You Got This: How to Persevere When You Don’t Really Feel Like It


There’s nothing like the hopeful promise of a new fitness plan. If we’re lucky, there’s a new shirt or shoes involved. Maybe an update to the water bottle. But then reality sets in and we have to show up for the hard part—doing the workouts, executing the plan. No matter how motivated we are, or how soon we expect to see results, or how fantastic that new shirt is (and it is), … we still need to put in the work.

And the work can be downright hard.

So how do we push through? And can we—dare I say it—even hope to enjoy the hard yards? Or must we grin and bear it until we hit our goal?

Like a kid facing down a plate of lima beans at dinner, we could just hold our noses and get on with it. But experts agree the fitness programs that work are the ones we enjoy enough to keep on doing. So we need strategies that not only help us get through but also get into the hard work.

Do your future self a solid


If you know you’re in for a hard workout, make showing up as easy and as frictionless as possible. This might mean a big initial setup—like choosing a gym that’s on your way home from work rather than the one across town. Or it can be a smaller thing, like keeping your gym bag in the car or setting out your workout clothes the night before. The key is deciding to stick to your workout ahead of time. So when you’re tired after work, you can spend your energy in BODYPUMP rather than finding your sneakers.

Buddy up


Study after study shows the benefits of a workout buddy. A buddy can bring out our competitive fire and push us to work harder. Or teamwork and camaraderie can support us through a challenge. So why go it alone? Hire a trainer, take group classes or get together with your friends to make it happen.

Reframe it


“Hard fun” is a term coined by the late mathematician and education expert Seymour Papert to describe the phenomenon that “everyone likes hard, challenging things to do. But they have to be the right things matched to the individual and to the culture of the times.” Papert argued that fun wasn’t synonymous with easy; people find activities fun because they are challenging. When approaching a tough workout or exercise, can you find the hard fun?

Flag your trouble spots


Psychology and goal-setting science tell us that people who think about potential obstacles to achieving their goals do a better job overcoming them. We can apply this to our workouts—what are the extra-hard parts? It may be tempting to say “the whole damn thing!” But look a little closer and you might find a specific trouble spot. For instance, I know that if I’m doing something for 10 reps, No. 7 will be hardest and 8, 9, 10 will be no problem. For a 50-rep set, everything in the 30s will seem terrible, but 40 to 50 will be smooth sailing. Knowing these sticking points are coming helps me get ready to push past them.

Let it be hard


Perspective is everything, and there are many approaches to cultivating the right mindset. One of the simplest hacks is to acknowledge that you’re about to do something difficult. Researchers found that people persevere longer on tasks described as difficult than they do on tasks described as easy. The theory is we’re more willing to try (and perhaps fail) at something we know other people found hard, too.

Aim for better (not perfect)


New fitness goals make it easy for us to plan on being perfect. We’ll spend 30 days perfectly executing our perfect workouts to build a perfect habit. But all this perfection makes us more likely to give up when we act like our imperfect selves. Instead, let’s favor reality by aiming to do a little better every day instead of a lot of perfect all at once.

Take small bites


We can break a big goal into smaller, easier-to-manage goals to give us a better chance at succeeding. So why not transfer this strategy to the workout level? We can break down the workout into smaller steps. Get dressed. Warm up. Set 1. Set 2. This has three pretty cool effects. One, it turns a big scary workout into a simple to-do list. Two, it seems less scary because we can bail out at any point. No pressure, zero threat. And three, there’s a physiological benefit here. Getting dressed can put us in a workout mindset, making it easier for us to say “OK” to warming up. Warming up makes us feel good, so we’re more likely to go ahead with the workout when we get there!

If you can work through the hard parts, exercise can go from being “something you have to do to something you want to do.” But if all else fails, remember what the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt says: “You can do anything for 10 seconds!”

Video by: Videoblocks
Photo by: nd3000, Thinkstock; gpointstudio, Thinkstock; jacoblund, Thinkstock; Flamingo Images, Adobe Stock; Jacob Ammentorp Lund, Thinkstock; imtmphoto, Thinkstock; DragonImages, Adobe Stock