No matter how motivated and committed we are when we set off towards accomplishing big things in the gym, at some point the inspiration runs dry. Here is a simple, proven trick that you can use to trick yourself into working out when you don’t feel like it.
I get it.
It’s the end of the day, and the last thing you feel like doing is strapping on your workout gear, shuffling down to a busy gym, and wait in line for ten minutes for a squat rack.
The couch, Netflix, and a bowl of greasy popcorn are beckoning to you, whispering…
“Hey you, it’s me, ya listening? It’s okay, it’s just one workout, and you’ll make up for it tomorrow. Probably.”
When we are sitting on the outside looking in on a workout it becomes super easy to rationalize abandoning it. Especially if we have a particularly gruesome session planned for ourselves or it’s been a long day and we’d rather be doing anything else.
There will always be these types of days and moments where even our well-groomed habit of working out fails to get us to the gym. Where no matter how consistent we have been in the gym in the past, it still becomes a total and utter struggle to get the work done.
So what do we do to conquer these types of scenarios?
The “Thing Before the Thing.”
Allow me introduce you to the “thing before the thing.”
It’s a free-range, organic, low-tech, and stupidly simple technique you can use to do just about anything that you don’t feel like doing.
From laundry, to cleaning, to washing dishes, (can you tell that I have a robust abhorrence to household chores?), to doing homework, or even that 12-hour work assignment your boss saddled you with over the weekend.
It can be used for all those things, but in today’s example we will focus on getting your foot in the gym and doing work on that workout routine.
The Pitfall of Thinking in Totality
When we think about our workouts we tend to do it in terms of totality. We sit there and endlessly go over the sum amount of work and effort required to complete it.
“Ohmagod, I have to run 12.6 miles today. FML.”
“The only time I can workout is on Monday after work when the gym will be packed? FML.”
“It’s heavy squats day? Super-duper FML.”
We get locked into thinking about the whole workout, and we when we present that to ourselves, we launch into a case of FML with a healthy side-dose of “whatever, I don’t even care.”
But if we can make the goal something much simpler, and something we can easily digest and act on, then we can bypass the gloom and muck we are experiencing about having to workout.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you’ve planned yourself a punishing workout for later this evening. But by the end of the day you are feeling a little rundown from a long day at the office, you are in a grumpy mood because your partner took 14 hours to return a text, and, well, there’s some TV you wanna catch up on.
Your original goal looks something like this:
“I am going to go to the gym and do 45 minutes on the step machine, 35 minutes of lifting, and 15 minutes of foam rolling.”
Doing some reshuffling of our expectations we are going to change the goal into something much more manageable. Something so easy, so risk-free that it will do an end-run around all that “screw this s***” we are experiencing:
“I am going to drive to the gym and walk through the front doors, and if I still feel like working out I will.”
Now, how easy is that?
Driving to the gym? Pretty easy. Parking the car? Yeah, doable. Walking through the doors? Certainly manageable.
Once you walk through the doors and start working through the motions something pretty frigging cool happens.
Your brain, that amazing thing that it is, absolutely hates incomplete tasks.
It’s why you can’t clean a corner of the bathtub without eventually cleaning the whole thing. It’s why you keep working at something until it is complete. And it’s why, when you walk through the doors of the gym and even just do your warm-up, that it’s almost impossible for you at this point to abandon your workout.
Your brain, being the insecure little fella that it is, won’t let you. From what might appear as a totally benign, meaningless little step sprouts a full and complete effort.
Why it works so well
The “thing before the thing” works well on a few different levels.
- It lowers the bar of entry. The “thing before the thing” operates on the concept of a small thing creating enough momentum to launch you into the bigger thing. Lower the bar is, less resistance you will put up, and the more likely it is you are going to do it.
- Removes the intimidation factor of considering your whole workout. Just thinking about your workout can make you tired. And intimidated. And lazy. But driving to the gym? That’s easy. Anyone can do that, even with no energy and no motivation.
- Capitalizes on your brain’s infatuation with completing things it starts. Your brain, that awesome, needy and finicky little thing that it is, has an infatuation with completing things that it starts.
- It gives you an exit loophole. By making the goal completely risk-free—you can leave if you really feel the desire to do so—it removes the heaviness of the whole thing.
Put it in place
Here are a few more examples of how you can use this little piece of brain judo:
- “I don’t really feel like going to the gym today, but I’ll go and warm-up, and if I still feel crappy I’ll call it quits.”
- “I’ll walk to the end of the block, and if I still don’t feel like going for a run I’ll turn around and come home.”
- “I’ll commit to doing my first set of squats at the gym today, and if I’m not feeling up to it after that I’ll do something else.”
The next time you are feeling the pull of “it’s okay, you don’t need to workout today” just throw the “thing before the thing” right back in it’s face.
But it’s almost always the simplest things that work best.