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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Cultivate Mental Endurance, Too

Trouble Sticking With Workouts? Strengthen the Mind.

When you start working out, you spend a lot of time focused on learning technique, engrossed in a new activity (or a few), and probably psyched you’re finally getting fit! When you’ve mastered workouts & maybe even exercised for years, the game changes. Your body can crank out great efforts (assuming you’ve taken care to avoid injury), but your mind may rebel.

Thoughts can trip us up in a heartbeat. "Why am I doing this again?" "When will this end??" "Let me just slow down & make those phone calls." "I'll skip today & jump back in tomorrow." When you've worked out for years or even months, boredom and distraction WILL show up at some point, potentially derailing your routine. Just as physical endurance carries workouts forward, mental endurance plays an equally key role in powering current and future years of exercise.

So, if you’re finding yourself fighting to show up for yourself in terms of fitness, try the following. (Also, just a note—If you’re experiencing low mood, irritability & lack of motivation along with physical fatigue & sleep disruption, you may be “over reaching” or potentially “overtraining” and should take some time to recover.)

Build Brain Stamina

There are ways to teach your brain to more readily focus, so it can block distractions. Breathing meditation is a perfect training for this because breathing steadily and deeply is so integral to exercise. Try starting with 1-5 minutes of relaxed, seated breathing meditation. (Excellent guided sessions abound on the internet. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the very reputable U Mass Medical School Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Center, offers high quality sessions.) Once you have the feel for it, apply this type of breath to steady-state cardio & strength workouts, which will tether you to the present and take your focus off of needing your workout to END.

Make it Interesting

Doing the same exact workouts for months or years on end may not only stagnate fitness levels but will also lead to utter boredom. Try pursuing one workout a week that challenges brain and body. Learning a new fitness skill, say, how to use kettlebells or how to skate, for example, is the equivalent of employing a “mental chew toy.” It will demand your attention and draw you into future efforts, as you strive to up your proficiency.

Reach for the Endorphin Bump

Literally, the true joy of a workout comes partway through when your brain releases its happiness-inducing chemicals. Many people dread the first mile of a run, yes, because they’re still ramping up oxygen intake but also because they’re wondering why they do this almost daily! (As a younger exerciser, I myself had a true love/hate relationship with running. As Dickens put it, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.") Most avid exercisers remember why they work out when the endorphins kick in. Aim for that state by not dropping out too early in a workout and, if possible for you, by incorporating a couple of high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions into your week.

Imagine a Future Scenario

A really cool aspect of the human brain is the miracle of imagination. We can envision all kinds of things and bring them to life. Picturing a feel-great scenario down the road as you exercise can keep you locked in. You might see yourself at your fittest; see yourself cycling in the mountains in a month or two; see yourself back in your favorite, crowded group exercise class post-pandemic. Whatever you envision holds the possibility of happening in a future beyond THIS workout.

Take a bit of time to find a way to build the mental endurance today that will make physical efforts a reality for years to come. Not only will you enjoy workouts more—your body will thank you down the road.


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