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The secret to getting out there and exercising is getting out there and exercising

Submitted by on May 23, 2012 – 5:18 pm One Comment

By Dr Sarb Johal

Over the last few days, I discovered that I have mislaid the charging cable for my Garmin GPS training watch somewhere. Those who know me know that I usually take quite a scientific approach to my running, so this flummoxed me a bit and probably became a barrier to me getting out for a run on a couple of occasions. But it was a sunny afternoon with no wind (this is Wellington so this is uncommon), and I had time – I had to get out there. Coincidentally, I also saw this story recently on the Stuff NZ website, and it got me thinking.

What do people mean by mental strength, and how can it help us when it comes to exercising? One difference is the idea of intrinsic motivation – where the desire to exercise and keep fit comes from within and from enjoyment of the task, rather than external rewards. If you are extrinsically motivated, you can tend to complete the task at hand (a run or a workout), because you are told to do it rather than getting any enjoyment out of it. It made me ask myself: is what got me out there the thrill of checking my Garmin data at the end of the run, or the enjoyment of the run itself? People who are extrinsically motivated are also more likely to perform exercise to avoid feeling bad rather than feeling good. Not a great recipe for forming a good habit.

I heard a ‘story’ once about a man who was found by a friend pacing up and down the street outside their office on a Monday morning. ‘What are you doing?’, asked the friend. ‘I’m waiting for my motivation to show up …’, replied the man.

Not feeling like it can be one of the many barriers that we throw up in front of ourselves as blocks to what we want to do. My view is that motivation comes after action, not the other way around. If we hang around waiting for external factors to line up perfectly, then we have a great excuse to wait around forever. However, if we realize that the important part is action, we can choose when we want to do that. Here are some other barriers that often get in the way (and not just for exercising):

  1. I don’t have time to exercise. This is a good one, and one that I am prey to. Lack of time is one of the most popular excuses for skipping exercise. But squeezing in your workouts may not be as impossible as you think. Instead of watching TV for 30 minutes, put on your running shoes and get moving. Or, divide your exercise up into smaller 15 minute chunks — your body still gets mostly the same benefits.
  2. I’m too tired to exercise. When you’re feeling tired, it’s hard to get motivated to get up off the sofa and out the door. But going for a run will energise you and make you feel better. You may be tired because you have low blood sugar, so eat a snack or light mealat least an hour before running. If you find yourself feeling really tired as you start your run, start off by walking and then pick it up slowly. If you feel extremely tired all the time, get yourself checked out by a health professional.
  3. I’m just not motivated to run or workout. All runners go through some periods when they’re lacking motivation and feel like they are in a rut. This goes for other forms of exercise too. One smart way to get inspired to keep running is to find a running group, or join a group fitness class. When you know other people are counting on you to be at a workout, you’re more likely to show up. And the social interaction (and sometimes, competition) that comes with group training also help increase your reasons to turn up.
  4. It’s too cold (or hot), windy or rainy outside. There’s no such thing as bad weather — just bad clothes (or equipment or tools if we are talking about other activities). In other words, if you’re dressed properly and prepared to deal with less-than-ideal running weather, you can still go for a run — and actually enjoy it too.

Dr Sarb Johal is the Director of Equanimity Limited and Associate Professor of Disaster Mental Health at Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research. He spends quite a lot of his work time providing advice to the Ministry of Social Development and CERA on aspects of recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes. When not working, Sarb spends a bit of his time writing and running, though not at the same time. He has completed numerous half-marathons, 4 international marathons and 1 ultra-marathon from 2010-2012. He is a certified Leader in Running Fitness, and is also training to be a Personal Trainer. 

You can read more of his thoughts on health, wellbeing and mental fitness at

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One Comment »

  • Charlotte says:

    Damn! You’ve covered all my excuses … nearly, I still have the child-care excuse … but seriously I have to bribe my young son to come running with me (who would otherwise have to stay home alone, which is illegal) and sometimes I just don’t feel motivated enough to reach deep and inspire HIM to come …

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