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The Psychology Behind Why You Can’t Get Yourself to the Gym

What’s stopping you and how to get over it.

The Psychology Behind Why You Can’t Get Yourself to the Gym

To be completely honest, I’m never in the mood for running. It doesn’t matter how pumped up I am or whether I’ve signed up for a half-marathon just to see if I can do it (BTW, I did it, and I never will again)—whatever twinkling of motivation I find deep down inside always fades faster than I can lace up my shoes. But I do feel an extra sense of accomplishment once it’s all over. And that should count for something, right?

For me, weight training is more my thing. Although, at times, that, too, is hard to get through. And I’m fairly sure you all can relate one way or another. Whatever your fitness flavor (or if you’re about to try something new), what’s likely stopping you from getting active is all in your head. The person who helped me figure that all out is performance psychologist Dr. Dana Sinclair (her roster of clients includes the NFL’s Detroit Lions, MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, just to name a few), and she’s here to help you, too. So next time you’re telling yourself you’re going to do it tomorrow, or you start convincing yourself you miraculously sprained an ankle (I’ve seriously tried), just read this.


Two Reasons You Convince Yourself to Skip Out

1. Difficulty: “One of the main [reasons people talk themselves out of going to the gym] is because it’s hard—it takes effort, and it’s not easy to repeat. Once in a while, you can get yourself up for it, but putting in the effort regularly is tough.”

2. Not being on your A-game: “The other reason is people worry about their results and being evaluated, so there’s that fear of failure in there. This is associated with personality, too. Some people have individual expectations of what level they should perform at, or they don’t know how to use the equipment, and that makes them nervous. Anything new and unfamiliar is a little bit daunting. They could be intimidated by the different bodies they’re going to see at the gym or the different fitness levels. That fear of not measuring up to others, that result orientation—‘I went once and now, whenever I go, I have to be as good or better than my last time’—that, again, is a little bit daunting.”


Give Yourself a Reason to Go 

“People do better when they have structure and have positive reinforcement. I’m not really big on goals, but having a reason to go—whether it’s health or fitness, or whatever it may be—is good. Some people, in terms of structure, need to have a personal trainer or go to a class to motivate themselves.”


The Mental Tools

“The best mental tool is to relax. The next thing is bucking up to that fear of failure and that self-protection (which is why people don’t do things) and not looking for excuses for why not to do it. Looking honestly at what you’re afraid of helps. Try to be constructive with yourself. Have certain cues, whether it’s trying to improve your technique or form, or just getting through a routine, and use self-talk. Focus on breathing, trying to relax and settle down, so you can actually focus on the execution as opposed to getting distracted by the results and by the idea of not being good enough.”


Other Things You Can Do 

“Having someone waiting for you to work out or run is the best way to get yourself out there. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do, it really is a matter of being able to get your mind off of the expectation of failure and not being good enough, and being able to settle down so you can get yourself through the workout. You have to think about the execution and focus on what you’re doing throughout the activity right to the end. If you drift off all the time, you’re not going to perform as well; then you’re going to stop and you’re not going to want to do it anymore. Being able to calm down on, say, your run from start to finish and, when you drift off, come back to the self-talk or focusing on a technique, that’s all you have to be able to do to get through it.”

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