In Part 1 of this series, we explored how the Motivational Triad described in the book The Pleasure Trap has driven the way humans have made decisions since the beginning of their existence.  The triad states that humans a) seek pleasure, b) avoid pain and c) are driven by energy efficiency.  These drivers can sometimes work against us in our modern world full of desk jobs and fast food, but there are ways that we can turn them into motivators for regular exercise and good nutrition.

Today we will focus on the second factor, avoiding pain, and how we can use this to boost our motivation to exercise more consistently.  Exercise is often painful or at the very least uncomfortable.  How then to use the pain avoidance to help us?  Here are some tips:

  • Start at the beginning.  To avoid frustration and burnout, don’t try to take on too much when you first start a workout regimen.  Try something low impact, but make sure to do it regularly so that you develop the habit of making time to exercise.  Then steadily increase the intensity over time and keep track of your progress.  You’ll get stronger and be more satisfied, without the pain associated with tackling too much too soon.
  • Choose a workout related to something you love.  Just like choosing a career path, if you choose a field that is close to what you are naturally drawn to, you will be more likely to enjoy it and stick with it long term.  Think about what you like to do for fun—or perhaps what you enjoyed doing when you were younger.  Do you like to dance?  Then try a group fitness class.  Did you ride a bike as a child?  Maybe spinning is right for you.  Perhaps you would rather sit on the sofa and watch football?  Then a sports-based or competition-based fitness program such as Crossfit or various bootcamp-style workouts may be your best choice.
  • Take the time to understand the long-term benefits of exercise.  Not exercising regularly is a high risk behavior.  It increases our risk of numerous diseases (not the least of which are cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia) and accelerates aging and the onset of frailty.  Remembering that working out now will prevent pain down the road can be a good motivator to sticking with your workout.
  • Create a distraction.  Running on a treadmill or lifting weights with nothing else to think about can be down right grueling.  But with all of the portable devices now available at our fingertips, there are lots of ways to engage your brain to get your mind off of the burn.  Watch a movie or television show on your tablet or go to a gym that has TVs, listen to your favorite music, audio books, or join a group fitness class where there is upbeat music and an instructor to motivate and entertain you.
  • Get over the guilt of taking time to exercise.  We feel justified in taking work home in the evenings and working on the weekends, yet feel guilty about taking an hour during the day, or getting to work a half hour later to fit in a workout.  Time spent on exercise is an investment in your health and your performance at work.  You will work smarter and better if you exercise.  So create a list of justifications for your workout and get over the guilt.
  • Use your workout time as work time.  Often the biggest barrier to consistent exercise is lack of time, so why not use workout time to rehearse a presentation or come up with a creative solution to a problem you are dealing with.  Research shows that exercise enhances creativity both during and after aerobic exercise.  Some of your best thinking and problem solving can be done while doing a run or swim.  Getting away from the distractions of the office can allow you to get in a different space and thereby gain a new perspective on things.
  • Get to the point where if you don’t exercise you just don’t feel good!  This is the best form of pain avoidance.  You exercise because you don’t like not being at your best mentally and physically.  Life, after all is too short to not feel good.

What other ways can you think of to avoid pain with exercise?

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