Mind Games for the Gym

We have heard it all before? but have we? how can we get ourselves in the right frame of mind to engage with an exercise programme and get to the gym.

#1 Make Targets and Take Aim

Setting goals in terms of distance, time or weight lifted, allows you to clearly see changes and progress with your exercise routine. Make some short, medium and long term targets. If you are a runner  for example; the short term goal may be to run 10k’s in 2 months, the medium term goal may to run a half marathon in 4 months and the long term goal may be to run a marathon itself within 9-12 months.  From small acorns…

#2 Cross-Train

Rather than do the same thing every day, do different activities. For example, take an aerobics class once a week and a spinning class another day. This type of training will work different parts of your body and will keep you from becoming bored with exercise.

#3 The Feel Good Factor

The endorphin soaked feeling of calm and righteousness after a workout is gold dust. When you are having doubts about starting or finishing a session, think of that feeling, and you’ll find yourself smiling and continuing.

mind games for the gym #4 Don’t think; do

Don’t give yourself time to think about exercise; over-thinking saps motivation. If you scheduled exercise for 5.30 pm and find yourself thinking about it during the day, make yourself think about something else. When 5.30 comes, just do it. Analysis paralysis is not the way to exercise motivation. It’s like getting out of bed; the more you think about it, the more time you spend in bed. Just do it. There are times when it’s best not to think.

#5 Keep it Bite sized

A long workout can be a daunting prospect and thoughts like “I’ve only been going 10 minutes – that’s one tenth of my session” can work against you. Break it down into bite size chunks.. Paul Radcliffe for example counts from 1-1000 during marathons.

#6 Every Breath You Take

It’s an involuntary action so we rarely think about breathing. When the going gets tough, focus on inhalations and exhalations – if you are lifting weights, are you exhaling on the effort, as you should be? Think about where you are breathing from too, it should be from the diaphragm. Tai Chi is based on using breathing to relax the body and enable you to function better. Think breathing.

#7 Be Here Now

Try to stay in the moment during a workouts, rather than switching off completely or thinking about other things. Feel the breeze on your face when you’re out running, or tune into your breathing rather than focussing entirely on the numbers or your heart rate or pace monitor. Wherever you are – be there!

#8 Disassociate the Discomfort

The opposite of being in the moment. Imagine the discomfort you are feeling as an object, a red ball for example. Gather it up and throw it away with a loud exhalation. Then block the re-entry of the ball with a pleasant though about something else.

#9 Get into the Habit

The classic exercise regime dropout is after a week or so. Work hard at getting through 10 sessions and you will start to build neurological pathways that exercise feels normal.

#10 Visualize Yourself Exercising

The body does what the mind envisions. You are much more likely to do something – anything – if you first strongly imagine seeing yourself doing it 1. The better able you are to visualize yourself exercising (as if watching yourself from the outside), the more motivated you’ll actually be to do it. You’ll have set yourself a mental blueprint that now wants to be activated.


1 Psychologist Lisa Libby, Ph.D. and colleagues found that participants in her research were much more likely to vote if they had first visualized themselves voting from a third-person perspective. Visualizing ourselves doing something primes the brain and body to actually do it. Cornell University (2005, April 17). Third-person Perspective Is Helpful In Meeting Goals.

By Ian Duncan

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