Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How to Enjoy Your Workout

A therapy tactic that will help you not hate exercise.

You hit snooze four times, and finally drag yourself out of bed when the final alarm (captioned “Get your fat ass out of bed!!!”) begins to ring.

You hit the treadmill, still half asleep, and begin to mentally recite “I love to run. I love to run.” over and over for the duration of your 30-minute jog, in hopes that it may stick and become true.

What if we told you that this false sense of positivity was unnecessary, and that embracing the negative may actually help you suck it up and find the motivation to complete a task that you don’t necessarily want to.

A study published in Health Psychology looked at the effects of a form of talk therapy on exercise—witch encourages you to embrace the negativity of it all, ultimately helping people accept negative feelings and uncomfortable sensations. Both of which come in abundance during your early morning workout.

“Several recent studies suggest that this therapy, called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), can boost people’s physical activity levels and improve fitness in those who previously didn’t exercise at all,” LiveScience reported.

This particular study looked at 59 sedentary participants over a 12-week period and found that those who received a DVD that instructed them in ACT were four times more likely to meet exercise guidelines in Australia (taking 3,000 steps in 30 minutes, five days a week) than those who didn’t.

So how exactly does ACT achieve these promising results?

Rooted in the idea of mindfulness, ACT works by helping people understand and work through all the things they don’t like about exercise.

“Acceptance and commitment therapy has already been used to help people change other health behaviors, like smoking cessation, using smartphone apps, and this would be a really interesting next step, especially given how widely used this technology is today,” said Emily Cox-Martin, an assistant professor of medicine and clinical psychologist at the University of Colorado who conducted a separate 10-week study of ACT on sedentary adults.

Her study found that over a 10-week period, the sedentary participants using ACT completed almost all of the exercise sessions that they were asked to do (27 out of 30 sessions, on average). They also improved the time it took them to walk a mile by more than a minute, and increased their aerobic fitness level.

Another study that also looked at the effects of ACT found that “the discomfort associated with physical activity initiation can be a strong contributor to premature termination” of exercise, wrote researchers from Australian Catholic University and the University of Adelaide in the February 2015 issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology. “[ACT] allows the individual to tolerate discomfort, accept uncomfortable experiences, and facilitate progress towards goals.”

So how can you use it to get your ass out of bed and into the gym (in the least painful way)? Here’s how to put the therapy into practice the next time you’re suffering through a workout:

Be aware of your thoughts.

Most of time we try to silence that negative Nancy inside our heads, but now we’re telling you to do the opposite: acknowledge it. Hear that inner voice and be mindful of the fact that you’re catching certain feelings about being in a 7 a.m. abs class.

But see those thoughts as thoughts—not facts. 

I will never make it to the end of this class; I cannot possibly walk another mile; This is the worst thing ever. Yes, these are the thoughts running through your head. No, they are not facts. You can make it to the end of class, you can walk another mile, and your time in the gym is far from the worst thing ever. Out mind tends to think things into existence, but the truth is, our thoughts and reality are not always aligned. Recognizing this may just make it a tad easier to push through your workout—and make it more enjoyable.

Identify your core values.

Identifying the value, or meaning, behind a behavior may help people commit to that behavior, said Cox-Martin. Ask yourself: Why am I even in the gym right now? Do you need to lose weight for health reasons? Are you preparing to run a 5k or marathon? Are you trying to tone up for a vacation so that you can feel confident on the beach and enjoy yourself?  

Then see exercise as a way to help fulfill those core values. For example, if someone says they want to be stronger so they can play with their grandchild, “this indicates that being an active grandparent is important to them, and that value can then be connected to the behavior [exercise] in a way that facilitates its maintenance,” Cox-Martin told Live Science. Suddenly that time spent on the treadmill isn’t just an hour of torture, but a means to an end, like running a marathon with your best friend, having the confidence to hit the beach in a bathing suit, or lowering your cholesterol numbers.