How many times have we promised ourselves to workout but it just doesn’t happen?
I don’t know about you but that happened to me all the time.
And there are countless times when something ‘more important in life happens and I just shovel the idea of working out to the bottom of the list.
But over time, I had to find a way to get it done, to add movement and physical exercise into my daily routine.
What made the difference? I learned more about the neuroscience of how my brain works. That helped me to follow through on making myself workout.
So in this post, I’ll share these tips with you. But first, let’s take a closer look at how the brain works in general.
Exercising and how our brains work
Dopamine is the part of our brain responsible for changing our moods based on substances.
Think of how we feel when we consume sweets, alcohol, drugs, or even have sex. That feeling is at its core a dopamine response.
A common chemical neurotransmitter, when dopamine gets into the brain’s pathway, it seeps into the emotion, pleasure, and memory parts of the brain.
It’s also critical in learning, forming new memories, and rewarding our actions.
Let’s consider drugs for a moment.
Drugs can increase the amount of dopamine by up to 10 times. This reduces the natural amounts of dopamine the brain releases over time.
So why is all this important if you want to make yourself work out consistently? Stay with me because it gets better.
How to make exercising easier and consistent
Here’s the thing: if you want to make yourself workout or exercise, you can take advantage of the brain’s reward circuitry. Do it the same way dopamine does!
You can pair the desirable behavior of exercising with a reward. The reward from the brain is to reinforce choices that help us survive.
A paired reward will make you feel good about working out. But it doesn’t end there.
Over time with reinforcement, the bond gets stronger and almost natural. Associate a reward you want with the action you want to take.
The importance of rewarding yourself for working out
So if you want to make yourself workout consistently, pair that action with a reward.
For example, when you finish a 15 mins exercise, reward yourself with dark chocolate (yes it’s healthy!) at lunchtime.
Or when you exercise for five consecutive days, reward yourself with your favorite take-out (looking at you, vodka sauce pizza).
Over time, you’re conditioned to associate the reward with exercising.
There are 3 things to be mindful of when choosing the reward:
- Convenient. Choose a reward with close enough proximity. A reward too far out becomes less attractive. Don’t use your vacation next year as a reward. Pick a reward that can serve you in the next few hours or days.
Part of convenience is physical access. You should be able to access this reward easily, preferably without travel.
- Affordable. Choose a reward you can afford. The goal is to be able to sustain this habit over time. Expensive rewards can drain your wallet over time. Nobody wants an expensive habit.
- Sustainable. does the reward have a positive effect in the long run? Think 3 to 5 years from now. If you can sustain that paired reward and habit, skip it. The goal is to be able to maintain consistency and exercise each day, consistently.
Committing to working out consistently is easier said than done. But the good news is you lean into the brain’s natural way of working.
Don’t fight dopamine. Embrace it. Let it work for you this time.
It’s critical to learn about yourself in this process and know what makes you happy. And use that as a reward.