Why do we talk ourselves out of exercise? (even when we know it’s good for us)

Are you one of those people who recognizes the benefits of exercise, enjoys it when you do it, plans to do more, and yet still talks yourself out of it when the moment comes?

You are not alone.

Our brains are very good at coming up with lots of plausible reasons not to exercise. Here are just a few. See if you recognize any:

  • I’m too busy with work today
  • I’m feeling a bit tired
  • I’m worried if I take too long I’ll be late getting back for …..
  • It looks a bit windy out
  • It looks a bit cold out
  • It looks like it might rain
  • I could probably just go tomorrow

Everything on this list is simply a thought. These are thoughts that commonly spring up just before setting out to exercise (There are lots more!) If your intention is to exercise, then we can classify these as “negative” thoughts. These thoughts are working against your wishes and preventing you from doing something you want to do.

“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones”

Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist

This famous quote by neuroscientist, Rick Hanson, perfectly encapsulates why we should take our thinking in these situations with a pinch of salt.

The mind is designed to hold on to negative thinking. The evolutionary purpose of this is for our protection and survival. Our brains are designed to warn us away from danger and threats, and thus is on high alert to spot the things it thinks we shouldn’t do.

This is very useful if you need to avoid the valley where dangerous predators live, but not so helpful if you’d like to go for a 20 minute walk and your primitive brain feels threatened by the chance of rain in the sky.

Evolution has not caught up with the modern world.

At a conscious level we know the huge benefits of regular physical activity, but at a primitive level we want to feel safe and warm in our cave.

Only food and sex are likely strong enough urges to tempt us outside!

So what can we do about it?

Well first of all an understanding of what’s really going on does help. Understanding that it’s not just you and you’re not just being lazy. This is basic human programming. You’re being human.

When we accept we are not at fault we can stop the self-criticism and beating ourselves up. None of that helps. Instead we can deal with the real issue and find better ways to support and motivate ourselves.

It’s important to recognize that putting positive thinking at the front of our minds (the thoughts that will encourage physical activity), may take a little effort. At least until those thoughts become more habitual. But, the good news is that our minds are extremely adaptable (even into older age) and a little concerted effort can really tip the balance. So that when the time for exercise comes, we feel motivated and ready to go.

If you would like to begin working through your thought obstacles around exercise, and train your mind to see the positives more often, you can begin with my free guide “The Introductory Guide to Active Wellbeing”, available to download here.

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