Why it’s so difficult to stick to a daily exercise routine and what to do about it

It’s messed up really-The way we sabotage ourselves.

Our body fights change while our minds wage war against what will make us feel best in the long run. We should have evolved from this by now, but this is the truth. We are using the same excuses that have been around for years. Even worse, today there is so much information around the benefits of movement. Yet here we are…still sabotaging ourselves.

have you ever wondered?

Why do I have to put forth so much effort to do the things that I know are the best for me? 

Why do I fight the very things that I know will bring me the most joy in the long run? 

Why do I make completely irrational decisions every single day?

Let me elaborate...

When we are unhappy in a career, many often stay stuck doing the same thing for years and settle for unhappiness. 

We procrastinate, knowing it’s not going to produce the best outcome. 

We stay in bed when the alarm goes off, knowing we should go for that run. 

We take the escalator, knowing we should take the stairs.

We drink the extra glass of wine, knowing we will feel it in the morning.

We spend the money, knowing we should save.

We eat the dessert, knowing it isn’t good for our health.

The bottom line is that humans instinctually take the easy route as often as we can.

the three parts of our brain

Our brains are broken into three sections. While not the medical terms, we are going to call them, the old brain, the midbrain and the new brain.

The old brain handles everything related to our survival. 

The midbrain deals with our emotions.

The new brain is where we process logic and reasoning.

Since we use logic and reasoning every single day, we have a close relationship with our “new brain”. Unfortunately though, so much of what makes us do the things we do happens unconsciously. It is the unconscious parts of our brain that process data from our environments and determines whether it is good or bad. This is unfortunate for us because most of our decision making takes place without our awareness, meaning that we often aren’t in much control. More often than not, our old brains highjack reason and drive illogical decision making, working against what is best for us.

the process of making decisions

It is not our natural inclination to exercise daily, so let’s talk about what happens when we trying to implement the habit of daily exercise.

Your old brain is constantly looking for comfort, so no matter what you are doing, it is almost guaranteed to find comfort anywhere other than a difficult, sweaty workout. It could be the comfort that your bed brings when you alarm goes off in the morning. Or it could be the satisfaction that a glass of wine brings when work is over. The point is that our old brain is programmed to seek out comfort.

Meanwhile, our midbrain is playing on our emotions, trying to convince us of all the emotional rewards that come from giving in to our instinctual laziness. It feels good to stay in bed. There is pleasure at the bottom on the bottle. Albeit temporary, our brains aren’t looking beyond the moment. There is no doubt that when we look at exercise on an emotional level, we can quite literally talk ourselves out of any workout because exercise and comfort do not coexist.

While our old brain and midbrain are waging war against our wellbeing, our new brain is trying to use logic by calculating the health benefits of exercise.

Communication between the old and new brain is mostly concerned with risk and reward, but specifically instant reward. Our emotional brain wants instant gratification while out logical brain knows that on a health level, we should go for that run.

Doomed or not?

Because we are so programmed to seek out instant gratification, nine times out of ten, comfort will take the win. But we don’t have to let our unconscious be in control.  No doubt, this does pose significant hurdles for someone wanting to make exercise a part of their daily routine. But it isn’t the end-all. And you aren’t doomed by your old brain. We have free will and will power in our favor.

Here are a four things I do to trick the parts of my brains that  want comfort over success that I believe can help you too.

People are more inclined to stay consistent to working out when done in a social setting. Some of the most well-known exercise routines take place in group settings. Think marathons, triathlons, jazzercise, yoga…all these are done with community. Try a local group workout class. Not only do they offer accountability but also socialization.

Our emotions are extremely powerful. When our emotions are strong enough, they can trump any logic or reasoning. So, if you want to create the habit of regular exercise, add the element of emotion. Attach a reason to the habit you want to create. This could be tying the emotional response of what it will feel like to be able to go to the beach in a bikini this summer. Or maybe it’s the relief of buttoning your jeans with ease. Or the confidence you will get when you wave to a friend without your arm waving too. Maybe it’s for health and the desire to finally get your BMI down. Whatever it is for you, find an emotion big enough to make you stick to it.

I am a huge fan of schedules. A schedule keeps you on track, consistent and holds you accountable. When you schedule an hour of your day specifically for exercise and treat that hour like it is an important appointment, you plan for success. This method makes it more difficult for your brain to try to talk you out of getting it done.

Sometimes there is nothing that will work like getting in there and showing up. Be in the room. If I’m not in the mood to do a workout, I commit to just doing it for 10 minutes. After I’m 10 minutes in, I’m usually able to convince myself to finish the workout, even if it’s not my best. Showing up is always better than doing nothing.

Final Thoughts

Let’s come out and be honest about the fact that any time there is change, it is grueling, exhausting and intimidating. There often aren’t rewards in the beginning. You just have to start. There will always be powerful temptations. Don’t get down on yourself if you miss a day, two, a week, a month, a year. Remember that what you do today is all that matters. Show up today because all things that are worth doing are worth suffering for.

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