There are times when the thought of going to the gym makes me want to curl up into a ball and stop time—the kind of toddler-tantrum reluctance of holding onto the legs of a desk and having to be dragged out of the building by someone in charge. Except as an adult, there’s nobody to pry your grip away and make you do the thing you don’t want to do, except yourself. As I chronicled here, I just started working out again consistently after a 10-year hiatus (#fivemonthsstrong), and I’ve managed to nail down a few tricks for forcing myself to work out when it feels like literally the last thing I want to do (or am capable of doing) on planet earth. Keep scrolling for my secrets to outsmarting gym dread.
The first thing I’ve learned is that you just have to get there. So even when you feel like you’re so tired you could die, and the thought of stepping onto the elliptical is incomprehensible and almost enough to make you want to cry, stop thinking about the workout itself and just get yourself from point A to point B. Don’t imagine the machines, the utter impossibility of moving or sweating with how you feel, and the all-around effort involved. Just get yourself to the door of the gym. Promise yourself that. Just say, "I will go. I won’t think about anything beyond going, but I will go." It’s okay to even be sort of annoyed with yourself. Like "FINE. I’ll GO. But you’re getting nothing else." Honestly, by the time you are at the front door, your dread and lack of momentum will likely have disappeared. It’s not as dreadful once you’re in front of it and know you just have to take a few more steps and get the workout done. Once you change into your clothes and step onto the machine, you can honestly do just five minutes if that’s what you’re capable of doing. Maybe you go at a fraction of your usual intensity, maybe you walk at a snail’s pace, but you got there and did more than you would have if you hadn’t gone.
Another trick that I just started doing recently, and has been working out quite well, is on one day planning my workout outfits for the whole week, not just the next day. You always hear to lay out your workout outfit the night before, but doing it for the week has helped me in numerous ways. First of all, it gets me excited for the whole week of workouts, not just one in isolation. It makes it more symbolic of a lifestyle and commitment. I stack each one on top of the next and put them in a basket that sits next to my dresser. Each morning, I grab that day's outfit from the pile to put in my gym bag and bring to work (I go to the gym after work). It's super-satisfying to watch the pile go down and shrink in size, and it also holds me accountable. I really, truly, don't want to come back to that basket at the end of the week and find three fresh, unused outfits staring up at me as a reminder that they weren't used. I want to come back to that basket and find it empty, with all my dirty gym clothes in one new place together: a sweaty, gross, embroiled mess in the hamper. When I think about skipping a workout because I just really don't feel like going, I imagine that pile in that basket, and the satisfaction of getting through the outfits. It also puts each workout into a larger perspective. If you just prepare your outfit one day at a time, missing it is easier to compartmentalize. Having the outfits planned as a group puts your workout into a bigger picture.
Whenever I'm tempted to skip a workout, one of my most powerful motivators is to remember the incredible ways in which regular exercise can extend your life, improve your mood, keep your heart healthy, and—especially—reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline with age. I call to mind these amazing stats on exercising for a longer life, which show that just 20 minutes of exercise a day can lower your mortality risk by 20%. When I'm thinking about skipping, I literally think to myself, "You are enabling yourself to live longer." I just remember that scientifically speaking, regular exercises have a lower risk of dying early. That's definitely something I want. And it is really kind of hard to mentally ignore just to bail on a workout.
Lastly, I always try to refocus my way of thinking, remembering how empowering it is that I have control of exercising. Life is scary, and the world can be a scary place. There are so many unknowns and so very many things we can't control. I have anxiety about plenty of things. One time when I was experiencing a bout of anxiety, a wise friend reminded me that things like eating well, sleeping, and exercising are some of the only tasks we can control and to just focus on them. In the midst of an overwhelming world with a billion moving parts that we literally have no control over, she simply said, "Think about what you can control. Remember what you can do that's good for you. You can eat something nourishing, you can move and sweat, you can drink water. So just do that, and don't think about the rest." It was the most simple advice and truth, yet it was so profound in that moment, and it remains quite profound for me. When I'm having a day where I think, "Ughhhhhh I can't. I refuse to work out," I remember that truth, and I think about how amazing and empowering and good for me it is, that I can control taking care of myself in the form of a daily visit to the gym. That's something that I can do. And because of that, it's something I should do. I should work out, because it's a small part of treating myself well that I can control, amid many factors that I cannot. And that's a gift.
Do you have any tricks for getting yourself to the gym when it feels impossible? Share them in the comments below, and click here for the scoop on the coolest new water bottle to fuel your sweat sessions.