6 Clever Ways to Trick Yourself Into Working Out

You won't always feel like exercising, so you may need to employ a few tricks.
Image Credit: Drazen Zigic/iStock/GettyImages

Unless you're Jillian Michaels, you probably don't wake up every day stoked to work out. Most of us need a little (or big) push to get moving, even if we love the way we feel after exercising.


While finding the motivation to get started is usually the hardest part, there are some ways you can trick your brain into making that process a little easier. The following six strategies will give you the push you need to lace up those workout shoes and get your sweat on.

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1. Use Task Bundling

Also known as stacking, this tactic is essentially multi-tasking — combining two tasks and doing them at the same time. When it comes to working out, it's most effective when you reserve a task you really want to accomplish and commit to only doing it while you exercise.

"For example, I listen to French 'Let's Play' videos on YouTube of my favorite video game while I do cardio," says mind-body wellness coach Amanda Webster. "Because I am learning French, it is a personal goal for me to listen to materials in my language each day. It is also a daily goal for me to get at least 30 minutes of exercise." By combining the two, Webster maximizes her time and gets added value out of her workout.

ACE-certified personal trainer Amanda Lim, owner of fitness consulting firm Peak Health, also supports task bundling, but she takes it a step further — she advises making your stacked task something you enjoy to sweeten the deal. "Only allow yourself the indulgence if it's paired with exercise — for instance, no treadmill session, no ​Real Housewives​," she says.


Make sure it's also something you really look forward to, she says. "If it's too boring or difficult, you won't be lured to the siren call of the elliptical," she says.

2. Employ a 5-Second Decision

Instead of giving into self-doubt or excuses (like "I'm too tired to run today"), the five-second decision comes down to choosing action over inaction. When you feel like skipping your workout, count backward from five and then go for it.


"We're hardwired since childhood to know that a countdown is what comes before action, and this technique helps flip the switch in your mind to get things moving," says holistic lifestyle coach and mental health consultant Stacie May.


The five-second decision also allows keeps brain from talking you out of exercising. "It's about disrupting the protective avoidance of getting going on something challenging," says Gerald E. Nissley, Jr, PsyD. "It inhibits paralysis by analysis. Many people who are trying to commit to healthy behaviors get caught up in over-thinking the process."


Nissley adds that you can help yourself out by preparing all of your workout needs beforehand. That way, when you reach the end of your countdown, you're really ready for action.

"I've developed a ritual for the morning that makes exercise the only logical choice," he says. "The night before, the only clothes I lay out are those for exercise. I charge my phone and earbuds beside each other so when I wake up and reach for my phone I also see and reach for the earbuds for working out."


3. Try the 2-Minute Rule

For this trick, you need to reframe your thinking and break down a task into smaller, more manageable steps. For instance, instead of thinking about running three miles, commit to two minutes of activity — like putting on your shoes and getting to the end of the block. In this way, you create an achievable gateway leading to a bigger goal.

This helps lower the bar for yourself, says clinical psychologist Forrest Talley, PhD, makes the goal achievable. All you have to do is either one set of an exercise or one minute of your cardio, he says. "If you decide at that point to throw in the towel and go home you are free to do so." However, he says that once most people are at the gym, they're going to stay there.


4. Build a New Narrative

Instead of harping on what you can't do or thinking about past times you haven't made it to the gym, change the story you tell yourself about your fitness journey, Nissley says. Think about how much fun you had doing Zumba or how it felt to PR your deadlift.


"When you want to work out harder or differently, you need new content for your story," he says. "Let old narratives go: When you run on that treadmill for two minutes, you have evidence you ​can​ and you ​did​ run. Use that to build a new narrative."


He adds that you can work on this when you're not working out by filling your social media feed with people who inspire you to exercise and live a healthier lifestyle. "You can also read more articles on the goals you have and listen to more podcasts," he says. "Not to be perfect but to change the narrative."

5. Provide an Immediate Reward

"With exercise, the rewards come much later, while the discomfort and sore muscles come fast," says licensed professional counselor Eric Patterson, writer for mental health startup Choosing Therapy.

But rewarding yourself immediately after your workout will keep you coming back for more. He says that you can offer the rewards to yourself or put a loved one in charge of distributing them, which adds accountability.

Talley agrees with this idea, adding that no rewards are off-limits. "Want a beer after a hard workout? Go for it. A donut? Enjoy," he says. "Once exercise becomes a habit, nearly everyone stops needing these sort of rewards — in fact, they no longer hold the same attraction at all."

6. Don't Break the Chain

Attributed to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, this tactic gives you visual inspiration to tackle your daily goal. Hang up a wall calendar and mark an "X" on each day you work out. Within a few days, you'll want to keep going because you don't want to break the chain on the calendar.

"Once you get the chain going, you're likely to maintain it because you don't want to experience the feeling of self-defeat that comes from skipping a day," says personal trainer Nicolle Harwood-Nash. (Just be sure you have at least one rest or active recovery day a week where you take it easy on your body — like going for a walk or doing restorative yoga.)

"Combine that with the psychology of loss aversion — taking action to prevent losing something good — and you have yourself a sticky habit." Plus, you can't beat the dopamine rush you get from drawing that big, fat "X" on your calendar after your workout.



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