photo: David Mark
By Crabby McSlacker
So this is just a strange little post about a sneaky motivational trick that's been working well for me lately, but it may be Absolutely Useless for a normal person.
The tip deals with a persistent problem that can derail the most sensible, well-researched, brilliantly designed exercise program.
The problem? In order to work out, you have to show up. Often at a specific place, and possibly at a specific time, and generally wearing some sort of appropriate clothing. There may even be equipment and gadgets and gear to haul along.
Even if it's as simple as standing in front of your own television set in your spare room with the intention of doing an exercise dvd... you still have to get yourself in front of that tv and turn the damn thing on.
So WTF is the Problem?
Sometimes it's simply logistics. Other stuff in life comes up that's more important than exercise, and you have to take care of it.
This trick is no help with that.
But often the problem is: we talk ourselves out of exercise based on how miserable we know we're going to feel doing it.
The Voice of Doom
You may think this voice in your head is weak and lame, but not necessarily! The voice that tells us that we should skip going to the gym or jumping in the pool on a cold morning because it will totally suck? It's just doing its job, trying to keep us out of trouble.
The practice of anticipating negative consequences is actually quite useful. When, for example, our crazy cousin Abigail proposes we join her on a trip to a third world war-torn country in order to obtain a tummy tuck, breast implant, and butt lift for way way cheap? The ability to mentally rehearse possible unpleasant future outcomes is hella practical.
So yeah, that voice isn't evil. It's just working overtime, protecting you from something that, true: possibly may be miserable. But possibly not. And in any event, it's a possibly miserable thing you're doing On Purpose.
How to deal with negative rehearsal?
Cut Yourself in Half
If we have an intention to exercise, there are two parts of our motivation system that need to each do their bit to make it happen. I conceptualize these as "Commitment" and "Strength." You have to learn to SEPARATE these two functions.
What the hell am I talking about?
So: there's the Strength part of our motivational system that actually DOES the exercise. Or it doesn't, but let's just say generally, when it's in the middle of pedalling up a hill or swinging a kettlebell or swimming a lap, it usually does at least something approximating what it's supposed to, even if it's unpleasant. It's the part that goes "I'm sore and tired and I don't want to do this, but I AM doing it, yay me! I am so kickass, I am so awesome! Please kill me now."
But before Strength can do it's thing, Commitment has to step up.
Commitment has a whole different job. Commitment has to plan, to motivate, to do all the dirty prep work. It has to put you at the right place at the right time, wearing the right stuff. Commitment does NOT need to rehearse and endure and persevere through misery. It needs to do stuff like lace up your sneakers and remember your sunglasses and open the front door and close it behind you. It has to trust strength to do its job and put up with any possible misery... LATER.
See where this is going?
Often what gets in our way of our commitment to exercise is that our subconscious is trying to help us by sending Strength in too early. And strength does a really shitty job of motivation if we are not yet in a situation where it can be useful.
When Strength is on the scene, it feels it must preview everything unpleasant that is to come and mentally rehearse and endure it ahead of time. This confuses commitment, because it says: "wait, why am I trying to get us somewhere we shouldn't be in the first place? Maybe I can come up with some good rationalizations for postponement instead. Is that maybe some drizzle outside?"
So a big part of Commitment is learning the job at hand: don't think, just get there. In order to be good at commitment, you have to learn to shut off the movie projector and trust Strength to do the job when the time comes.
Switching It Off: Easier Said Than Done?
OK, so all that sounds like just a long-winded rehash of the simple idea that you should stop doing negative mental rehearsal when contemplating exercise to keep from wimping out. Which you probably already knew. The question is, how do you just stop?
Partly: realize that because negative rehearsal is a habitual self-protective function, you're actually going to have to practice to retrain your brain. Plus, you'll probably even feel guilty for not running negative scenarios in your head until you get more used to trusting your future self. Now how screwed up is that?
But by envisioning that you have two different motivational jobs, you often can redirect the nagging voice by getting it to nag you in a more helpful way. It needs to do the Commitment job now, not the Strength job which it will do later. So your Inner Nag can focus on reminding you how smug you'll feel once it's over, or how lame you'll feel if you bail, it can remind you of all the health benefits you'll be getting, or even better, it could help you find your f--cking car keys that have yet again sprouted tiny legs and wandered off and hid somewhere.
Of course some of you love the heck out of every single minute of exercise you get, and look forward to your workouts with such excitement that this whole discussion seems like crazy talk.
But, for those of you who deal with reluctance...
Is negative rehearsal ever a problem for you? How do you deal with it? Any other motivational problems or solutions or thoughts?