It’s after work, and you’re at an intersection. Turn right, and you go to the gym. Turn left, and you head home. You hit the turn signal. Home it is.
You tell yourself you’re lazy and weak, but you’re not. Research from Florida State University suggests that self-control is a resource, rather than a character trait. “That means it can be depleted throughout the day,” says Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and fitness instructor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., who has conducted extensive research in the area of self-control.
If you spend your morning talking yourself out of having a burger and fries for lunch, or are focused on completing a big work project, it’s natural not to have the drive left over to exercise at the end of the day.
“However, studies show that if you’re feeling worn-down, you can restore your willpower, says McGonigal. There are ways to recover the strength to exercise or do any other task that takes discipline. She offers these five tips:
Focus on fun. Exercise requires more self-control if you don’t enjoy it, so find an activity you love. Whether it’s a dance class, yoga or something you did as a kid, such as group sports, you’ll be far more likely to fit it in, even if you’ve been using self-control all day.
Exercise in the a.m. If breaking a sweat just doesn’t excite you, make it one of the first things you do in the morning. That’s when your self-control reserves are the highest.
Reward yourself before you begin. Most people think you should reward yourself after you accomplish a feat. But research reveals that treating yourself in some small way beforehand – such a watching a few minutes of a favorite sitcom – improves your mood, which can boost your willpower.
Turn on the tunes. If you get in your car after work and put on a song you love, you’ll feel energized and happy. And that can motivate you to drive to the gym instead of heading home.
Take a quick snooze. Willpower tends to be especially low when we’re tired. So if you’re exhausted, consider taking a 20-minute nap. You’ll recharge – both physical and mentally – which can give you the extra shot of discipline you need to lace up you gym shoes and head out the door.