What to Say to Yourself When You Want to Skip a Workout
The phrases in your head can make or break motivation.
No matter how much you tout your love of exercise (and believe me, I’m the queen of touting), you definitely have days (weeks? months?) when you do NOT want to work out. Ignore this post if that honestly does not apply. Anyone? For most people, at times exercise DOES become drudgery. There are ways to shake that up & make the process more appealing—mixing up workouts, choosing a new goal, competing with a pal, etc—but that’s a different post. Here, let’s simply talk about some things you can say to yourself to spur you into action RIGHT NOW.
Below are seven thoughts to entertain on those lethargic days when you’re at serious risk of skipping your workout. Pick one (or more) that gets you going. By the way, notice these are phrased as “you” statements. This is intentional. We’re often way less likely to judge ourselves if we address ourselves like we’re talking to a friend or loved one. Remember that that’s who you are—someone you sincerely care about—as you ponder these pre-workout thoughts.
What do you mean, what’s the point??
We all KNOW the point. Remind yourself of this when you wonder why you even bother: Few pursuits bestow as many mental and physical health benefits as regular exercise. How many activities at 30-60 minutes a day give us so much “bang” for the time spent? People literally save their lives via exercise. Exercise extends mortality. As the CDC puts it, “Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of illness and death in the United States.” Also, please note that if you currently do NO exercise, you need to consult with your doctor first. This is not just something I’m required to say as a personal trainer. Last year, when I asked a prospective client to seek his doctor’s approval, his physician discovered extensive heart blockage, and the required surgery likely saved this lovely man’s life.
Come on, you got this.
Okay, seriously, how many times have you worked out in your life? Chances are you high you know what it takes, know how to do it, and even know the best pointers to share with others. You also know the minimum you need to do to count this bout as a workout. You don’t need to set any records today. Just show up. You probably also realize that when you do, you’ll end up shattering the measly expectations you had pre-endorphin rush.
You’ll feel good about this later.
Unless you get hurt or are under the weather and push yourself anyway, this declaration pretty much always holds true. I see it all the time in clients who haul themselves to workouts and walk out on air. Yes, an actual physiological feel-good effect ensues from exercise. So does a sense of accomplishment, a recognition of your own mental & physical strength, and the knowledge that your body is made to MOVE, which is exactly what you do daily. Woohoo, that feels good!
You wouldn’t skip your teeth.
We all know this one, right? Would you ever head into your day without brushing your teeth?? Potent morning breath aside, the deterioration of neglected teeth makes us imagine all kinds of health trouble and ugly dental visits. Well, though it seems more subtle to say, the exact same thing is true of workouts. Skip exercise and your body suffers in all kinds of ways that could also lead you into some ugly doctor visits or procedures. More simply, exercise daily because, like brushing your teeth, this is just something you ALWAYS DO. It’s a nonnegotiable health habit.
Who’s cares if you stop working out? Uhmmm, someone does!
If you have people who love you, whether they realize it or not, they care if you work out because they care about your health. If someone is actively discouraging you from exercising, then something else is going on. (From my perspective as a health coach, this is VERY rare by the way, but does happen sometimes.) It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. They may simply be seeking their own comfort zone. Your workouts might make them squirmy because deep down they realize they really should exercise, too. Personally, I know my family would be extremely weirded out if I stopped working out. I do it for me AND them. When we ask, who cares if I do this, we’re probably just looking for an out. And maybe you need one—for a day, possibly even a week. But let’s not fool ourselves: It DOES matter to those who care about us.
How do you want to feel next summer?
If convincing yourself that exercise matters today feels impossible, then consider who you want to be in a season or two. Summer usually inspires us because we take vacations, spend lots of time in less clothing, need energy for all kinds of activities we don’t do in northern winters, and just generally come out of hibernation. If you’ve been exercising for a few years (or decades), you know that getting results, LASTING results, requires months. We can’t work out for a few weeks and expect aerobic capacity, strength, or appearance to change significantly. Yes, it’s a slog sometimes, but every workout adds up—just like the coins in that vacation savings jar. So, daydream about summer on the treadmill today, and your vision is way more likely to come true.
Don’t go there.
Finally, this is my current favorite mantra. "Don't go there" strikes a nice balance between denial (LOL) and motivation. If you find that you say or ask the same negative things ad nauseam, then like me and many people, you’re prone to rumination. In other words, you just tend to chew on the same thoughts repeatedly, maybe even endlessly. The phrase, “don’t go there,” short circuits this loop. It doesn’t actually ignore what you just said to yourself—It simply acknowledges that this particular train of thought does not serve you well. So, when I catch that little instigator in my brain spouting off about whether or not exercise makes any difference, I remember the retorts listed above, and try to snuff out the temptation to entertain truly unhelpful thoughts. In essence, this is a mindfulness practice. It pulls you out of thought and into present action. And for sure, regular exercise is an action well worth repeating. Daily. With the knowing that, YES, it makes a HUGE difference.