No matter how many times I get proof that working out makes me feel better, I still want to skip most workouts. I’m not immune to this annoying phenomenon because I’m a trainer. I’ve just figured out how to over-ride the voice in my head that shows up about an hour before my workout and tells me, very persuasively, why I should ditch it.
So, why does my brain seem to hate working out? The part of my brain that tries to talk me out of my workout is my primal brain - also called the limbic system. This part of our brain is over a million years old and has served our species well. It’s kept us safe, it’s kept us fed, and it’s kept us multiplying. It’s the center of our emotions and the instigator of most of our behaviors, and unfortunately for those of us living in 2019 trying to get fit, it’s a bit of a hindrance.
Back when we were living in caves and hunting - or being hunted - for food, our primal brains learned that moving our bodies meant that there was a threat. We were in danger of starving or of being eaten. Moving our bodies was a necessity for survival, not something we did just for the sake of it. And that same part of our brain that understands movement to be a survival instinct hasn’t evolved past that. No wonder it doesn’t like it when we go to the gym.
It doesn’t understand why we would run unless we’re being chased by a lion.
It doesn’t make sense to it that we would be out for a walk unless we’re hunting and gathering food.
It doesn’t get it that we would be lifting weight unless we were carrying our kill back to the cave.
No wonder it resists when we start putting on our gym clothes. It’s confused!
Fortunately, there’s another part of our brain that’s more evolved and more reasonable called the PreFrontal Cortex. When our primal brain tries to stop us from working out, we can use the PFC to hack it.
Our primal brain only understands life and death survival mechanisms, so give it one. Tell it you must work out because you don’t want to die from diabetes. Or you have children to raise and you need to be an effective parent. Or you need to be able to walk your dog because your pet’s health depends on it. Give your primal brain some heavy reasoning; that’s what it needs and that’s what it understands.
Your limbic system might insist on higher stakes than wanting a smaller butt. If you dig deep for a meaningful reason that you believe in, it won’t be as easy to blow off your next workout.