This article was inspired by the benefits of exercise.
Like most things, you won’t enjoy exercise that much at the beginning. 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.
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!