In a perfect world we’d always feel like working out. Obviously, this is far from a perfect world! Even if your workouts are a solid part of your routine, even if you have carved out the time on your schedule and even if you are fully motivated, sometimes it is simply the last thing you want to do. It’s shockingly easy to decide to not do it because “I don’t feel like it.”
I’m referring to workouts where you know that there’s no good reason to skip it, not a workout that ought to be skipped due to injury, recovery needs or just because you really need a day off. It’s important to support not punish ourselves!
When I manage to eke out a workout under “I don’t wanna” circumstances, I describe it as “forcing” a workout because a significant part of me is an unwilling participant. It reminds me of a struggle between a toddler and a parent. The adult parent knows what’s best for the child, but the toddler is stubbornly determined not to do what they are being told. Often, as parents everywhere have experienced, sheer force doesn’t work, and they must cajole and persuade and bribe and do whatever they can to get the child to do the thing.
In a similar way, I have become quite good at persuading myself into doing the dreaded workout. It’s a way to negotiate with that part of me that is feeling very much like a grumpy toddler. Rationally I know the best course of action is completing the workout, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to utilize whatever means necessary to make it happen.
These are some of my favorite methods of persuading myself to workout when it feels extra-challenging:
Use negative emotion to your advantage. I don’t know about you, but I get fired up (energy!) when I am annoyed, irritated or angry. So, I take my negative emotions and use it to propel my workout. I’m feeling pretty fierce when I’m thinking, I do not want to do this, watch me get it done!
Choose music wisely. This is a huge part of my normal workout routine anyway, but I am extra careful to (loudly) play a good, high-energy playlist (I often revert to heavy metal, my favorite from my angry teen phase.) It really helps. Choose what moves you, literally.
Don’t lie to yourself. If the only thing preventing me from working out is “I just don’t feel like it”, there is no excuse I can make that makes it okay to skip. I’m not going to lie to myself so I may as well just do that darn workout. (To reiterate, if you have a legitimate reason to skip your workout, please honor yourself and your body.)
Embrace accountability. I know deep that if I don’t do this work out, I will disappoint myself. The pain of doing the workout is far more tolerable than feeling the disappointment my future self feels. Some of you may have workout partners, friends or social media communities that you know will hold you accountable. It’s okay to lean on others to kick yourself into gear.
Feel free to procrastinate. I’ve been known to procrastinate starting my exercise session for a long time, pushing it off until the very last minute or end of the day (never my preferred workout time.) When I finally do get started, I’ve been known to sit around in between sets and look at my phone or start conversations or do anything else to put off the next set. It’s unnecessarily painful and slow, but when the workout is complete, that’s all that matters.
Don’t be afraid to adapt. I try to stick with the workout I’ve planned, but sometimes I’ll shorten it arbitrarily. Sometimes, I’ll edit it at the last minute. Sometimes I’ll do something completely different such as a hill walk instead of a run or a bodyweight program instead of weights. Sometimes, it’s even okay to call it good sooner than you expected, giving yourself credit for the very best effort you could muster. You still got active, right?
Reward yourself. If the only thing that gets you through your workout is something fun after (ideally something that doesn’t cancel out all the benefits you just obtained from exercising), then go right ahead. It’s important to remember we’re doing all of this for our greater long-term health and wellbeing, not because we’re punishing ourselves or beating ourselves up for not feeling like exercising.
If all else fails, liquid courage. I absolutely do not suggest working out under the influence of anything mind-altering (I don’t mean caffeine.) However, I do sometimes bribe myself with my favorite coffee beverage, not often, but when all else fails. My sister happily drinks coffee in between sets during her 5:30 a.m. strength sessions several days a week. So, bring a comfort drink if you must, and enjoy every sip!
Pushing yourself this hard to exercise will hopefully be limited to the occasional day (or week, ok, sometimes month) when you really, really don’t feel like it. If you find that you need to force yourself into your workout every single time, it will eventually lead to burn out. Sheer willpower only goes so far.
Remember, you’re both the parent and the child battling it out in this scenario. You know what’s best and you have the wherewithal to make it happen, despite your own best efforts at avoidance. It may not be fun. It may feel hugely difficult. You probably won’t bring your strongest most focused self to this workout. You may even hate every moment. But when you get it done, it’s because of you, and you alone.
There’s nothing more powerful than showing up for yourself. That, my friends, is the most important result of all.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health and fitness, grief and loss, love and life at www.mrsathlete.net and www.advancedathlete.com.