If you have read many of my posts, you already know that I hate aerobic exercise – commonly referred to as cardio. I incorporate my cardiovascular training into my strength training program and also finish most days with a bout of cardio. This is doable. And is my level of fitness adequate? Yes – but I will not be running a marathon anytime soon!
Tuesdays and Thursdays are designated as my aerobic fitness days. I begin each workout with a warm up and maybe some core (this is what entices me to get to the gym). The bulk of my work is done in aerobic intervals. I can stay on a treadmill 5X longer if I am doing intervals than if I do a steady state.
And when I want to quit, which is often with cardio, I tell myself that after my workout I can treat myself to a coffee. Mind you – I do drink black coffee and I allow myself to drink it whenever I want it so the concept of it being a true reward is mute. Somehow, this works for me. While doing my intervals this morning, I thought I should make a sign, WILL WORK FOR COFFEE.
Why it works
There are multiple explanations for why my process works. I trick my own mind! I use strategies and mental skills to keep my head in the game! The most important? Goal setting.
Intervals = Task goals
We can improve motivation through goal setting (Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996; Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). While we often think of outcome goals (e.g., long-term goals) as big dreams or milestones that can only be achieved in time – those are certainly outcome goals – equally important are incremental goals. Some of these may be smaller outcome goals and some may be minute task or process goals. Each week, my Tuesday and Thursday workouts are outcome goals. And I set task goals that allow me to reach the outcome goal – completing the workout. Let me explain.
Because I do not enjoy cardio, it makes it hard to make it to the gym in the first place. Therefore, I begin my workout with something that I enjoy. Lately, I have been practicing headstands and handstands – which I thoroughly enjoy. I WANT to do my practicing and I have to go to the gym to do it. Once I am at the gym, I might as well put in the work! I’m warmed up and get right into my intervals, somedays :60/:90, some :30/:30, and so on. Honestly, the time split doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that I think about getting it done one interval at a time. My mind is usually fighting me and I ask myself, why am I doing this again? So I start, telling myself that I will do half of my intervals and then reassess the situation. So,
- outcome goal = 8 intervals
- incremental goal = 4 intervals (reassess)
- task goals = each interval
More often than not, by the time I have completed half of my intervals, I am pumped on adrenaline and working to the end is no longer an issue. And as a woman true to her word, and will not quit. I will not be stopped!
Short-term goals MUST be established. Short-term task goals will help increase self-efficacy and enhance sense of self-worth through the reinforcement of accomplishments (Hall, Kerr, Kozub, & Finnie, 2007; Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). Further, the use of task goals can encourage flexibility for those of us who normally retain a rigid approach to attaining perfection (Hall, Kerr, Kozub, & Finnie, 2007).
Related to goal setting strategies is self-regulation. Kirschenbaum (1984) defines self-regulation as
“the processes by which people manage their own goal-directed behaviors
in the relative absence of immediate external constraints.”
Self-regulation generally requires five stages: problem identification, commitment, execution, environmental management, and generalization (Kirschenbaum, 1984). And you may find it beneficial to journal or log your personal stages. For example, I
- have identified a problem of disliking aerobics,
- have committed to a desire to change,
- will execute change through various workouts,
- have enforced that my workouts (including my headstands) must be completed at the gym, and
- will eventually apply what I learn to other generally difficult situations.
The reward system?
I motivate myself with the reward of coffee. But this is not a true reward. I would have had my coffee whether I had worked out or not. You see, I simply cannot function without coffee. So, what have I done here to improve my motivation?
I have ignited the reward center of my brain by placing pleasurable bookends on both ends of something I find aversive. We do not like everything that we do in life. Sometimes we just do things because we have to. Other times we choose to do things because we know the pleasurable outcome.
A bit about rewards
I want to advise against using food or drink as a reward. Hypocrite? A cup of black coffee contains 5 calories and caffeine has been shown to provide numerous post-workout benefits. If coffee works as a reward for you – that is the only exception I will allow! The problem with using food as a reward? If you are working towards adopting a healthy lifestyle, your reward of food becomes equally pleasurable and aversive. You have now confused your mind! (As if we do not have enough confusion in life!)
You are used to eating after your workout? Good, you should. Make it a planning and allotted for snack or meal! That is not a reward.
Plus, there are so many pleasures in life beyond food!!
I WILL work for coffee. The chances are, I would do more work for more coffee – but that is another post. I have some challenges for you. Are you ready?
- Find at least one exercise or activity that you LOVE.
- Incorporate that love into EACH and EVERY workout.
- Set a daily goal – and possibly task goals within that goal.
- Reward yourself for every goal you complete – large or small.
Hall, H. K., Kerr, A, W., Kozub, S. A., & Finnie, S. B. (2007). Motivational antecedents of obligatory exercise: The influence of achievement goals and multidimensional perfectionism. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8, 297–316.
Hardy, L., Jones, G., & Gould, D. (1996). Understanding psychological preparation for sport. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Kirschenbaum, D. (1984). Self-regulation and sport psychology: Nurturing an emerging symbiosis. Journal of Sport Psychology, 6(2), 159-183.
Wilson, K., & Brookfield, D. (2009). Effect of goal setting on motivation and adherence in a six-week exercise program. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 7, 89-100.