Mind games – Trick your brain for better workouts
As your body’s command centre, the brain sends messages to your muscles to tell them to move. It also moderates our mood, energy levels and motivation. When it comes to exercising, your brain is the most important body part, and it could be tricking you into avoiding exercise.
During an intense workout, your brain may read the experience as painful, which can translate into negative, or irrational, thoughts. After the tenth burpee (squat thrust) or 20 minutes of hot yoga, your brain may send you a message to quit. Then, when you want to do the exercise again, your mind might intervene and invent reasons to avoid the anticipated discomfort. If your brain is telling you to avoid the suffering of working out, you’re more likely to skip it.
After a tough workout, you may think that exercise sucks. If you’re watching what you eat and don’t see immediate results, you may say that diets don’t work. It’s okay to not like some forms of exercise, but it doesn’t have to mean that you dislike them all. The trick is to realize when you’re generalizing, and bring you brain back into line.
Mind games are often used by those who are adept at pursuing a desired goal. Whether you’re motivated to run a marathon, embark on a new career, or are committed to improving your relationships, you want your brain to experience the pleasure of success.
If you splurge on fast food, it doesn’t mean that you’ve completely sabotaged your diet. Nor does it mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, if you’re not available to workout five times per week. This type of all-or-nothing thinking leaves you feeling inadequate. Instead of dwelling on what you didn’t achieve, refocus on what you actually did. Anything that you do towards improving your quality of life, is a step in the right direction.
Master your mind
It’s easy to recognize your brain’s negative reactions, and it’s just as easy to shift your mind for a more positive response. Our mind plays tricks on us. We may react with alarm if we see, what we think is, a snake, and then it turns out to be a stick. We may see our own reflection in a window at night and jump back as if it’s an intruder. Our minds are trained to question these emergency messages, and, if necessary, override them. When we take a second look, and see it for what it is, we are filled with relief.
The same school of thought applies so that you can disarm irrational thoughts that sabotage exercise – you just have to take another look.
Everyone falls for this at some stage – you fool yourself into believing that whatever you’re feeling must be true. Perhaps you considered joining a fitness class, but your emotions tell you that people will judge you, so you decide not to go. The key is to push past your emotions to a more logical, goal-focused approach. Learning to question your feelings is not just the key to success as it relates to fitness, but it’s the foundation of true emotional intelligence.
Scott Leith, PhD, data scientist and research psychologist, GoodLife Fitness.