If you’re the kind of person that leaps out of bed in the morning with an unquenchable thirst to hit the running trail, exercise bike, or gym, then this article isn’t for you. You can stop reading now and go enjoy your bright and bubbly day. Buh-bye!
Now that we’ve got those people out of the room (sheesh!), let’s see who we’re left with. Ah yes. Those who’d rather complete a book than complete a workout. Those who’d rather sit on a porch than a Peloton. Those who find nothing wrong with doing nothing. The slackers. The procrastinators. The layabouts. My people!
Unfortunately for us, we have the same meatbag bodies as the exercise-enthusiasts. When we don’t use our muscles, tissues, and bones, they start to decay. This leaves us lazy types with an annoying problem. We can stay slothful and sit around, but we end up feeling crappy, weak, fat and sick. The choice is either to look and feel terrible, or, (long sigh), get up and do some exercise.
But for our type, it’s not as easy as deciding to go do some exercise. We find that despite having the best intentions, there are a lot of days where the exercise never gets done. We find a dozen other things to occupy our time, and before we know it, it’s dark outside and we say “Oops! Oh well, I’ll get it right tomorrow.” There have been times in my life when I’ve literally said “Oops, I’ll get it right tomorrow,” for 3 months straight. Every single day!
Why does this happen to us? The answer is summed up in this illustration:
The boulder is the exercise task. The person has to get that boulder to the edge of the hill, which represents starting the exercise session. In 20 years of personal training, not one time have I ever seen a person give up on a workout in the middle of it. Once you start, you will finish, just as the boulder will keep rolling down the hill once it gets going.
Once the workout begins you will complete it 100% of the time. The problem isn't during the exercise, it's before!
What I have had happen many times is clients canceling workouts beforehand, making excuses at the last minute why they have to duck out, or not showing up at all. That’s why it’s not the hill, but the flat section before the hill that’s the real problem here.
Let’s look at that image again. Getting the boulder moving is tough, but doable. It’s actually kind of fun to get a big rock moving. The REAL problem is that the runway isn’t clear. Do you see all those little pebbles in the way?
Imagine you’re getting that big boulder moving. You put your back into it, things are starting to happen, you’re picking up speed, and then LURCH! you suddenly feel like you hit a wall.
But there’s no wall. Your boulder just got stuck on a little pebble that wedged itself in front.
When you don’t have much momentum, a little stone can stop a boulder. You then have to start pushing from zero, roll over that small rock and try to get your speed up again.
Scrrrch. Another pebble kills your momentum. This is way harder than you thought. Maybe you should just give up. Perhaps you walk away just a short distance from the hill where momentum would have done the rest of the work for you.
In this analogy, the little pebbles that stop the boulder are all the small, silly things that our mind gets stuck on when we think about getting our daily exercise done. Things like:
“I don’t have any clean socks.”
“I can’t find my phone holder.”
“My headphones aren’t charged and I need my music.”
“Sometimes the gym is busy this time of day.”
“I don’t want to be sore tomorrow.”
“I don’t have the same gear as the exercise video recommends.”
“My shoes are worn out.”
“I woke up too late.”
“It’s too hot today.”
“It’s too cold today.”
“I don’t feel very energetic.”
When you write it out like this, the lameness of each excuse is clearly apparent. None of these is a particularly good reason to miss exercise. And yet those who don’t naturally love to work out will find in the lead up to exercise, these tiny problem-pebbles are enough to grind the entire boulder to a halt.
The truth is, for people like us, it takes a lot of will to even grab on to that boulder and start pushing at all. That flat space before exercise begins is when we’re at our most vulnerable. The few hours before exercise, your mind is thinking about all the reasons not to do it, all the things that aren’t quite right, and of course, all the things you’d rather be doing. This is why such small things can kill our momentum in an instant.
If you were this person pushing the boulder, what might you be able to do to prevent these pebbles from messing you up?
Clear the path of course!
How much simpler would it be to just take a few moments and clear the boulder’s track of all those pesky little stones? A little foresight and planning before you start makes a huge difference when you start pushing.
What does this look like for your pre-workout time? Simple, dumb stuff like this:
Lay out your workout clothes (all of them, socks and underwear too) somewhere visible the night before. It sounds simple, but this is a ridiculously powerful life-hack. When you see your workout clothes there waiting for you, you remember that exercise is something you actively want and that the you of yesterday thought was important. If you want to make this effect even stronger, lay out the clothes as if you were wearing them. Your brain can’t help but see you in them, and want to get moving. It sounds funny but it works!
Charge and prepare any accessories early. If you like to have your phone, headphones, sweatband, fitness tracker, or whatever other accessory, prepare them just like you prepare your clothes. Get them charged and lined up, the way a craftsman lays out his tools before a good day of work.
Check the schedule, weather, and other environmental factors the day before. If it’s going to be a scorching hot day and you need to be outside to exercise, make plans for an early morning or late evening workout. If it’s going to be a cold day, try to move things to the warmest part of the afternoon. Set a reminder on your phone if you’re the type to conveniently forget an unusual workout time.
Spend a minute “pre-gaming” your workout in the hours before you need to do it. Sit down and envision yourself doing the exercise session. Think about what problems could occur, and how you’re going to deal with them. The wonderful thing about the brain is that it doesn’t make much of a distinction between things you imagine and things you actually do. When the time to exercise comes around, the brain says, “Oh, I’ve done this before. I’ve got this!”, even if you’ve only ever imagined it happening.
Momentum is a funny thing. Your efforts to clear the pebbles off the path seem like they’re all in preparation for your big effort, but in fact they’re part of the momentum themselves. The very fact that you lay out your workout clothes the night before is already a big mental win, and makes it much more likely that the exercise session will get done. It’s not about the clothes, it’s about the mental state you’re in that made time and space to lay the clothes out.
Getting prepped for a workout early isn't the kind of thing a wishy-washy exercise-avoider does. It's the kind of thing a motivated, focused exercise-doer would do! We become the things we do, so do the right things and don't let a little pebble grind all your wellness efforts to a halt!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder