You know that little voice in your head that whispers annoying things like “you can’t do it” and “just give up” when you’re uncertain about accomplishing a goal?
When the goal is finishing a 5K or holding a plank for 60 seconds, that voice turns into a screaming champion of doubt, urging you to cut your workout short right before the finish line.
To squash the non-believer in you, we asked fitness experts to give up their most motivating techniques. Here, the Jedi mind tricks that will help you finish your workout strong — and make healthier choices for the rest of the day.
1. It’s Not About Burning Calories
Sometimes, those fitness inspiration images of ridiculously ripped women have the opposite of their intended effect: they make you feel bad enough about yourself to consider spending half your salary on a personal trainer. But before you write that check, consider this: Science says that those who use health as their no. 1 fitness motivation reap more benefits than those who focus on physical appearance. That’s right, focusing on health benefits like better mood and memory will help you get back into your skinny jeans more than pictures of bikini bridges and thigh gaps will.
2. Repeat After Me: Exercise Is Fun
When the alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m., your beckoning spin class feels like anything but a good time. But one study suggests that seeing your workout as fun instead of a chore can have a major impact on your waistline. In the study, those who saw their workout as time to get away, enjoy nature or listen to music ate 200 fewer calories later in the day than those who viewed it as exercise. The exercise group also reported feeling grumpier and more fatigued, even though the mileage and calories burned were practically identical.
To avoid ruining your workout with high-calorie snacks, frame your physical activity as fun — and do something you really love. Create an awesome playlist that makes you forget to check your progress, or sign up for a fun run — it’s hard to think of a 5K as work when you’re wearing a tutu or are covered in colored powder.
3. Reward Yourself
From end-of-year bonuses to loyalty programs, we’re an incentive-based society. So why not use one at the gym?
Try this: If you finish your workout without stopping, they can put $10 in a cup. When the cup reaches $100, buy an amazing new workout outfit to rock. Think of it as making deposits into your fitness bank.
4. Make It a Competition
If you’ve got a competitive streak, you know the power of adding some friendly rivalry to goad you on.
Creating a competitive environment when athletes are struggling at the end of practice helps them to push through pain and fatigue, so why shouldn’t it work for you?
Research shows that working out with a super-fit buddy motivates women to work out harder and longer than those who exercise alone. The best part? The women increased their workout without even realizing it.
It sounds cliché, but world-class athletes (and the people who train them) swear by visualization. As hocus-pocus as it seems, envisioning yourself crushing a ball into the stands or blasting by the competition as you sprint to the finish line can actually help you achieve that goal.
6. Break Up Your Goal
Sixty seconds usually goes by pretty quickly, unless, that is, you’re dripping sweat and struggling to complete that last Chaturanga.
You can do anything for one minute … and that minute turns into many more. Setting mini-goals within your workout breaks it up into less intimidating pieces. It’s not a two-mile jog, it’s just four little half-miles.
7. Crank Up the Beats
As long as the beat goes on, so will you — so say several pieces of research on the powerful effect music has on workout motivation.
Listening to a beat that matches the pace of your activity actually makes your workout feel easier, and can drown out that little voice that is telling you to stop. In some cases, music made people work out 15 percent longer and decreased use of oxygen by 7 percent (meaning they weren’t gasping for every last breath).
8. Come Up With a Mantra
It might sound hippy-dippy, but repeating a meaningful phrase or mantra can help you power through a difficult workout. Though yogis chant the traditional “Om,” you can use any word that summons strength. One of my favorite is, “Stay strong all day long” when I start to lose motivation. It reminds me that finishing the workout will make me feel stronger for the rest of the day.
According to sports psychologists, mantras should be action-based, short, instructive and positive. Choose a mantra that describes what you want to feel, rather than one that acknowledges pain. “Define yourself” was the mantra chosen by Deena Kastor in 2005 when she became the first American to win a major marathon since 1994. Sarah Reinertsen chose “You’re tougher than the rest” to qualify for a spot at the Ironman World Championship, where she became the first female leg amputee to finish the race.