A Harvard University neuroscientist studied the secret to feeling motivation and came up with a very simple solution — make it fun and stay optimistic.
Hold on! Before you tune out and say that’s dumb, hear me out.
This could be a significant game changer for you. And I will give you some easy, practical ways to actually do it. The scientist, Professor Ron Siegel, points out that our brains are wired to think negatively as a matter of survival.
Goes back to mankind’s early days when being focused on negative consequences often meant the difference between living or being eaten by a nasty predator.
Think about it. You’re sitting around the fire, gnawing on a bone for dinner, and suddenly there’s a loud thrashing noise out in the darkness. Do you think: hey, that’s probably some good friends approaching. Or do you assume: Yikes, where’s my spear, I’m about to be eaten!
If your genes survived the night, you went with the latter. We’re all descended from the survivors.That’s powerful negative motivation and it’s burned deep into our brains.
But sometimes it works against us today. Let’s focus on Working Out. We know logically that exercise is great for us but we still sabotage ourselves out of doing it, thanks to the negative wiring. “It might hurt, I don’t feel so great, maybe tomorrow.” Etc
I’ve written at length on how strength training can reverse aging, Type2 Diabetes, muscle loss, bone loss, genetic degradation and more. But that knowledge alone doesn’t help when you’re fighting the power of negative motivation in the moment.
We all do it to ourselves. I’ve been working out for nearly 50 years now. Every single day, the devil on my shoulder tries to talk me out of it. Every time. So how do you shut him up?
It has been proven undeniably that exercise — especially strength training — releases powerful feel good hormones, including endorphins and dopamine. (Google them)
It is virtually guaranteed that at some point during – and for a good while after – your workout you will feel very pleasantly high. Happens every time for me and the mood shift is dramatic.
I crave it. It’s like a drug with zero side effects. So, approach your workouts knowing that once you get past the devil on your shoulder, you’re gonna feel great as a result of working out.
Of course, you are working out for the purpose of getting toned or even building muscle. That doesn’t happen overnight — so don’t expect it to. But, if you embrace the discipline to do this consistently, it will happen. And you will love the results and feel better about yourself in a lot of ways.
More on embracing Discipline in a bit. Right now, let’s talk about simple steps to feel good about working out.
Supercharge that High: It has also been proven that certain things increase the levels of feel good hormones flowing through us. So here are some easy, practical things you should do to crank it up.
The reason we love music is the way it makes us feel. It’s also been proven to release feel good hormones even if we’re sitting idle. Combined with exercise, it’s a double-dose of happy.
Combine a Playlist of your favorite upbeat music with your workout, and you will amp up that buzz. Music also helps to take your mind off the mundane aspects of lifting and put you into a groove state of mind.
For many years, I listened to the same Van Halen playlist for every workout. They’re a good example of the type of music you need. Upbeat and driving. The music melted into the background of my mind. I could not tell you exactly what songs I heard or the lyrics, but it really helped fuel my workouts.
Today, I listen to a variety of classic rock, modern pop, oldies, country, etc. Anything and everything that you hear as upbeat and driving along at a nice, constant pace will work. Slow passages are a buzz kill.
Build your playlist. Have some fun doing it. If you want, you can try something like Pandora, with built-in workout playlists. The stuff is out there. Grab it and use it.
Provide yourself with immediate, small rewards: Here are some easy ways to do that, that have a bigger impact than you might imagine:
Keep a container of your favorite beverage handy. Mine is plain, cold ice water. Give yourself a reward chug after a hard set. Take a moment and savor how great a cold drink feels when youâ€™re exerting yourself and maybe even sweating.
Go with water, Gatorade, whatever non alcoholic beverage that makes you feel good.
Not tobacco of course, but give chewing gum a try. I put a piece of sugarfree Bubble Yum on each side of my mouth. I’m a jaw-clencher by nature. The gum gives my mouth something more positive to do, and it’s another nice little reward cuz it tastes good.
Tons of studies have proven that Visualizing your goals has a powerful effect. Think about how great it will feel to be trimmer, look sexier, feel stronger. See it starting to happen.
Here, you want to combine those visuals with a focus on the Mind/Muscle Connection.
I’ve written before about the Mind/Muscle thing. It’s an idea from the old days of bodybuilding that sounds like New Age baloney, but it’s absolutely for real. And it’s very simple to do.
Think about where your mind goes through when you’re doing a rep of an exercise. It might be thinking, “this is hard, I don’t want to do it.” Or, other negative stuff promoted by the little devil on your shoulder. This is another technique to keep that little shit quiet.
As you’re doing a rep, really focus on the muscle targeted by the exercise. Let’s take bicep curls, for example. As with any exercise, you want to have a smooth, controlled motion as you curl the weight up and down. As you curl it up, laser focus your mind on how the muscle feels. Feel it flexing as you tax it. Feel it tautly releasing the flex as you curl it back down. And so on through the whole set.
Stay with those thoughts till you’ve finished the last rep. That’s all there is to it. That is the Mind/Muscle Connection. It will help you get a good pump and keep your mind focused, while keeping the negative whiny crap out.
But if the Negative Thoughts are Wired in, how do I deal with those?Ok, so if you’re finding yourself saying, “screw screw all that hippie stuff, what’s wrong with being tough on yourself?”
On the other hand: There are those who say forget positive Motivation — “Get Disciplined!”
My wife is the most disciplined workout warrior I know. She gets up at 4 am most weekdays and hits her Peloton bike for an hour. Then she gets ready for work and fights rush hour for an hour to get to the office for 8-10 hours. Then she fights rush hour to get home and hits the weights at home in the evening with me.
I got tired just writing that.
Her main thing is discipline. Starts there for her, and she uses the negative motivations to help her stay disciplined.
We both attended religious schools as kids. Negative motivation was reinforced back then by nuns swinging rulers and reminding you of the consequences of your sins.
So, today, she motivates herself with negative reinforcement. She’s not entirely negative, but it’s how she gets past the devil on her shoulder. When her little demon starts to whine, she shuts him up by telling herself:
- I’ll fall way behind everybody
- I’ll lose all my gains and have to start over
- I’ll wind up skipping the next day, too
It works for her. To be sure, she also benefits from all the positive motivations we’ve gone over and loves the workout high. But she also uses negative motivation to her benefit. So if this also fits your personality, how can you use it to your advantage?
Again, here are some practical steps:
- Make a detailed Schedule and stick to it – spell out each day’s specific workout in advance
- Define your workout Goals for each day and the long-term
- Require yourself to make up workouts lost to circumstances you couldn’t control
In fact, you should do those last 3 points whether you’re using negative motivators or not.
The truth is, we need to use both the Positive and the Negative triggers to our advantage.
The key to your success is doing it consistently.
Often, the trick is simply getting past that first rep. However you can get yourself into the workout – and stay with your schedule – is a good way.
Just do it.
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