3 tips to learn to like exercise

Those people.

You know the kind. They live in athleisure wear. Constantly post their workouts on social media. Occasionally celebrate whatever the hell a PR is (something to do with heavy weights?). They go to the gym on their lunch break. Y’know…fitness freaks. Those people.

If you’re not one of them, you may be perplexed or even annoyed by their exercise obsession.

How could anyone be so exuberant about something so tortuous?

It’s easy to shrug it off and say, “I’m just not like that, nor would I want to be.” That’s fine. But what about those of you who would like to pick up a fitness habit because you know it’s good for you?

Well, there is a way to learn to like exercising, and if you’re open to it, I’ll tell you how.

Consider that people who enjoy working out weren’t just born that way. (I definitely was NOT.) They stuck with it until it grew on them. And that tends to happen when we focus on the process more so than the outcome. It is the everyday actions of training, eating properly and recovery that lead to our intended goal. If we don’t find something pleasurable in that, we’re going to have a lot of miserable days. And while laser focus on a goal can be very motivating, it doesn’t always make the gym/exercise experience a pleasant one. In fact, it can lead to impatience. We get so focused on the goal that we don’t appreciate the process, and it becomes something of a necessary evil. We just want to hurry up and get to whatever size. And then what happens if/when we do get there? Then what?

In that scenario, exercise is just a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong; exercise IS a means to an end. And it’s great to have a goal to work towards. But people who stick with a fitness regimen for the long haul appreciate the means just as much as the end.

When I was in the gym just doing whatever because I wanted to lose weight, it wasn’t very inspiring. I was motivated by the goal to lose weight (and I am still motivated by physique goals), but going to the gym was still a drag. It was when I started to focus on strength that I really got excited about working out. Lifting progressively heavier weights was a fun challenge and watching myself get stronger was extremely gratifying.

When we are learning to appreciate the process, focusing on performance really increases our engagement when it comes to training. It adds substance and meaning to the experience. The attention shifts from how our body looks to what it can do.

Seeing your performance improve is very motivating. After all, people tend to like what they’re good at. The great thing about focusing on performance is that when we get stronger or improve certain skills, we get a positive feedback loop that makes us want to keep on practicing and getting better.

So that’s the theory. To learn to love working out, focus on the process and your performance. Now how exactly do you that?

-Give it time

I know–the last thing we want to do is wait for something to happen. But don’t look at it as waiting. Look at it as growing. Learning to appreciate the process is something that comes through practice and patience. The longer you do something, the more you see its benefits. If we can get ourselves into the gym (or wherever) with regularity, we start to see that it’s not so bad. And we also notice how we’re feeling better–more energy, better sleep, etc.

 

-Get over it

So, a little tough love with this one. When we’re serious about getting into shape, we can’t hold onto negative beliefs about working out. We’ve got to let that go so we can make room for positive associations.

 

-Focus on skills

Is there a skill you would like to master? It could be getting stronger, running faster, or getting your first pull-up or handstand. Figure out what skill would be the most gratifying for you to learn and start practicing it. Need a place to start? Work towards the thing you said you could never do.

You can also test yourself. Everyone loves to take self-discovery quizzes. Why not do it for physical stuff too? This is also good way determine your starting point so you can track your progress.

  • See if you can do a pistol squat. Start by sitting to a bench and keep lowering it.
  • See if you can do a pull-up. To make it easier, try with a band.
  • More advanced people can test their one-rep max or a three-rep max on bench, deadlift, squat, or overhead press. Only do this one if you know your form is solid.
  • See how long you can hold a plank.
  • Try to do a headstand or handstand against a wall.
  • If you’ve been using the same weight for a while, add some more.

 

For timed tests, try to see how many of the following you can do in a minute:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Burpees

Note your result. You might surprise yourself!

 

The secret to falling in love with exercise is to find meaning and purpose in it beyond an aesthetic ideal. When we see that it makes us feel better, that we’re stronger, more confident, more skilled, more disciplined, we can’t help but come back for more. Have you learned to enjoy exercise or are you still struggling with it? Please share in the comments!

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