10 Mental Barriers to Exercise

I’m not a sports psychologist – or even a therapist focusing on sports or exercise issues. But I am an exerciser, and have fallen victim to quite a few excuses or reasons to not do it, in spite of intellectually knowing all the benefits of doing it.

I want to share with you 10 things I’ve learned along the way, both as a counselor helping men through their barriers to exercise ad self-care, and from my own experience – both in what works and what doesn’t – along my journey to health.

  1. Laziness: Do you consider yourself lazy with exercise? Do you hate it, or simply dislike doing it? A lot of people I talk with just simply don’t like exercising, or don’t want to do it, in spite of it’s myriad benefits for health and well-being. Identifying and dealing with the part of you that’s resistant, or defiant, to allowing yourself to exercise is important, if you want these benefits and a longer, healthier life.
  2. Not making it easy for yourself: I know that if the gym is too far away, I won’t go. I know that if I don’t get training help, it’ll make it that much harder to exercise, because I won’t necessarily do it on my own. Also, if I don’t have food and bottled water readily available before I go, it’s going to not give me the energy and hydration at hand that I need. So, how do you work? Do you know what needs to happen to create an ideal situation in which to exercise? Are you a morning person, or evening person? Do you like to exercise alone, or with others? Knowing what you need, and how you work best, will help “grease the wheel,” and get you doing it more, and more often.
  3. Why are you doing this? Exercising means something different to me in my 40’s than it did in my 20’s. Yes, it’s still about appearance, but now, it’s about having something to invest in my health for the long-term. I didn’t consider that as a younger guy, because I didn’t have my retirement in sights way back then. Some guys want better health so they can have more energy with their kids. Really consider your motivation, and why you want to exercise or workout in the first place. It has to come from deep inside of you, and the motivation has to be intrinsic (inside you) versus extrinsic (outside of you). If it’s extrinsic, it’s hard to keep up with it. It’s not going to be as sustainable if it doesn’t originate from within you.
  4. Excuses! I can come up with plenty of excuses to not exercise. What are yours? The weather? It’s too dark outside? List out the excuses you can come up with, and list out ways to combat each one. Tackle them one by one, until you’ve run out of them. And then execute your exercise plan.
  5. The Likability Factor: Can you find something to do, like racquetball or swimming, that you enjoy doing, or even kinda enjoy doing? If exercise becomes work, the chances are greater that you won’t do it, or will let it go. If it’s a hassle, or “something that I have to do,” forget it. You’re going to burn out. Finding some fun, engagement, or fulfillment in exercising is critical. I like to knock out audio reading my magazine while I walk the dog, and I get the sense of multitasking while I’m exercising, which motivates me. Can you find something like that?
  6. Negative self-talk: Telling yourself, “I don’t want to do this,” or “I can’t be consistent with this,” will actually come to fruition. If you shoot it down, or don’t generate positive or motivating thoughts, your exercise will burn out and you won’t want to do it. Explore the negative self-talk that’s getting in your way from achieving your exercise goals.
  7. Self-sabotage: It’s when you’re working against yourself in some way, whether it be defiance, through fear of success, or just plain stopping yourself from achieving your goals. If you think you may be self-sabotaging yourself, it may be worth some counseling time to uncover how you’re doing this, so you don’t have to work against yourself. Exercise is hard enough; you don’t need to add insult to injury if you’re self-sabotaging.
  8. Not rewarding yourself: Find a way to treat yourself or praise yourself for a job well done. That can be with a celebratory meal or drink at the end of a hard workout week, or little things through your week. I’ve found that food items are an easy and convenient way to treat myself, as long as it’s not taken overboard. Usually, one weekend meal “off” the plan can reward myself and keep myself going for the duration. It’s a goal to work for.
  9. Cognitive dissonance: It’s when you harbor two opposing or inconsistent thoughts about something, which creates problems in the behavioral part of doing something. You may think, “Man, I really want to work out,” and get stopped with, “I’d rather be lazy and not work out.” The friction between the two thoughts creates a stoppage, so to resolve the stoppage, the thoughts need to align so the behavior can then proceed.
  10. “Stop and Start”: I’ve mastered the “stop and start” of exercising. You know: you get motivated, you get to exercising or working out, and then you stop, either after you get tired of it, lose motivation or attain your short-term workout goals, like losing weight. It’s something I’ve mastered over the years, and have really remedied it by thinking about on meditating on what I really want, what my values are, and why I’m doing this. I want good health, so that I don’t gain weight, that I look good, and that I can be flexible and mobile in my 40’s and beyond. I get motivated thinking it’s like investing – it’s not fun or easy in the short term, but over the long term, I’ve reaped the benefits that I’ve worked hard at achieving.

You may be able to add your own mental barriers to this list, and please do. Email me if you have others that I’ve missed, or your own unique ones at jfierstein@mac.com. I hope this helps you at least map out the constellation of excuses so that you can see them coming, plan for them, and make them work for you so that you can have a good relationship with exercise for you and yours.

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About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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