Have you ever started an exercise routine to think to yourself, “What’s the point?”
The cycle of tossing your hat into the ring before taking the plunge is what is often referred to as a “defeating mindset” – and it’s not just you, professional athletes who deal with it, too.
So what do you do on days when you can’t find the motivation to move?
I had a chat with personal trainer and fitness instructor, Megan Waters, and sports psychologist, Emma Slade, to get their advice.
It helps to first understand your relationship to exercise
A self-destructive mindset is what sports psychologist Emma Slade describes as “thoughts, behaviors, and feelings” that make us feel like our end goal is impossible.
We are not born with this attitude – internal and external factors help shape this mindset, including our experience of exercise growing up.
“We all have our own lived experience with exercise… If you’ve had a really positive experience around sport and movement, then you’re more likely to seek out [out] these opportunities,” says Slade.
Negative experiences can also leave a lasting impact.
“A common example is high school PE class, where other people’s language or behaviors made it a really negative experience where you walked away feeling embarrassed or ashamed,” says the Queensland-based psychologist.
“With exercise there is an important connection to our body, our ability to move and our body image.”
We see thousands of advertisements every day and scour social media feeds for picture-perfect photos, which can cause doubt in our minds.
“People compare themselves and often think, ‘To go to this group fitness center, I have to be X, Y and Z or I have to wear [certain] clothes and I don’t have those things”, so before you even start, exercise [feels] difficult,” says Slade.
That’s not to say we can’t rewrite the narrative, but it can be difficult.
Where to start ?
To feel “motivated and truly fulfilled,” Emma says our goals need to tick three boxes: to be empowered, to feel competent, and to be able to connect with other people.
Independence is about having choice – so if you’re just getting back to exercising, it could be trying different activities or shopping around at different fitness centers until you find the right place for you.
It’s also about having the choice to go at your own pace, especially if you’re comparing your progress to previous versions of yourself or other people.
“We [like] routine and order and often apply it to exercise and expect it to be linear, but our relationship with exercise is very ebb and flow and [we need] to have more acceptance around it,” Ms. Slade says.
Remember that feeling demotivated is not necessarily a bad thing
Listening to your body is not only necessary for recovery, but it’s completely normal when trying to change.
Melbourne-based personal trainer and fitness instructor Megan Waters emphasizes that it’s all about getting started.
“It’s just about starting somewhere, it can be as simple as stretching in your home and allocating time to move your body for five to 15 minutes. [and taking] small steps to start,” says the Warumungu/Yawuru Melbourne-based coach.
“Instead of pressuring [yourself] at the gym, if the sun is shining, go for a walk and get back into a routine — and talk nice to yourself, I’m really a big believer in positive affirmations.”
Leaving the house and going to exercise is undoubtedly one of the most difficult stages, especially if you do not feel it.
But what do you do when you arrive, and you still don’t feel like exercising?
“Maintaining the routine of getting up and going to the gym provides a feedback loop in your brain, which you rewire each time you go,” says Slade.
“But you can also show up and say, ‘Today I’m only going to be 50 per cent and that’s fine’.”
Find your community
Being active with like-minded people will not only hold you accountable, but can also help keep you motivated by creating a connection and feeling like part of a larger community.
“If we connect with people we identify with or can identify with on other things, [like] training with other mums who have kids under five, we can’t identify with each other when it comes to exercise, but we can relate that we’re at a similar stage in life,” says Ms. Slade.
Making friends as an adult can be tough, but that’s where group fitness classes can help, Megan says.
“[I’ve seen] so many people come who have never exercised and they fall in love with the group fitness environment – the positive energy and fun vibe that group classes can create,” she says.
Review your goals to make sure they are “process-oriented”
Results-oriented goals — like wanting to change the way you look — can be the perfect breeding ground for a self-defeating attitude because they usually raise high expectations.
“When we have an outcome goal, it usually only motivates a little,” says Ms Slade.
“Because [your goal] is so far down the line, there’s more time for things to get in the way.”
On the other hand, “process-oriented goals” focus on the small things you can do each day or week to contribute to your larger goal, such as walking three or four times a week if your end goal is to start running.
Seeing small results builds your confidence to continue.
“It’s about the process and how you feel,” says Ms. Slade.
“Even if we don’t actually achieve the result, we’re not worse off – our health has probably improved still as well as other biomarkers, like your mental health.”
Set aside time to reflect
Setting aside time in advance also helps you stick to your goals.
“Planning ahead will be more advantageous than simply following a whim. [Block out time] in your diary or calendar to move one way or another,” says Waters.
She says taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body to combat these self-limiting thoughts.
“Journaling how you feel or what you want to accomplish takes it outside of your mind, onto a piece of paper, and is a really good way to process things,” she says.
“Write down a list of five things you love about yourself — that make you the legend you are — and come back to them when you have those mindset issues.”
“[Keep] put it in your phone or keep it in your wallet and read it to yourself when you feel like you’re not good enough,” Ms Waters says.
This is general information only. For personalized advice, you should consult a qualified doctor.
Learn more and get inspired by visiting the Your Move collections on ABC iview and ABC listen, including exercise playlists from ABC Classic and Double J, or take the ABC Health Check quiz on abc.net. au/yourmove.
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