Mind for Life

A colourful rainbow coloured Slinky toy

The ONLY gym exercise I do… and all the others too.

In 1943 the US navy had a problem. When naval vessels rocked about on the rough seas the shipboard instruments would get damaged or break calibration. This could be catastrophic as the United States was in the height of the second world war and equipment repairs could take days or weeks. It was for this reason that naval engineer Richard T James was investigating the different compositions of springs to counteract this problem when he accidentally knocked one of the springs off the shelf. However, instead of the spring falling to the floor, the spring amazingly walked from the shelf, down a stack of books, to a table top and finally rested on the ground. It was this day the ‘Slinky’ was born and today has gone on to be one of the best known toys across the world.

When it is time to go to the gym does your brain begin to come up with excuses not to go? Are you amazed that even though you are focused on going your mind can start to wear you down by throwing out theory after theory about why what you intend to do is not the thing you should do? And that it happens over and over again? What excuses have you told yourself to stop you from going to the gym and working out? I’ve talked myself out of going because I might be tired to do something important the next day, going to the gym may make it harder for me to get to sleep that night, I can skip going to the gym if I absolutely promise myself that instead I will clean or do a project that up until that moment I didn’t have the motivation to do. But I discovered if I just did one simple gym exercise then that is all I had to do and that was it!

Simple, right?

Getting fitter has a lot of rules, form is more important than weight, incrementally increasing resistance builds muscle, raising your heart rate during exercise will help with fat loss, but none of this means a thing without the ultimate rule of any exercise. Consistency. By building consistency in your routines, that voice in your head begins to fade, not entirely, but it will be less likely to overpower you. Your body, which is less erratic and more reliant on routine, will come to expect the workout that you have been doing and will back up your decision to go. In essence, consistency builds willpower.

You may not consider willpower to be a part of yourself that you can build by going to the gym, but it can be the most important exercise that you do. You don’t believe going to the gym is a gym exercise? Mirriam-Webster describes exercise as ‘bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness’. It takes considerable effort, both mental and physical, to break out of old habits. It takes even more effort to do it consistently. And the act of going to the gym is the most fundamental gym activity you can do to develop and maintain physical fitness (quite literally).

So what can be done to increase gym attendance?

  1. Think of the act of going to the gym as an exercise in itself rather than the prelude of working out.
    You’re at home. It’s seven o’clock. You’re tired and watching TV sounds a whole lot better than moving. But when you think of going to the gym, what are you really thinking about? Are you thinking of the small acts of getting yourself from point A to point B or are you imagining the whole routine? Changing your clothes, getting to the gym, your first routine, the second, what people are thinking about, are they staring at you, how you will feel, your exhaustion, the trip back? That is a lot that is going through your head at one time, no wonder your mind is so good at wearing you down. Instead, think of one action and only one action. Get to the gym. Not the exercises you might do when you get there, not how you will feel, not the image of the machine you will use to make you tired. By thinking about going to the gym as the entire and ONLY exercise gives you something simple to achieve.
  2. Break down the steps.
    This is your exercise routine to focus on. Break down the steps into everything that you need and make sure you have them ready. You wouldn’t go for a swim without your bathing suit (would you?), so make the process all part of the same workout. Make this as simple and small as possible. All you need to do is to get dressed (or pack your bag) and get there (transportation). If you need to get changed at the gym, then make that part of the routine too. Once you have done it that is the entire exercise. Congratulations!
  3. Make the process as easy as possible.
    You’ve heard the saying ‘No pain, No gain’? That comes later, right now your saying is ‘let’s just get this over with’. Doing this one exercise does not need to be hard, in fact the easier you make it, the better. Do you have to make sure that you have the pass to get in the gym? Then leave your pass in your gym pocket. Do you need money? If not forget about it or keep a few bills with your card? Do you need to bring a towel, have two towels on the ready one that you bring with you and one that you will wash and then alternate. Do you walk to the gym? What is the most leisurely way to get there? Can you listen to music to keep you going? The less you think the easier it will be.
  4. Believe this is the ONLY exercise.
    When you tell yourself that you will only do this one exercise, actually believe it is true. If you get there and don’t want to go on, you are free to make that choice. You have the option to go straight home again. Let whether you work out be a different decision. Your brain knows when you are lying to yourself. I think it might have someone on the inside!
  5. Do a trial run.
    The first time you do this just go to the gym, walk in the door, look around and walk straight out again then go home. Let it sink in this is all there is too it. At any point in future I can go home, I only need to do this ONE thing!

A small shift in perception can create huge a shift in momentum

Remember the slinky? It sat at the top of the stairs, unmoving. It takes just a gentle push and the energy that sat there within itself begins to flow. You too will see amazing things when you move like the slinky. When you finish your one rep of going to the gym you stand there and be faced with a new decision, do I go in or do I go home? You have taken going to the gym out of the equation, the biggest mental blocker for most people. Your mind will have to reevaluate the position you are in and momentum is in your favour. You may think that nothing I have said has changed the process, you are still doing all the exact steps as before, no more effort has been done to achieve the same result. You are absolutely right. Nothing has changed, except the way that you look at the process. By looking at the act of going to the gym as an all inclusive exercise without further follow up, your focus has shifted and made the rest of the overall process easier to evaluate.  

On a personal level, since I changed the way that I have viewed going to the gym, I’ve been able to increase my sessions with less push back from myself. Is it perfect? no, I still am able to talk myself out going sometimes, but sometimes that slinky stops half way too, and I’ve already seen that momentum. I have never met anyone who could pick up that half finished slinky run and pack it away, they want to see it finish, and so they give it that extra push. When I have gotten to the gym, not once have I turned around and gone home, although I have given myself that choice. Instead I usually say, if I say anything, is ‘Well I’m here now, I guess I can do a five minute walk on the treadmill, I can go home at any time, right’?  Then after that, ‘Well I guess I’m here I guess I can do a little bit more and it would be a shame to go home now, going home would be too much effort’. Then later it’s ‘actually I don’t feel as lazy as I used to maybe just one more of my exercises’, until finally it is, ‘Hey, I can’t believe I did all that! Good for me! Now let’s go home, I’m pooped, but in a good way’! Sometimes I even look forward to going to the gym, that would of been unthinkable before.

So the next time you are sitting down, comfortable, contemplating putting on your bunny slippers and mentally wrestling yourself out of going to the gym, just think of yourself as that slinky at the top of the stairs and give yourself that tiny push. Its amazing the way those things move!

A Slinky moving down an escalator


What other motivational tips do you have to get to the gym? Do you listen to a particular playlist? Do you tell yourself something to inspire you? I would love to know to keep me going?

Please share in the comments below.

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