So why do YOU work out? If you were to name for us your top reason for hitting the studio on a regular basis, we’re guessing your answer might have something to do with getting stronger or keeping your weight at a desirable level. Perhaps the fact that exercise reduces stress or makes you feel great might make the top of the list for some of you, too. However, how many of you could honestly say that you exercise because you CRAVE it?
Is that even possible? Sure, the endorphins you get from exercising are great, but are they enough to actually get you to crave exercise – much the way that one craves good food? On the heels of the ambitious season of New Year’s resolutions (and the sadly common subsequent dropping of said resolutions), we wanted to explore how you can actually make yourself yearn for exercise.
Cravings form in our brains in a two-step process.
First, our brain releases dopamine when we think of a specific item we want (say, chocolate cake), making us believe that we’ll be able to get gratification from that item. Our desire for that luscious cake drowns out the sensible part of our brain that helps us consider our long-term goals, and how indulging in the gooey chocolaty goodness on a frequent basis may not jive with what we ultimately want for ourselves.
Next, our brain causes our body to release stress hormones, causing slight anxiety and discomfort that we believe will be appeased only by giving in to the craving. Tricky, right?
The key to replacing bad cravings with good ones, such as exercise, lies in attaching the promise of reward to the habit we want to create. Basically, if we believe that exercise will make us happy, then we’ll start to yearn for it.
Start by paying attention to how you feel in the 10 minutes after you’ve indulged in an undesirable craving. Pay close attention, also, to how you feel after hitting a tough HITT workout. One makes you feel sloth-like, guilty, and tired; while the other makes you feel empowered and energized, right?
You could even make a few detailed notes the next time you make one decision over another to help you remember for the next time you’re at a decision crossroads. Your notes might look something like this:
”The first bite of cake tasted SO good. However, by the time I got to the 6th or 7th bite it didn’t taste as great. And then an hour later at work I nearly fell asleep at my desk. I felt really upset with myself, and felt like I sabotaged the hard work exercising I put in yesterday.”
“That workout started out really difficult, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the whole thing. Then, when it was done I felt GREAT – strong and healthy and powerful. And even though I was physically tired, I was mentally sharp for the rest of the day.”
Try also tying your craving for exercise into a set part of your daily schedule. Much like the way you might look forward to a beer at the end of the week or Saturday night pizza, you can train your brain to happily anticipate exercise before breakfast or right after work. You can place visual cues to help you – like, say, putting your gym clothes in the bathroom the night before, or keeping your athletic shoes on the seat of your car. Then, when you see them, train yourself to dwell on how AWESOME you’ll feel after completing your workout.
Cravings don’t always have to be negative. If you can train your brain to crave exercise enough to get here, once you’re in the studio we’ll do our part to make sure you get fitter, stronger, and feel great afterwards.