Naturally, we are likely to repeat activities that we enjoy. Our brains are wired that way, and there is no point in fighting it! You may be able to grit your teeth and do things you hate for a while, but you're much more likely to keep it going if you're having fun.
Studies show that about half of people who start exercising will quit after 6 months. That means that the other half continue exercising for more than 6 months! What makes the difference? Which group will you be in?
How Does Your Brain View Exercise?
When you enjoy exercising, your brain pairs the anticipation of exercise with pleasure, which motivates you to get on that treadmill. Sometimes we try to reason our way into exercise motivation: "I want to look great at the beach. I want to have the energy to keep up with my kids. I want to be able to eat more cookies." Our reasons for working out are separate from how we feel when we work out. Reminding ourselves of these long-term goals is helpful, but often these value-based motivations aren't enough to change our behavior at the moment.
Teach Your Brain That Exercise Can Be Fun
Finding a way to enjoy exercise may be the key to sticking with it long term. Enjoyment during exercise has been shown to have the greatest impact on our willingness to repeat the experience. In other words, enjoying your exercise is more important for your likelihood to continue than having a great list of reasons for why exercise is good for you. It's more important than the endorphins you feel when your workout is complete. It's even more important than the physical results you see when you stick with it. Exercise combined with fun is the most influential factor in continuing your workout plan.
This is not to say that clarifying your long-range goals is completely pointless. But if you constantly hate what you're doing, you'll have to fight with yourself to continue. Instead, focus on combining long-range goals with in-the-moment enjoyment. This is a great way to make sure you're in the group of those who continue working out past that 6-month drop-off.Exercise is for Pleasure-Lovers
Some people just seem to like pain. They may be motivated by challenge—training for a 10k, for example. Or, they may be motivated by watching their metrics tick up: “I shaved 4 seconds off my time!”
Other people avoid pain like the plague, and the discomfort they often feel when working out is a real detractor. There is something to be said about the "no pain, no gain" motto that Nike drilled into our psyches. Some people are amped up by that thought, but others hear that phrase and think to ourselves, "I guess there will be no gain because I really hate pain!"
The answer for us pleasure-lovers is this: find a way to make exercise fun. When people talk about exercise as "self-care," we may laugh and say, "More like self-inflicted pain!" But this may be because you've assumed that exercise is inherently un-fun.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear argues that we're not undisciplined, sloppy people if we have a hard time reaching our goals. And it's not that people who accomplish a lot are inherently more self-disciplined. It's that they make discipline easy for themselves. For example, if your goal is to keep working out through the winter, you can increase your likelihood of success by creating an environment that encourages running:
- Get out your workout gear the night before
- Move to Southern California (just kidding)
- Invest in great workout equipment for your home
Entertaining Fitness Equipment
Believe it or not, there is technology out there that can make workouts both easy and fun. They use the time-honored technique of distraction in order to help you get the job done.
Check out this console from Matrix. You'll be so entertained that you forget you're working out!
Treadmill and Elliptical Entertainment
Going for a run or watching TV doesn't have to be an either/or thing anymore. Having one of these treadmills for normal people—people who like pleasure more than pain—in your home is a great way to create an environment that's conducive to working out. Some things you can do on a Matrix console, for example, are:
- Track your calorie burning and heart rate
- Track distance, speed, and intensity metrics
- Watch Netflix or Hulu
- Connect with Bluetooth headphones to listen to Spotify
- Play card games or browse Facebook
- Post a selfie to Instagram
- Overcome another common obstacle by having workout plans pre-programmed into your console
Real-Life Virtual Rowing Experience
With the tech advances in today's equipment, you can enjoy some of the perks of working out at the gym or even outside, even when you're working out at home. For example, the Hydrow Rower is fitted with a large screen that takes you out on the water. You can choose from several on-screen experiences, including:
- A fitness instructor broadcasting live—join in on a class as it's happening elsewhere
- Pre-recorded classes, both in the studio and out on the water
- Gentle open-water sounds to simulate rowing at your own pace
One of the most compelling reasons to get a fitness mirror is to save space, which is one of the biggest obstacles to getting larger home fitness equipment. But these mirrors can also keep things fun. A fitness mirror gives you lots of options and lets you tailor workouts to the equipment you already have, such as kettlebells or resistance bands, as well as goals you've set. You can do virtual workouts with a class or even hire a personal trainer to lead you through individualized virtual workouts in real-time. Keep yourself visually engaged while working out, and you're much more likely to want to repeat the experience!
Practical Ideas For Staying Entertained on a Treadmill or Elliptical
When you've made working out as fun and as easy as possible, you are maximizing your likelihood of succeeding. Investing in home workout equipment with entertaining and engaging features is a worthwhile step for many people.
Do you realize that Netflix and Hulu have made working out longer so much easier? They deliberately make their shows binge-worthy. When you finish one 20-minute episode, it's really hard not to continue to the next. You may find yourself working out twice as long because you just have to find out what happens in episode 17!
Here are a few fun tips for combining TV/movies with working out.
- Choose a show you really like and only watch it while you're working out—this gives you something to look forward to!
- Make up games to go along with your show. For example, take the show The Good Place, most of which is currently on Netflix. Every time Chidi gets a stomachache, click your treadmill speed up a notch and keep it there for a minute. Or, take a swig of water every time Eleanor compliments her own attractiveness!
- Try watching a show with subtitles and add high-energy music in your headphones. You'll be combining the motivating power of music with the fun of watching a story unfold. This could be your chance to watch those foreign films you've been meaning to say you've seen.
Keep experimenting till you begin to associate exercise with fun. It can be "self-care"—if you're honest about what you really care about and what truly motivates you. Quit trying to teach yourself to like pain, and find ways to maximize the healthy pleasures in your workout routine. Have fun out there, everybody!