Psychology of MovementAre you enjoying your workouts?
Those post-exercise ‘endorphin highs’ get a lot of attention. ‘Think how good you will feel afterwards’ comes to mind.
However, it turns out that feeling good during a workout can be more important than how you feel after a workout when it comes to creating long term adherence to exercise.
If you find yourself choosing exercise to the detriment of enjoyment, it can make your workouts harder to stick to. Research shows that enjoyment can give you a helping hand in becoming consistent with exercise. Here’s why...
The Upward Spiral Theory of Lifestyle Change
A group of researchers (Van Cappellen et al., 2018) have developed a theory to explain why this is: the Upward Spiral Theory of Lifestyle Change.
When you experience pleasant emotions during a workout (i.e. you are enjoying it and feeling good), these emotions “tag” the workout with appetitive qualities at a deep biological level. This creates a motive to do the workout again in the future, and increases what psychologists call the “incentive salience” of cues that remind you of the workout (e.g. thoughts about the workout, seeing your trainers by the door, driving past a run route). This means you are more likely to pay attention to these cues and also to experience a positive “gut” feeling about the workout.
This is particularly important to note if you experience negative gut feelings about exercise. You may logically want to do a workout but at the same time have that “gut feeling” at an emotional level that says ‘I don’t want to’ which can make it harder to get going.
To counter this negative gut feeling, you can start to “tag” the workout (see below) with pleasant emotion and, overtime, you will create a biological drive to do it again. That sounds pretty helpful to us!
We have more good news about the impact of enjoyment during a workout! The theory also suggests that pleasant emotions can broaden your thinking and attention. This means you become more open-minded and able to deal with challenges such as difficult emotions relating to exercise. This triggers an “upward spiral” effect where you end up feeling more energised and also more willing to try new things. This helps you to build resources, in turn helping you move more.
For example, doing a fun workout might improve your mood and reduce your stress levels. This then makes you feel more motivated to challenge yourself, both with exercise and more generally. This in turn might increase your confidence, which then makes you more likely to keep working out in future, and so on.
So we encourage you to think about ways you can “tag” your workout with pleasant emotions. Here are some examples to get you started:
- Location: are there any alternative locations that have a “feel-good” factor about them?
- Exercise choice: choose to do exercise you genuinely enjoy rather than exercise you think you should do.
- Fun: pick exercise that has a fun or interesting element to it.
- Music: create a playlist to listen to during that you know improves your mood or makes you feel energised.
- Friends: there is perhaps no easier way to feel good than to workout alongside friends!
- Acknowledge your successes: no need to wait until after the workout to give yourself a pat on the back, recognise as you’re doing it that what you’re doing is important and life-enhancing!