The 4 Stages You Go Through Before Enjoying Exercise

This article was inspired by the benefits of exercise.

Like most things, you won’t enjoy exercise that much at the beginning.ย As time goes on, though, it will start to be your escape from a life of stress, pressure and monotony.

So how do you make yourself start enjoying exercise? The truth is, it happens naturally over time.

I’ve broken the cycle that most people go through into 4 simple stages that will help you understand how exercise transforms from your own worst enemy into a daily liberation.

The mental cycle of exercise enjoyment

Stage 1: Fear, dread and discomfort

This stage starts on the day of your first exercise session. If it’s in the evening, you spend the most of your day trying to motivate yourself to stick to your plan. If it’s in the morning, you try to distract yourself from the fact that you are missing out on precious sleep.

Like a child that dips their toe in the cold water of a pool and spends more time trying to muscle up the courage to jump in then they actually do swimming, the most painful part of this stage is the anticipation that you go through before you exercise.

This stage starts on the day of exercise, but ends as soon as you start exercising. It begins again, though, on the next day that you plan to exercise. The best way to describe this phase is, ‘It’s harder in your head than what it actually is in reality’.

Your thoughts toward exercise end up weighing you down – more than the exercise itself.

Stage 2: It’s not that bad, but still requires energy

This stage starts during your first exercise session, and lasts for the rest of the day. It breaks the dread that you felt towards exercise because you realize that it was not as bad as you thought it would be. Like the child who finally jumps in and starts enjoying the water, you start to get into the groove of being active. Your sweaty skin and heavy breathing doesn’t feel as bad as it looks in the movies.

You’re getting exhausted, but a good kind of exhausted. You feel like you are actually making progress in your life. After your workout, you feel really proud of yourself. You go to bed with a smile on your face, along with mental pictures of yourself on the cover of a magazine, the star of a body transformation show or the winner of an iron man race.

When you wake up the next day, this phase ends. You start at phase 1 again and need to convince yourself that exercise isn’t the enemy all over again. You only feel relief from the anticipation once you start exercising and slip back into this second stage.

Stage 3: It’s just habit

You cycle between stages one and two until your mind starts to realize that exercise isn’t as bad as what you think it is. You wouldn’t necessarily call it enjoyable, but you do don’t see it as torture either. It takes about 2-3 weeks to reach this stage because your brain starts to dissociate from the negative thoughts that stage one initially brought about.

Once you reach this stage, you exercise regularly – without much convincing needed. You haven’t really seen results yet, but you don’t mind the fact that you need to exercise.

Stage 4: How did I ever live without it?

This stage takes a little longer to start. Many people report looking forward to exercise when they sense an outward transformation or result. This result can be a a bigger muscle bump or skinnier look in the mirror, a compliment from someone who didn’t know that you started exercising, figuring out that your increased energy or focus is coming from your new exercise regime, or a reduced negative craving (like sugar or fast food) as your body increases in fitness and overall health.

At the beginning of this stage, you start to feel proud of all the work that you’ve already done. You feel like you’ve made so much progress towards your goal, and future progress excites you. You see exercise as an achievement. Your brain starts to associate the endorphin release that you get after exercise with a feeling of accomplishment. You feel like every exercise session is making a massive change. You feel a sense of loss on the days that you don’t exercise.

How to speed up stage 1 (fear and dread of exercise)

You can speed this up by reducing the mental anguish from current negative outlooks towards exercise. Don’t suffer with bad thoughts about doing what you don’t want to do at the end of your work shift, all day long. Keep it out of your mind until the time that you need to exercise, so that negative thoughts don’t take hold of your entire day. Replace the anticipation with another thought, like someone that you really care about or the work at hand.

Don’t let the one side of your brain to fight with the other. Don’t spend more time weighing out the reasons why you shouldn’t exercise or why today is a great reason to skip. Accept that you are going to exercise and that there is no way around that fact, then change your thoughts to more current concerns like the work you have, the people in front of you or making sure that you get home safely.

When the time to exercise comes, don’t think about the entire activity. Break it down into smaller steps. If going to the gym scares you, concentrate of packing your bag. Don’t carry the future’s weight in the present moment. After packing your gym bag, focus on getting into your car and driving in the right direction. I’ve noticed that when I break intimidating goals into menial tasks that I can focus on instead, the task becomes a lot easier.

The less you worry about it, the less convincing your brain needs to realize that exercise isn’t all that bad.

Final notes

Understanding that there is a small, initial hump that you need to get over before you start enjoying exercise can be a great motivation to start. Realizing that it is worse in your head than in reality is a very neat technique for most tasks that require mental discipline or self control. Fear is almost always greater than reality. Don’t let fear kill you.

If this post has helped you in any way, please let me know in the comments below.

As always, please feel free to like, share, mention, reblog or comment on this post. Best wishes for your new journey!

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50 Comments

  1. Great point Saguren – I started exercising about 3 years ago and once you get past that initial push, you need motivation, but the really tough part of getting your muscles to wake up and also that it’s ok to feel sweaty, is over in a few months. I started later in life though, so others may find it easier. Thanks for a great post!
    Joan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post and very true. I never have taken a liking to the gym, I used to run โ€“ about 2 to 3 miles a day, around a local trail near a park. I enjoyed the out door aspect.
    However, back in 2013 my life turned after a medical diagnosis. Itโ€™s called Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia. So my legs are now weak and my back is constantly hurting. I canโ€™t stand for too long before feeling as if Iโ€™m going to drop. Needless to say, my has weight sky rocketed โ€“ well letโ€™s include the fact that Iโ€™ve also had six babies. Iโ€™ve tried walking for a few minutes, about ten, but it takes a toll on me.
    Would love to get back to being active, no running, because itโ€™ll be just a lie, but a bit more active.
    Any advice. Thanks in advance. ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ™๐Ÿฝ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your reply. I am sorry to hear about what happened to you. Are you able to walk every day for, say, two minutes?

      It might sound miniscule but I would do something that is super easy to give your body a chance to adapt while giving yourself used to the idea of working on your body every day.

      Depending on the size of your house, maybe walk from one end to the other every day (even if the walk takes a few seconds).

      You don’t need to push yourself hard at first, but a little activity will build up your confidence and make you feel like you are achieving something. Just because you can’t run a mile doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything at all.

      Start with something that is easy enough to do every day without tiring yourself out too much. After a week, you can increase it by a small amount. If you can walk for two minutes, do 3 minutes in week 2, and 4 in week three. After a few months, you’ll be doing more than you ever have in years.

      If you can only walk to the end of your house and back, that’s great. Do that every day for a week and do it twice the next week.

      Lots of little things add up to very big things. With daily effort, you will really surprise yourself about how far you’ve come.

      I might not know you, but I believe in you.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Thank you so much Saguren! I appreciate your tips and advice. And you’re absolutely right, I’m trying to run a mile when my body can no longer is able to achieve that.
        ‘Little things add up to very big things.’ I love that, yes, you are indeed right!
        Thank you, I will try to continue to believe in me too. Baby steps. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

  3. This post is an awesome reminder for me to stick to it.
    I used to be pretty fit and I know how it feels to be at stage 4. Mentally, I am still there. I know exercise is the best sleep aid, depressant aid, anxiety aid, etc., out there. Physically, I am working through stage 2.
    My health quickly deteriorated after I was put on bed rest with my second child (five weeks to go). It took me six months of slow activity to build up enough stamina to do the type of workouts I enjoy (and even then at a much slower pace).
    I am looking forward to enjoying the workout the way I used to. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Congrats on working through 6 months to reclaim your fitness. That alone puts you above the rest.

      I’ve really found that knowing that it gets better motivates me to keep going.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you! This is a helpful post that I think many people can relate to. I enjoy exercise now, jogging outside even when breathing is difficult, various stretches. It feels nice to celebrate what my body can do. ๐Ÿ˜€๐ŸŽ‰ I can’t wait to see what the new years has in store for me fitness wise

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the great comment. I feel exactly the same way. I was thinking about doing a post about how exercise has helped me in weird ways like giving me inspiration and ideas, lifting my mood, boosting energy when I need it, overcoming negative cravings etc. Exercise really is a gift that keeps on giving. I hope this year brings you greater health and much happiness!

      Like

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