Health

How to Start Working Out When You Don’t Want To: A Neuroscientist’s Advice

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It’s no secret that working out can be hard. In fact, neuroscientist Jennifer Heisz says it’s a pretty common mindset for those starting a new workout routine. “The reality is that exercising is hard. It’s a physical stressor that activates the body,” she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. “And the brain wants to keep the body in a homeostatic, happy place. So you’re working against these two inherent opposing forces.” But don’t worry, we’ve got some tips from Dr. Heisz on how to start working out when you don’t want to!

Listen to music before you exercise. 

Heisz’s advice for getting out the door? “The first step is understanding that it’s normal to feel this way,” she says. “And the second step is finding a strategy that helps you get past that initial barrier.”

One of her favorite tricks? Listening to music before she exercises. “I find that music is a really powerful tool for getting me into the right state of mind to exercise,” she says. “It helps me get out of my head and into my body.”

So if you’re struggling to get motivated, try putting on your favorite pump-up playlist and see how it affects your mood. You might be surprised at how much it helps.

Heisz also recommends setting realistic expectations for your workout. “If you’re just starting out, don’t try to do too much too soon,” she says. “Start with something that’s manageable and build up from there.”

And finally, she says it’s important to remember that exercise is a journey, not a destination. “It’s not about getting to a certain point and then being done,” she says. “It’s about enjoying the process and the journey along the way.” So if you’re feeling stuck, remember that it’s normal, find a strategy that works for you, and take it one step at a time. You got this.

Swish-and-spit technique

To increase the likelihood of success, Heisz recommends what she calls the “swish-and-spit technique.” She explains, “You take a moment to swish some water around in your mouth and then spit it out. And as you do that simple movement, you say to yourself something like, ‘I am strong. I am capable. I can do this.'” She says the physical act of moving your mouth changes your brain chemistry and helps to increase motivation.

So if you’re finding it hard to get yourself to the gym, or even just to put on your sneakers, try the swish-and-spit technique. It just might be the push you need to get moving.

Swish-and-spit technique: take a moment to swish some water around in your mouth and then spit it out. And as you do that simple movement, you say to yourself something like, ‘I am strong. I am capable. I can do this.'” She says the physical act of moving your mouth changes your brain chemistry and helps to increase motivation.

Try the swish-and-spit technique next time you find it hard to get yourself to the gym, or even just to put on your sneakers. It just might be the push you need to get moving. Swishing water around in your mouth and then spitting it out, while saying something like “I am strong. I am capable. I can do this” can change your brain chemistry and help increase motivation according to Heisz. So go ahead and give it a try! Swish, spit, and repeat as necessary.

Fear-buster workout. 

The first step, Heisz says, is acknowledging that this internal struggle is normal. “You have to give yourself a little bit of grace and recognize that it’s OK to not want to work out,” she says. “Your brain is trying to protect you.” Once you accept that it’s natural to feel this way, she recommends reframing your thinking around exercise. “Try to see it as an opportunity to invest in your future self,” she says. “Think about how you’re going to feel after the workout: more energized, accomplished, and proud of yourself.”

Heisz also recommends starting small and gradually building up your endurance. “You wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, so don’t expect to be able to work out for an hour if you’re just starting out,” she says. “Start with something that feels doable, like a 20-minute walk or a ten-minute HIIT workout.” And most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day (or two, or three). “Remember that you’re human and that progress is not linear,” Heisz says. “Exercise is a lifelong journey, not a sprint.” So take it one step at a time, and be kind to yourself along the way.