We’ve all been there. You hear the word “exercise” or “workout” and you instantly start dreaming of your sofa and fuzzy slippers. Just the thought of breaking a sweat instead makes you break out in hives. Maybe you’re intimidated, maybe you’re exhausted, maybe you’re just not feeling it.
Whatever the case may be, exercise is a crucial part of being a healthy human. If the concept of exercising sends you into fight or flight mode, there’s a hack for that.
You simply call it something else.
It’s all about tricking your brain so your body can do what you need it to do to stay healthy. There’s no right or wrong way to exercise, and you can call it whatever you want. As long as you are moving your body, everyone wins.
How does it work? It’s not exactly signing up for a 5am boot camp and calling it a “spa day” hoping that your willpower won’t resist. Your brain is smarter than that. Here’s how to do it.
How to Trick Your Brain into Liking Exercise
It’s all about mind over matter. Sometimes our brains can be our biggest bullies. We know what we need to do but as soon as our brains hear something we don’t like, it acts like the playground bully and stops you from doing what you should.
That’s okay – two can play that game.
Instead of using the term exercise or movement, trick your brain into exercising by using other words that it likes.
Simple Ways to Work Movement into your Day
You’re probably thinking, ‘how am I going to trick my brain when I know what exercise is and isn’t?’
Incorporate movement into your day without calling it exercise. Here are a few simple ideas anyone can incorporate into their day:
- Walk your dog. (Bonus points if your dog likes to run!)
- Do yoga poses while watching TV
- Play tag with your kids at the park
- Invest in a bike desk or treadmill desk
- Join a pickup game of soccer, baseball, or any other sport with friends after work
- Start a ‘steps’ competition with friends to get your mileage in each day
- When your neighbors are moving furniture, offer to help
- Get your hands dirty in the garden
- Take “brain breaks” at work in between meetings, up out of your seat. If they involve kettlebells, even better!
- Attach movement to routines you already have in place with habit stacking
You might be thinking that these practices aren’t legitimate workouts— that they don’t “count” as real exercise.
Taken alone, maybe not, but you’ll notice yourself getting fitter and stronger the more you incorporate.
How Tricking your Brain into Exercising Works
You may think it’s silly to call a workout session something else – you know what you’re doing, so why bother?
It’s all about tricking that bully of a mind you have. When your brain perceives something as ‘bad,’ your brain automatically makes it worse than you already feel. If you don’t like exercising, the minute you hear the word, you’ll feel like everything within you shuts down. It’s like your brain thinks it’s a threat.
But, if you talk about walking the dog, playing with your kids, or even parking far, you’re doing something you love. You want to take care of your dog, you love playing with your kids, and you love your car, so parking far protects it. Your brain doesn’t have to know that your body is benefitting from each of these tasks – all it knows is that you feel good, and it does too.
Tricking your brain also helps you focus on the rewards versus the ‘work’ involved in the work out.
Let’s say you play soccer with your kids. What’s the reward?
You spent time with your kids, you probably had fun, and there may even have been some laughter. If family time is important to you, then you’ll feel accomplished and happy as you focus on that rather than on the fact that you ran up and down the field 10 times.
How Much Should You ‘Trick’ Yourself?
You know you need 30 minutes of exercise a day at least 5 days a week, so trick your brain as often as you can.
The more exercise you can get in at once, the better, but if you have to use the parking far trick or you incorporate taking the stairs instead of the elevator, you should make sure your ‘tricks’ add up to 30 minutes or more a day.
Exercise doesn’t have to be something you dread. If your brain is getting in the way of giving your body what it needs, take it out of the equation.
Remove the word ‘exercise’ from your vocabulary and instead call it whatever will make you feel happy. Our brain naturally gets excited when we think we’re getting rewarded. Even though exercise truly is a reward for your body, your brain doesn’t think so, but tricking it will get you the movement your body and mind need to stay healthy and strong.