The brain may not be a muscle, but it can make or break your workouts. If you struggle with motivation or are just getting back into a regular routine, you should be exercising it to your advantage. Here's some tips on tricking your brain into working for you.
Track Your Progress
This may be a classic technique, but it's effective. And there are plenty of ways to go back it.
Fitness apps, Fitbits, Garmin fitness trackers, smart scales and smart watches all help to keep your goals and progress visible. Being able to physically see what you're aiming for can make a huge difference to your motivation. So can seeing how far you have come since you first started.
You're less likely to give up if you can see what you have to lose. Similarly, you're more likely to push yourself over the line when you can see it in site and keep tabs on it.
It's almost like a form of gamification, if you simplify it. You set yourself a goal and you try to beat it and then score even higher next time. It's simple, but elegant.
For more on fitness trackers:
- Five Things You Need To Know About Fitness Trackers
- Smartwatch and Fitness Tracker Reviews
- How To Get All Your Fitness Tracking Data In One Place
Put Exercise Between You And Your Bad Habits
One good way to kick a bad habit, especially if you're lazy like me, is to make it harder to engage in.
Perhaps chocolate is your vice. Maybe you're spending too much money on barista coffee. Do you spend too much time watching TV? Bring exercise into the equation.
Set rules for yourself, such as having to do 100 sit ups and 50 push ups before watching The Bachelor.If you're looking for something more low key or office friendly — only visit cafes or shops that are at least 1km from your desk.
This will take some discipline. But like with all of these tips, they're only going to work if you want them to.
For more on bad habits:
- Top 10 Ways To Break Bad Habits
- Replace Your Bad Habits With Good Ones
- 15 Unprofessional Habits That Could Cost You A Job
Invest In Equipment
Sinking real dollars into your exercise journey makes it real. Do you really want to have wasted that money?
Look at getting some proper exercise shoes and clothes, as well as the gear you need for your activity of choice.
And don't neglect the tech. In addition to fitness trackers, consider wireless or sports headphones. And if you plan on going for hikes, long bike rides or runs — don't underestimate the necessity of powerbanks and spare charging cables for your phone.
For more on workout equipment:
- The Best Exercise Headphones
- How To Pick The Right Shoe For Any Workout
- The Best Exercise Equipment For Small Apartments
The Buddy System
It can be alarmingly easy to be lax when you're only accountable to yourself. Having someone else rely on you for motivation, and vice versa, can be powerful. Exercising with a friend is also way more fun than going it alone.
You can also take this opportunity to engage in a little competition. Set joint goals and see who can smash them the fastest. Connect your fitness tracker apps and try to outdo each others' steps each day. Keeping it friendly and fun is a great way to hack your brain to reach fitness targets.
For more on friendly competition:
- How To Avoid Being A Sore Loser At Competitive Games
- 'Couple Workouts' Are The Answer To Exercising With Your Partner
Donate To An Evil Organisation
Yeah, you read that correctly.
Think of an organisation you hate. Now write them a fat cheque. Or if you're living in the 21st century, schedule a forward payment.
Now set yourself a realistic exercise goal for the week. If you only have time for two sessions, that's fine. You know what is best for your life.
You're now obliged to hit that goal, otherwise you'll send off that donation and help exacerbate evil. If you don't trust yourself enough to go through with it, entrust a friend to keep yourself accountable.
For more on donations:
- Ask LH: Are Wikipedia Donations Tax-Deductible In Australia?
- All The Body Parts You Can Donate To A Good Cause
If This Then That
But in real life! This is basically a different way to look at the rewards system.
If you reach a realistic goal that you have set for yourself, then you're allowed to indulge in a thing that you love. For example, my weekly hiking group always have a pub lunch/dinner after a long day on the trail.
I would advise against making the rewards purely food based though. I will often save up a bunch of my weekly shows and only let myself watch them after I've worked out. It genuinely makes them so much more satisfying and rewarding.
For more on reward systems:
- How To Use Cravings To Your Advantage
- Reward Yourself With Things That Get You Closer To Your Goals
- Form Better Habits With A Cue-Routine-Reward System
The music you listen to during a workout can have a surprising effect on your motivation and drive. From a personal perspective, I usually listen to a eclectic mix of old classics and 90s nostalgia tunes during my everyday life. But they don't do it for me when I'm on a run.
I tell you what does? Hard rap.
I don't even like it, but I get results. Maybe because I'm low key hate-listening and I want to go faster so it's over quicker? Who knows.
I can't say what will work for you — but start playing with some up tempo tracks and don't be afraid to go outside your usual genre — you may be pleasantly surprised.
For more on music:
- Why Music Helps You Exercise Better
- Build The Ultimate Playlist To Improve Your Workout
- How Music Affects And Benefits Your Brain
Change Your Scene and Routine
Establishing a routine is integral to integrating exercise into your life. Just don't let your brain get bored.
Try mixing up your activities or drills — this will keep you engaged and challenged. In addition to killing motivation, you won't make progress if it becomes too easy.
If you are a runner or a biker, find some different routes to take. Not only will this give you new goals to smash, the change of scenery can be refreshing.
If you're someone who enjoys getting out into nature — consider getting a drone. You'll get incredible pictures and video, which is just another form of motivation. You may even trick yourself into going out for longer because you'll be so distracted by getting the perfect footage and snaps to document your time.
For more on outdoor workouts:
- The Best Cheap Or Free Places To Get A Great Workout
- Everything You Need To Know To Start Running
- Ask LH: How Can I Keep My Exercise Routine In The Winter?
- The Three Best Exercises To Get In Shape For Hiking
Once again, this employs spending cold hard cash to motivate your exercise. It also taps back into the rewards system.
Try buying a piece of coveted clothing one size smaller — you can only wear it if you stick to your exercise regime.
Of course, not everyone is the same. You may not lose weight (or put on muscle) in a way that allows this trick to work. For example, it would be pointless for me to do this with jeans because my pant size doesn't vary much, regardless of weight loss or gain.
An alternative would be to only allow yourself a clothing shaped treat once you have hit a certain goal. Or if you want to take it one step further, buy online and have your bounty delivered to your gym. That way you have go.
For more on exercise and clothing:
- How To Clean Your Smelly Workout Clothes Properly
- Is There Really A Benefit To Special Exercise Clothing?
Small Plates And Bowls
This is more of an exercise-adjacent hack, but an important one. Food plays an integral role in our personal fitness journeys.
One of my biggest problems is portion control. I'll pile my plate up and keep eating until I'm done — even if I'm already full.
A cool trick I have found beneficial is using smaller vessels. It didn't take long for my mind and stomach to adjust to the smaller portion sizes. Now it's normal.
Of course, there's nothing to stop you from going back for seconds. If this is a concern for you — try implementing a 10 minute rule after you've finished your first helping. If you're still genuinely hungry after the time passes, okay go back for a little more. But if you know it's just your taste buds talking, ignore the urge.
For more on portion control: