3 times a week, and we just swapped “I totally slacked and didn’t do any exercising last week” emails. I think I better send her a link to this so we can get back on track.

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